Invisible Man: Novel Summary: Chapters 12-14
The protagonist returns to Harlem, visibly shaken, and an elderly black woman, Mary Rambo, notices this and asks if he is okay. Feeling sympathy for him, she invites him to live with her. She leads him back to her home and there he sleeps. When he wakes, she asks him how he feels and tells him that she knows he has been to the hospital because he smells like it. She discusses the hope she has in people like him who will one day be a credit to their race. He decides to return to Men's House, but Mary lets him know that he can always stay with her.
When he returns to Men's House, he sees all the young men with the same dream he had and looks upon them with pity. He also hears an old minister who he mistakes for Dr. Bledsoe. He goes to the man and pours water on his head. He leaves Men's House and is told that he is not allowed back. Therefore, he returns to Mary's and lives a fairly peaceful life but feels he could do without her expectations. As he contemplates his next move, he realizes that winter has set in.
The protagonist becomes restless and goes out into the street to walk. He encounters a man selling baked yams on a cart and he purchases a yam remembering how much he and those back home in the South enjoyed them. He also notes that they enjoyed them privately because of the stigma attached to eating such food. It marked one as lower income and/or black. However, on the street, he realizes that there is nothing wrong with what one likes, and he proclaims "I yam what I am." He begins to contemplate this more and purchases another yam. This one, however, is frostbitten.
He continues walking and comes across an elderly couple who is being evicted from their home in winter. All of their belongings are being placed onto the curbside, including certain elements of history such as free papers and other historical documents dating back to slavery. The protagonist, having never seen an eviction before, is moved by this scene. He is inspired to deliver a rousing speech and encourages those standing and watching to help take the couple's things back into their home. When the situation escalates, the police break up the scene. The protagonist flees but realizes that he is being followed by a white man who was present back at the eviction incident. The white man finally catches up with him, expresses admiration at his ability to stir the people in such a way, and invites him for coffee. The protagonist goes and they discuss the eviction speech. He downplays the significance of his act, but the white man has great hopes for him. He offers him a job with his organization-the Brotherhood. The narrator declines, yet the man still offers his name, which is Brother Jack, and telephone number in case he changes his mind. The protagonist is left with many questions at the end of this chapter and there is also a glimmer of hope.
The protagonist has returned to Mary's home and smells cabbage cooking. He is troubled by this because it reminds him of home when cabbage was a staple food because of low funds. He realizes that Mary is having some financial trouble and this causes him to think more favorably about his job. He also begins to feel embarrassed that he has taken her kindness for granted to the point where he hasn't thought to pay her anything.
He leaves the house and goes to a phone booth where he calls Brother Jack, who directs him to a Lennox Avenue location quickly. There, Jack picks him up and takes him to a gathering at the Chthonian where the protagonist meets members of the Brotherhood and affiliates with the organization. Numerous people take an interest in the protagonist. He is asked to come into the library and the men of the Brotherhood explain their excitement at finding someone like him. They desire that he be like a new age Booker T. Washington, but to this the protagonist expresses that he would actually like to be like the founder of his college in the South. (Booker T. Washington [1856-1915] was an African American political leader, educator and author.) However, the men explain that the new Booker T. Washington will work for the poor. This begins to rouse the protagonist and he agrees to work for the organization. They decide that he should move into his own place and distance himself from everyone he has known, including his family. He is given a white envelope with his new identity and Brotherhood name in it. They also give him money to pay old debts and buy clothing.
After this exchange, the protagonist rejoins the party where a drunken member asks him to sing a Negro spiritual. The protagonist and Brother Jack object and Jack explains that the protagonist is not a performer. The protagonist laughs and makes fun of the situation and this breaks the ice. Even in the midst of uncertainty, he resolves that he will earn the money and learn what he can. His only worry at this point is what Mary would think of him for choosing this road.
During this section, the protagonist's authentic voice begins to emerge. With his eviction speech and his new affiliation with the Brotherhood he seems to be moving toward being the leader he had always dreamed of being. The interaction with the Brotherhood is also significant because it signals the potential conflicts between blacks and whites in the organization-the Brotherhood has white as well as black members-and the various difficulties that come with stereotyping.