Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544

The narrator begins searching for both the missing Brother Tod Clifton and Brother Maceo. In the process, the narrator realizes the extent of the damage done to the Brotherhood’s reputation and position in Harlem. Stopping in a well-known bar, the narrator finds out how little the Brotherhood is now liked. Only the defense of the friendly bar owner keeps the narrator from an argument with those who decry the Brotherhood, thinking themselves forsaken.

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The narrator next tries the Harlem office, to seek out Brother Tarp, who is not there. In the morning, however, a number of Brotherhood members show up. The narrator, in addition to asking about Clifton, hears about the Brotherhood’s fall from grace in Harlem.

The narrator needs to confer with the downtown committee. When he is not asked to join their daily meeting, he travels downtown in an effort to ascertain the situation. Shut out and furious, he is on a separate errand when he sees a friend of Clifton’s. The narrator is about to ask the man about Clifton when he spies an object in the corner of his vision; it is a Sambo doll, like a marionette. The offensive object is being sold on the street, dancing puppet-style on a flat cardboard square. A sing-song spiel accompanies the pathetic dance, and then the narrator recognizes the man selling the Sambo dolls. It is Clifton.

The narrator, utterly aghast, can hardly believe his eyes. Clifton sees him and smiles awfully, but before the narrator can confront Clifton, the latter vanishes around a corner, running from a policeman. His head swimming with confusion and unanswered questions, the narrator witnesses a short, brutal fight, that ends with Clifton shot by the policeman’s gun.

Other police appear, keeping the narrator away from the dead Clifton. There is no one the narrator can talk with, since no one else saw the killing, and the narrator knows of no other friends of Clifton’s to seek out. He is trapped with his own thoughts and perceptions, and these shed no light on the situation. The narrator takes to the subways, without a clear destination. He watches the people around him, all strangers.

It is hard to reconcile how the Harlem office lost such strength in just a month. The narrator and the reader are in similar positions of wonder and bewilderment.

The latest move from the Brotherhood’s central committee is clearly one of exclusion. They have no interest in including the narrator in their meeting, even when the narrator shows up at their headquarters. This can only increase the narrator’s paranoia.

The narrator finds Clifton and loses him without first getting any explanation. Selling Sambo dolls in the street seems insane. There is a lot of mystery as to why Clifton fights with the policeman, but the narrator explains it to himself. He thinks about what it is to fall outside of history, as Ras had once talked about. The narrator is finding in this lesson something to grasp and remain true to—the importance of showing history to other people.

Although the story line remains strong, and has even picked up momentum now, the lack of answers is disturbing, to both the narrator and the reader.

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