Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

New Character
The Reverend Homer A. Barbee: the man who gives the sermon the narrator hears in this chapter; Barbee provides a perspective of hollow pride and rhetoric

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As ordered by Dr. Bledsoe, the narrator goes to the college chapel. Before the evening’s guest speaker begins his sermon, the narrator meditates upon his own precarious status. He then recalls the times that he spoke publicly at the college.

He returns to the present scene, describing the people there, including Dr. Bledsoe. There is a choir solo and the sermon begins, praising the lives and visions of those who built the college.

The sermon is delivered by Reverend Homer A. Barbee, of Chicago. Its topic is the great work of making the college, accomplished by the godlike yet entirely humble personalities of the Founder and Dr. Bledsoe. Barbee works the crowd and uses techniques of oratory to make the story into an epic saga of heroism. The narrator, moved and demoralized, is left feeling like a traitor. He dreads all the more his imminent talk with Dr. Bledsoe.

This is a difficult chapter because little actually happens. Instead, the first half of the chapter takes place entirely inside the narrator’s head. Moreover, the narrator is doing two things at once: he is reliving the evening, as well as remembering the evening from the perspective of a grown man.

The narrator sits in the college chapel, waiting for both the guest speaker to deliver his sermon and, more importantly, for an answer from Dr. Bledsoe about the consequences of the day’s unfortunate events.

While waiting for the sermon, the narrator examines his situation, savoring all its exquisite details of beauty and anguish. The meditation on his life in college, which he looks upon as lost, leads him to recall moments when he too stood upon the church-stage and spoke oratorically. This is the section printed in italic type, where the narrator throws words around in a sort of celebration of their uselessness.

One might say that there are three sermons in the chapter. The narrator gives two personal sermons before the official one commences.

The chapter begins with descriptions of nature and landscape in which all the senses are invoked. It is reminiscent of the start of the second chapter; the narrator is holding onto details in a loving fashion.

Also, the beginning of the chapter contains a shift in tense, from past to present. This shift, in the second sentence of the chapter, makes the narrator’s perceptions more immediate and dramatic. It indicates that these perceptions are frozen in time; the narrator we met in the Prologue is reliving the event.

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