Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 827
Dupre: the leader of a bunch of looters whom the narrator meets during the riots in this chapter
Scofield: one of the looters in the group
A full-fledged riot takes place in Harlem. Police shoot and the narrator is injured. Stunned, he wipes the blood from his head and continues. He joins a group of looters stealing goods but not harming anyone. They take clothes and various items; the narrator takes nothing, acting only as an observer. The narrator stays near Scofield, who checks the narrator’s wound and offers him a drink of scotch.
The narrator feels sure that the riot started because of Clifton’s death, but various accounts of its origin are circulating. There is widespread violence, blazing fires, and the unpredictability common to such situations.
A storeowner frantically persuades looters that he is colored, and his store is left undisturbed. At a hardware store, the men take flashlights and full buckets of fuel oil. Moving down the street, they pause at the spectacle of a milk truck topped with a singing fat lady offering free beer. They find this somewhat repellent.
Stopping at a tenement, the narrator sees that the oil was brought to burn it down. Dupre orders the men to evacuate the building. The narrator does not consider protesting, but a young pregnant woman begs Dupre to relent. He refuses.
The men douse the rooms, light their matches, and run down the stairs. The narrator, excited and impressed with the vision and execution of the intention, almost leaves his briefcase behind.
He is suddenly put in danger when someone calls him by his Brotherhood name. Ras is searching for him, and the narrator slips into the crowd. Soon afterward, more police arrive and are battered by bricks thrown from the rooftops. The riot worsens and gets bloodier.
The narrator runs through the streets and sees more turmoil. He grows steadily angrier at the Brotherhood for having offered false promises for so long.
When he faces Ras and his men, the narrator is exhausted yet determined. He feels that Jack, the committee, and all the white powers in general are playing some game, and that he is one of the pieces moved across the board of Harlem. The narrator knows that he faces death if Ras gets him, and that the Brotherhood might find this to be very convenient.
However, Ras, now Ras the Destroyer, is acting like some kind of chieftain. He appears on horseback, dressed outlandishly. He throws a spear at the narrator. The narrator rolls clear of the weapon and tries to reason with Ras. When this fails, the narrator is ready to die, but instead takes the spear he has wrenched free and throws it at Ras, piercing both of Ras’ cheeks.
The narrator flees, trying to reach Mary’s. A broken water main knocks him down, compounding his weariness. He questions his perceptions, feeling unsure of reality. The narrator eavesdrops on two men discussing Ras’s battles with the police.
Leaving them, the narrator is accosted by two white men who ask him about his briefcase. Strangely embarrassed, the narrator runs away, and lifting a manhole cover, drops down into a new darkness. He hears them talk high above and taunts them with words that seem to make no sense.
To see his surroundings, the narrator opens his briefcase and burns what papers he finds there. In the process, he learns that Jack had written the anonymous letter the narrator received in Chapter Eighteen. The shock stupefies the narrator and makes him scream, and he is soon plunged into fantasies in which Jack, Bledsoe, and others ask him tormenting questions.
When the narrator awakens from this state, he is the narrator of the Prologue, telling the story of his invisibility, which is the story of his life.
The landscape of Harlem is analogous to the narrator’s inner turmoil. Several things have been coming apart: the Harlem community, the narrator’s relationship with the Brotherhood, and his ability to relate to other people.
The scene is completely chaotic, but different from the chaos in the Golden Day, which was jovial and playful. Except for Mr. Norton, there were no whites there to regulate anyone’s behavior. Here, the mood is deadly, and police are everywhere. How the riot started is unimportant, except for the fact that the Brotherhood never “saved” the community, as the narrator had once envisioned.
It seems clear that the people of Harlem needed something in which to put their faith, and since the Brotherhood abandoned that role, they turned to violence, which helped Ras.
The people show different responses to Ras. The language that the two men discussing Ras use in their stories is vivid. They condemn his affected “King of Africa” attitude, but they are impressed with the power of his presentation.
The narrator’s sense of self and grasp on reality is slipping, or has slipped, away.
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