Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

Summary
The narrator finds an anonymous letter on his desk, warning him about “moving too fast,” considering that he is now in “a white man’s world.” Upset, the narrator calls in Brother Tarp. In that moment, the narrator sees his grandfather staring at him from Tarp’s face.

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Once over that shock, the narrator asks Brother Tarp about the letter and about what others think of him. Tarp says he knows nothing about the letter, and has not heard any negative reports on the narrator. Tarp reminds the narrator about a controversial poster, depicting people brought together in universal Brotherhood, which had been the narrator’s idea. Tarp says that while some Brotherhood members were against the idea at first, they are now bragging about it.

Tarp then tells the narrator about how he got his limp. There is nothing physically wrong with his leg, but the trauma from dragging a chain (having escaped from a work-gang for some unnamed crime) stayed with him ever since. Tarp unwraps a package from his pocket, revealing the ankle link he forced open to escape. Tarp gives the narrator the link he kept for so long.

Tarp leaves, and the narrator decides that the letter was sent to confuse him, and he must stay focused on his work. Yet he wonders who sent the letter.

Brother Wrestrum visits the narrator and takes exception to the exposed link. Brother Wrestrum says the Brotherhood has enemies from both without and within. He says he continually questions himself, to make sure that he is serving the Brotherhood properly. That way, he says, Brother Tod Clifton’s accident will not be repeated. Clifton was at a rally when a fight began, and he started beating one of the white brothers by mistake.

A magazine editor calls, asking for an interview. The narrator begs off at first, but as he sees Wrestrum giving his views on what the narrator should do, the narrator decides to give the interview after all. Two weeks later, the narrator goes to a Brotherhood meeting. The agenda begins with charges that the narrator has been guilty of acting to focus attention on himself, rather than serving the Brotherhood selflessly.

Brother Wrestrum shows the brothers a magazine with the narrator’s face on the cover with the interview inside. The brothers discuss whether or not the narrator was right to give the interview, and the narrator’s position of fame in Harlem. The narrator says he has no need to defend himself, since he was acting in the interests of the Brotherhood.

The narrator is asked to step outside while the committee sifts the information. He is called back and told that no wrongdoing was found. But there are other charges to investigate, and the committee has decided that the narrator is to leave Harlem and take up a new assignment: lecturing on “the woman question.” The only alternative is for the narrator to leave the Brotherhood. Overwhelmed by this reversal, where he least expected it, the narrator leaves Harlem quietly, without saying good-bye to his co-workers.

Analysis
This chapter shows more of the Brotherhood’s inner workings. Considering that universal cooperation is a tenet of the Brotherhood, the reader finds many instances of misunderstanding and suspicion from most of the brothers. Given what we have seen from other characters, such as the Vet and Emerson’s son, these feelings may well be the inevitable result of whites and blacks working together.

The “hearing” to determine whether or not the narrator acted improperly is a good example of this. Order is lacking, and the cold words increase the strong emotions.

The meeting is different from other confrontations in the novel, in that the narrator is on the same level with his attackers. When facing Bledsoe, or Lucius Brockway, the narrator was younger, a student or worker. Now he is an equal, yet the machinations of others defeat him.

Also significant is Brother Clifton’s attack on a white brother. While it is likely that the attack was a mistake, it is also possible that Clifton saw his chance to hit a white man and get away with it. Given what Ras said in the previous chapter, and the reactions his words received, hearing that Clifton attacked a white man may make the reader wonder about Clifton’s motives.

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Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis