Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

Summary
The narrator returns to the Harlem district. There are indications that the Brotherhood’s position is already improving somewhat, but all the narrator can do is mull over the details of the death and ask himself why he did not do something. He tosses the inert doll on his desk and addresses it bitterly. He then realizes that, distasteful though it might be, a public funeral for Clifton would serve a great purpose.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Invisible Man Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The youth members, the members of the Brotherhood with whom Clifton had spent the most time, have heard the news and approach the narrator. He confirms the report of Clifton’s death. The district begins to respond with organization and anger, and the narrator is kept very busy.

The funeral takes place on a hot Saturday afternoon and draws a great crowd. People from all social circles march, and the police watch carefully. The narrator observes all the details of the spectacle: the cheap gray coffin that seems to float above the heads of the mourners, the people looking on from the streets, the look of the clouds and the birds, and the sound of Tod Clifton’s name. Finally, the procession arrives at a local park. There, the narrator is given a signal to begin.

The narrator gives Clifton’s funeral address without any pre-written speech or notes. The novel includes all of the speech, which seems to harangue the crowd and sum up all of the narrator’s weariness and cynicism. As he speaks, the narrator feels that he is not doing it right, that the speech is not political and therefore not useful.

When the narrator is finished, he feels that he has failed. A preacher reads from the Bible, and then the Irish gravediggers bury the casket. The narrator walks the streets, taking in every detail, remaining deeply unhappy.

Analysis
While the narrator is highly aware of the unpleasantness associated with Clifton’s death, he also realizes the opportunity for regaining the Brotherhood’s lost status in the Harlem district. Whether or not he has forgiven Tod Clifton is not the point any longer.

The community seems to have done the same. Whether or not they have heard how Clifton died, and whether or not they actually came to mourn his death, they did come, and this bodes well for the Brotherhood’s position in Harlem.

The narrator took the only constructive approach regarding the funeral, in deciding that the manner of Clifton’s death is not nearly as important as what Clifton did as an activist for the Brotherhood. Yet despite this, and despite his anger and eloquence, his speech does not galvanize the crowd in any visible way.

The narrator did not pause to consider (but given what has happened in his extremely unstable relationship with the Brotherhood’s central committee, perhaps should have realized) that giving a speech at Clifton’s funeral would make him vulnerable to future accusations and attacks. Not knowing the Brotherhood’s position on Clifton, the narrator acts on his personal beliefs.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Next

Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

Explore Study Guides