Invisible Man: Novel Summary: Chapters 18-20
As the chapter opens, the protagonist receives an anonymous note warning him not to go too fast. He is shocked by the note and shows it to Brother Tarp. He is concerned about how other men feel about him. Tarp begins to speak about his life and shows the protagonist a leg chain that represents nineteen years that he served on a chain gang for saying "no" to a white man. He gives the protagonist the leg chain as something to help him remember what they are fighting against. The protagonist accepts the gift with gratitude and is moved to tears. He resolves not to be disturbed by the anonymous letter.
Next, Brother Wrestrum enters his office and begins to criticize the protagonist for having the leg chain on his desk in plain view. He feels that the leg chain dramatizes the differences between blacks and whites and that this is harmful to establishing unity in the Brotherhood. Wrestrum has come because he wants to work on creating a flag that represents the Brotherhood. During this time, the protagonist learns that Tod Clifton was in another fight and he actually beat one of the white members of the Brotherhood because he had mistaken him for an enemy. The protagonist also receives a phone call from a magazine editor requesting an interview as "one of our most successful young men." Wrestrum silently directs the protagonist to decline, but he decides to take the interview anyway, thus disappointing Wrestrum.
Two weeks later, the protagonist attends the regular Brotherhood meeting and learns that Brother Wrestrum has brought charges against him for being an opportunist. No one defends the protagonist, not even Jack. Brother Wrestrum presents the protagonist's interview as evidence of wrongdoing. Ultimately the protagonist is punished by being removed from the Harlem office and assigned to lecture on "The Woman Question" downtown. He is initially shocked but overcomes this disappointment. He is balancing his faith in the organization with his disappointment at leaving his work and friends in Harlem.
The protagonist gives the first lecture and it is very successful. Because of this, he feels excited and confident. After the meeting, a white female member approaches him to discuss the ideology of the Brotherhood. They eventually go back to her apartment which is lavishly decorated, and she attempts to seduce him. She objectifies him sexually, calling him "primitive" and admits a degree of fear of him. Although he has reservations, he sleeps with her and when he awakes he notices her husband who sees him and is not surprised by the events. The protagonist begins to feel as though he was set up and leaves immediately. He continues with his work while worrying if his actions will be held against him. He is only informed that he will no longer be speaking on the woman question. Also, he learns that Tod Clifton has disappeared and that he must return to Harlem to ensure the strength of the community there.
The protagonist returns to Harlem and goes to Barrellhouse's Jolly Dollar, a bar and grill, to relax and reacquaint himself with the area. Many pretend not to recognize him but Barrellhouse acknowledges him. The men who ignored him when he entered, express that they are upset because the protagonist addresses them as "brother" and they say that he is not a brother of theirs because they do not like his politics. They feel he left the Harlem community for downtown. Barrellhouse informs the protagonist that things have been changing since the Brotherhood has stopped doing much work in Harlem. The protagonist witnesses this for himself as he walks around Harlem and even when he returns to the Brotherhood headquarters and finds it desolate. When members do come to the headquarters, he organizes them to begin searching for Tod Clifton.
In the meantime, the narrator goes to a strategy meeting of the Brotherhood and finds it in progress without him and he is not allowed in. He decides to go shopping for shoes on Fifth Avenue and eventually wanders to 42nd Street where he sees Tod Clifton selling Sambo dolls and numerous people crowded around as he makes the dolls dance. The protagonist is disgusted by the sight and spits at one of the dolls, to the displeasure of the crowd. He attributes Clifton's demise to him breaking away from the Brotherhood. Clifton disappears in the crowd and attempts to avoid the protagonist. The protagonist follows him only to see Clifton become engaged in conflict with a policeman. The policeman shoots Clifton. The protagonist tries to help the fallen man, but the police prevent him. He learns that Clinton is dead, and he stays to answer questions the police ask him. As he leaves the scene he reflects regretfully that Clifton died unknown and there will be little or no justice in the matter of his death. This causes him to contemplate history, the idea of being outside of time, and those who would be forgotten. On the train ride back to Harlem, he is overwhelmed with feeling responsible for Clifton's death.
These are perhaps the most difficult moments that the protagonist faces in the text. He is removed from Harlem, accused of being an opportunist, and witnesses his friend Tod Clifton murdered by a policeman. He also experiences alienation from the people of Harlem who had once supported him. Many of them see him as a traitor and dislike him because he left to do work downtown when he was needed in Harlem. The protagonist deals with great guilt and turmoil because of this. Here, there is a definite shift in thought and the protagonist begins to attempt to understand his place in life and his place in the context of history.