Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577

New Character
Hubert’s wife: an unnamed woman with whom the narrator has an affair

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The narrator begins the lectures he was assigned in the previous chapter. He senses that the women, having heard all about him, simply see him before them and are entranced by whatever he says.

At the end of the first lecture, one woman approaches the narrator with a request for further explanations of the Brotherhood’s position regarding women. The narrator offers to discuss her questions privately, and she invites him to her apartment. Once there, she explains that her husband, Hubert, is out of town; otherwise, she says, he would have loved to meet the narrator.

It becomes clear to the narrator that the woman’s interests are not all intellectual in nature. His feelings are conflicted. He is about to leave when he is overcome by the moment, and he stays.

In the middle of the night, the narrator hears a sound. Looking up from the woman’s bed, he sees her husband looking at them. The husband and wife exchange a few brief, pleasant words, and the husband goes off, presumably to sleep in another room.

The narrator, angry with himself, dresses and leaves. The woman has gone back to sleep. The narrator considers whether he was set up in a compromising situation, and waits for words of censure and dismissal from the Brotherhood. Nothing happens, and the narrator arranges to meet the woman again. His lecture series continues, and he is more aware of the dynamics between himself and his audiences.

Some time later, the narrator is summoned to a meeting. There, Brother Jack asks the narrator if the latter has seen Brother Tod Clifton. When the narrator says he has not, he is informed of Clifton’s disappearance. The narrator is ordered back to Harlem immediately, to find Clifton and to rebuild the Brotherhood’s image in the community. The narrator has been gone from Harlem for only one month, but it seems clear that many changes have occurred in that time.

As he usually does, the narrator begins a new experience with enthusiasm and energy, without thinking about what misadventures could accompany his actions. Although he claims (in the middle of this chapter’s second paragraph) to have a suspicious nature, it does not occur to him that any of the women might be interested in him personally.

The reader can tell that the woman is seducing the narrator not only through what she does but also by what she says. The first part of the chapter contains many words and phrases that have double meanings. The classic game of flirtation and suggestive language is being played here.

We are given the distinct impression that the woman is white. The narrator’s frame of mind, containing anger, excitement, and a little fear echoes the viewing of the naked blond woman in the first chapter’s battle royal. The commentary about servants and Pullman attendants trysting with white women also suggest the significance of interracial sexual relationships.

The narrator can see that this extramarital affair is of no importance to the married couple, and this is just a fling of the moment. Yet he elects to see the woman again. He feels off balance again with his white co-workers, yet the unpleasant surprise at the meeting is not the result of any perceived failure on his part. The narrator remains at the mercy of others.

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