Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455
Sybil: the wife of one of the men (George) in the organization; she and the narrator have an abortive affair
The narrator begins to agree with whatever he hears at the Brotherhood, recognizing what it is that the committee wishes to hear and telling them nothing but that. He planned to seduce the wife of one of the Brotherhood’s men, and Brother Jack’s birthday party is the perfect place for the narrator to select a woman. But the narrator finds that his efforts with Sybil only depress him.
She is interested only in fantasies born out of racism. The narrator seems menacing to the white woman, and Sybil finds this prospect highly titillating. She sees the narrator as a form of entertainment, and longs to satisfy her assumption that his sexual prowess is far greater than her husband’s. Having gotten tipsy, she wants the narrator to rape her, and this disgusts him. Yet he must endure Sybil’s inanities when she becomes too intoxicated to leave, and his questions about the Brotherhood lead nowhere. Only a phone call urging the narrator to get up to Harlem ends their tryst.
The narrator puts Sybil in a cab. As he says good-bye, the narrator learns that she does not know his name. A few moments later, Sybil appears in the same cab. The narrator has to get rid of her again. Soon afterward, the narrator finds her waiting for him at 110th Street. The narrator puts Sybil in yet another cab and learns that Harlem is being torn apart. He asks her what the leaders of the Brotherhood have planned for him, but gets no answer.
The narrator takes a bus to 125th Street, upset and lost in his own thoughts. He has to use his briefcase as a shield against the pigeon droppings from the birds underneath a bridge.
The narrator’s unpleasant fling with Sybil occupies most of the chapter. The two characters are acting at cross-purposes, each wanting something that the other cannot provide. Sybil acts very insensitively, but without meaning to, because it never occurs to her that she is treating the narrator as less than a person. For the first time in his life, the narrator decides, or realizes, that he is truly invisible. Sybil sees a black skin, not the person inside of it. This tires and angers him, yet never does he consider doing her any harm, or even trying to reason with her. The narrator is too smart for that.
The violence in Harlem that the narrator has been predicting seems to have arrived. Whether or not the Brotherhood is involved (and it seems unlikely), the climax of the novel is approaching.
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