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[4 of 5] Invisible Man, Chapters 16-20, by Ralph Ellison (1947)

Author: Ralph Ellison

“Chapters 16-20.” Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, Random House, 1952.

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Chapter 16

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At seven-thirty Brother Jack and some of the others picked me up and we shot up to Harlem in a taxi. As before, no one spoke a word. There was only the sound made by a man in the corner who drew noisily on a pipeful of rum-flavored tobacco, causing it to glow on and off, a red disk in the dark. I rode with mounting nervousness; the taxi seemed unnaturally warm. We got out in a side street and went down a narrow alley in the dark to the rear of the huge, barn-like building. Other members had already arrived.

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“Ah, here we are,” Brother Jack said, leading the way through a dark rear door to a dressing room lighted by naked, low-hanging bulbs — a small room with wooden benches and a row of steel lockers with a network of names scratched on the doors. It had a football-locker smell of ancient sweat, iodine, blood and rubbing alcohol, and I felt a welling up of memories.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:20AM) : Memories: Boxing more

The meeting our protagonist is going to is being held in a boxing gym or venue. Interesting that he has been brought here to deliver a speech. Do we remember the last time our narrator delivered a speech in a boxing venue? We might look to the content of this speech vs. that earlier one.

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Feb 1
Karisten B (Feb 01 2021 9:48PM) : Mood more

The Narraator’s last experience in a boxing venue was in the beginnig chapters of the book. He was scheduled to give his high school valedictory speech but was abducted and taken to a differnet location to “fight” in an arena. Our narrator was interrupted a number of times during the speech, setting the mood of the book to be invisibilty.

Here, the narrator claims the venue, or more specifically, locker room, by taking a moment to look around. The sense of brotherhood with Brother Jack and the others help the narrator feel at ease this second time around. Perhaps this is a mini Hero’s Journey – where the narrator becomes the “master of two worlds” by finally nderstanding both the visible and invisible.

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“We remain here until the building fills,” Brother Jack said. “Then we make our appearance — just at the height of their impatience.” He gave me a grin. “Meanwhile, you think about what you’ll say. Did you look over the material?”

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“All day,” I said.

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“Good. I suggest, however, that you listen carefully to the rest of us. We’ll all precede you so that you can get pointers for your remarks. You’ll be last.”

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I nodded, seeing him take two of the other men by the arm and retreat to a corner. I was alone, the others were studying their notes, talking. I went across the room to a torn photograph tacked to the faded wall. It was a shot, in fighting stance, of a former prizefight champion, a popular fighter who had lost his sight in the ring. It must have been right here in this arena, I thought. That had been years ago. The photograph was that of a man so dark and battered that he might have been of any nationality. Big and loose-muscled, he looked like a good man. I remembered my father’s story of how he had been beaten blind in a crooked fight, of the scandal that had been suppressed, and how the fighter had died in a home for the blind. Who would have thought I’d ever come here? How things were twisted around! I felt strangely sad and went and slouched on a bench. The others talked on, their voices low. I watched them with a sudden resentment. Why did I have to come last? What if they bored the audience to death before I came on! I’d probably be shouted down before I could get started . . . But perhaps not, I thought, jabbing my suspicions away. Perhaps I could make an effect through the sheer contrast between my approach and theirs. Maybe that was the strategy . . . Anyway, I had to trust them. I had to.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:22AM) : Sight/Vision more

It’s easy to miss in this section of the reading, but there are several references to sightedness and loss of sight. Don’t miss where our boxer finally passed away…in a home for the blind.This may be more than a passing reference. In a literary sense, it says so much more.

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Feb 1
Elizabeth B (Feb 01 2021 8:15AM) : Connection more

This section reminded me of the fighting an boxing the Protagonist had to do at his graduation before he gave his speech. He had been beaten and hurt, but it does not seem as badly as his father or this strange man were.

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Feb 1
Sarah T (Feb 01 2021 8:19AM) : Response to: Connection more

I agree. The imagery throughout the description of this moment is very vivid. I can almost see this place and while in my mind the two settings of this and the original boxing scene are not identical, the atmospheres are nearly the same.

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Feb 1
Kylie R (Feb 01 2021 6:50PM) : Response more

I definitely agree that during this section of the book, it shows such detail to connect the two scenes. They both have similarities that share the same vibe and tone.

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Feb 3
Brianna S (Feb 03 2021 9:05AM) : Response to: Connection more

Elizabeth, I agree these scenes are super similar in imagery and tone.

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Apr 28
Tristan M (Apr 28 2021 10:44AM) : The narrator remembered some of this father's stories that he always told to him
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Apr 28
Tristan M (Apr 28 2021 10:47AM) : The narrator after that though became nostalgic and even sad and started having suspicion.
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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:23AM) : Jabbing more

An interesting word choice here. Just making a note.

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Feb 1
Abigail G (Feb 01 2021 7:01PM) : Response to "jabbing" more

This word is not necessarily found in this kind of context often. However it fits this sentence perfectly. From the time the narrator had gotten in the taxi he had been nervous. He had practiced what he was going to say and now he was worried about having to go last. The use of the word jabbing in this context was kind of a positive connotation. usually this word being used in a negative connotation. He was jabbing his suspicions away trying to create a scenario in his head that had more of a positive ending rather than the negative thoughts that had filled his head up until this moment. This word stuck out to me so I thought I would touch on the way the author used it in this context.

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Apr 28
Tristan M (Apr 28 2021 10:53AM) : After being betrayed by Bledsoe he still got the confidence of trusting Brother jack. Maybe he did the right thing but maybe he can also be betrayed or disappointed by Brother jack
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Apr 28
Jessica H (Apr 28 2021 11:08AM) : It would be hard to trust anyone after those letters.
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Still a nervousness clung to me. I felt out of place. From beyond the door I could hear a distant scrape of chairs, a murmur of voices. Little worries whirled up within me: That I might forget my new name; that I might be recoginzed from the audience. I bent forward, suddenly conscious of my legs in new blue trousers. But how do you know they’re your legs? What’s your name? I thought, making a sad joke with myself. It was absurd, but it relieved my nervousness. For it was as though I were looking at my own legs for the first time — independent objects that could of their own volition lead me to safety or danger. I stared at the dusty floor. Then it was as though I were returning after a long suspension of consciousness, as though I stood simultaneously at opposite ends of a tunnel. I seemed to view myself from the distance of the campus while yet sitting there on a bench in the old arena; dressed in a new blue suit; sitting across the room from a group of intense men who talked among themselves in hushed, edgy voices; while yet in the distance I could hear the clatter of chairs, more voices, a cough. I seemed aware of it all from a point deep within me, yet there was a disturbing vagueness about what I saw, a disturbing unformed quality, as when you see yourself in a photo exposed during adolescence: the expression empty, the grin without character, the ears too large, the pimples, “courage bumps,” too many and too well-defined. This was a new phase, I realized, a new beginning, and I would have to take that part of myself that looked on with remote eyes and keep it always at the distance of the campus, the hospital machine, the battle royal — all now far behind. Perhaps the part of me that observed listlessly but saw all, missing nothing, was still the malicious, arguing part; the dissenting voice, my grandfather part; the cynical, disbelieving part — the traitor self that always threatened internal discord. Whatever it was, I knew that I’d have to keep it pressed down. I had to. For if I were successful tonight, I’d be on the road to something big. No more flying apart at the seams, no more remembering forgotten pains . . . No, I thought, shifting my body, they’re the same legs on which I’ve come so far from home. And yet they were somehow new. The new suit imparted a newness to me. It was the clothes and the new name and the circumstances. It was a newness too subtle to put into thought, but there it was. I was becoming someone else.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:24AM) : The Out of Body Experience Here more

Read through our narrator’s sense of disembodiment? From where does this sense come? Have we seen something like this before in the book?

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Apr 28
Tristan M (Apr 28 2021 10:57AM) : His Nervousness more

In this particular paragraph we got a mind description of the narrator’s nervousness, he thinks briefly of where he was at the beginning and that he is at the end of the tunnel.

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Apr 28
Tristan M (Apr 28 2021 10:59AM) : As he described himself he made a "sad joke" to himself so as to released his brain from the nervousness he actually got in the moment, and this seems to work as he said
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Feb 8
Keandra S (Feb 08 2021 10:20PM) : Losing himself more

It seems as though with in this sentence the narrator has lost himself within his new life. Especially in the way that he describes how he sees himself through a tunnel.The narrator also goes on to explain how he can see his old self and this new version of himself, almost as though he is lost somewhere in between.

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I sensed vaguely and with a flash of panic that the moment I walked out upon the platform and opened my mouth I’d be someone else. Not just a nobody with a manufactured name which might have belonged to anyone, or to no one. But another personality. Few people knew me now, but after tonight . . . How was it? Perhaps simply to be known, to be looked upon by so many people, to be the focal point of so many concentrating eyes, perhaps this was enough to make one different; enough to transform one into something else, someone else; just as by becoming an increasingly larger boy one became one day a man; a man with a deep voice — although my voice had been deep since I was twelve. But what if someone from the campus wandered into the audience? Or someone from Mary’s — even Mary herself? “No, it wouldn’t change it,” I heard myself say softly, “that’s all past.” My name was different; I was under orders. Even if I met Mary on the street, I’d have to pass her by unrecognized. A depressing thought — and I got up abruptly and went out of the dressing room and into the alley.

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Mar 11
Kassidy R (Mar 11 2021 4:29PM) : He can be anyone more

When no one knows you or even knows who you are, you can present yourself as anyone and no one will question it or judge you based off of preconceived notions. But once you make an impression on people, one way or another, you always be that person to them.

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Mar 11
Bryson G (Mar 11 2021 7:53PM) : Are impressions unchanging? more

It is interesting that you say “you will always be that person to them”. This hints that Impressions can never be changed. I feel as if many times through life I met someone who I did not at first like, but later on grew more and more fond of them.

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Feb 1
Grahm K (Feb 01 2021 6:11PM) : A sense of security or insecurity? more

As he walked out on to the platform he didn’t know how it felt. It was exhilarating, but also scary. He wondered if he could get used to this feeling, like a boy changing into a man, or if the feeling would get old. He wanted to feel a sense of security, but it’s very difficult to do so.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:25AM) : The Focal Point of So Many Eyes more

This is an interesting point given the tone of this particular passage and sightedness and what we choose to see (and who is seen).

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Feb 1
Elizabeth B (Feb 01 2021 8:20AM) : Popularity and Being Famous more

This passage reminded me of famous individuals and what happens when they are exposed to being well-known. When artists start out they are usually innocent and are themselves; however, a majority of the time they change because they get used to the addiction of fame.

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Feb 1
Jocelyn F (Feb 01 2021 9:03AM) : Response to Popularity and Being Famous more

I had not thought or interpreted the passage in this way. It is an interesting but true take on what the spotlight can do to an individual overtime.

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Feb 1
Nicholas L (Feb 01 2021 3:31PM) : Pros and Cons more

I think with this idea there are pros and cons to the normal state of invisibility that our narrator lives in as well as the opposite end of the spectrum fame and popularity. A show on Netflix, Outer Banks, has a quote that reinforces this idea. “The downside of Pogue life is we are ignored and neglected, the upside is we are ignored and neglected. Which means we do whatever we want whenever we want.” When we see people step into the spotlight this freedom of choice seems to go away. Take our president for example, any comment he makes he will be slandered by people who disagree with him. The need to keep everyone happy takes away the freedom to do what we want when we step into the spotlight.

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Feb 1
Maddy C (Feb 01 2021 8:48AM) : To be known more

Right in this moment, the narrator is worried about not being invisible. He is worried about being seen.

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Without my overcoat it was cold. A feeble light burned above the entrance, sparkling the snow. I crossed the alley to the dark side, stopping near a fence that smelled of carbolic acid, which, as I looked back across the alley, caused me to remember a great abandoned hole that had been the site of a sports arena that had burned before my birth. All that was left, a cliff drop of some forty feet below the heat-buckled walk, was the shell of concrete with weirdly bent and rusted rods that had been its basement. The hole was used for dumping, and after a rain it stank with stagnant water. And now in my mind I stood upon the walk looking out across the hole past a Hooverville shanty of packing cases and bent tin signs, to a railroad yard that lay beyond. Dark depthless water lay without motion in the hole, and past the Hooverville a switch engine idled upon the shining rails, and as a plume of white steam curled slowly from its funnel I saw a man come out of the shanty and start up the path which led to the walk above. Stooped and dark and sprouting rags from his shoes, hat and sleeves, he shuffled slowly toward me, bringing a threatening cloud of carbolic acid. It was a syphilitic who lived alone in the shanty between the hole and the railroad yard, coming up to the street only to beg money for food and disinfectant with which to soak his rags. Then in my mind I saw him stretching out a hand from which the fingers had been eaten away and I ran — back to the dark, and the cold and the present.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:27AM) : A Memory, A Vision, and a Spector more

Outside the venue our main character has a moment wherein…again…disembodiment, this time to a memory from his youth and perhaps a harbinger of his future.

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I shivered, looking toward the street, where up the alley through the tunneling dark, three mounted policemen loomed beneath the circular, snow-sparkling beam of the street lamp, grasping their horses by their bridles, the heads of both men and animals bent close, as though plotting; the leather of saddles and leggings shining. Three white men and three black horses. Then a car passed and they showed in full relief, their shadows flying like dreams across the sparkle of snow and darkness. And, as I turned to leave, one of the horses violently tossed its head and I saw the gauntleted fist yanked down. Then there was a wild neigh and the horse plunged off in the dark, the crisp, frantic clanking of metal and the stomping of hooves followed me to the door. Perhaps this was something for Brother Jack to know.

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But inside they were still in a huddle, and I went back and sat on the bench.

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I watched them, feeling very young and inexperienced and yet strangely old, with an oldness that watched and waited quietly within me. Outside, the audience had begun to drone; a distant, churning sound that brought back some of the terror of the eviction. My mind flowed. There was a child standing in rompers outside a chicken-wire fence, looking in upon a huge black-and-white dog, log-chained to an apple tree. It was Master, the bulldog; and I was the child who was afraid to touch him, although, panting with heat, he seemed to grin back at me like a fat good-natured man, the saliva roping silvery from his jowls. And as the voices of the crowd churned and mounted and became an impatient splatter of hand claps, I thought of Master’s low hoarse growl. He had barked the same note when angry or when being brought his dinner, when lazily snapping flies, or when tearing an intruder to shreds. I liked, but didn’t trust old Master; I wanted to please, but did not trust the crowd. Then I looked at Brother Jack and grinned: That was it; in some ways, he was like a toy bull terrier.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:29AM) : The Vision of the Master and the Dog more

Still disembodied but this time inside the venue again. He claims and inexperience while feeling “strangely old.” Interesting comment. From where might this feeling come?

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Feb 1
Ciara K (Feb 01 2021 8:34AM) : Dogs more

I never understood how some people could get scared just by looking at a certain dog. Dogs are all different and some people do not give them a chance to show just how happy and lovable they are. This happens with people too,others judge them before they even get a chance to show who they really are.

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Feb 1
Hanna O (Feb 01 2021 12:29PM) : Response to: Dogs more

When I read this in the book, it reminded of one of my friend’s mom. She was petrified of dogs. If we would ever drive past a dog or even walk past a dog, we would have to turn the opposite direction . I have three dogs and when ever she came to drop off my firend she would refuse to come inside unless the dogs were put up. She was so scarred because when was younger, she had a terrifying experience with a dog which caused he to be afraid today. The narrator could have had a bad experience with a similar dog or he could grown up being taught that dogs are scary.

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But now the roar and clapping of hands became a song and I saw Brother Jack break off and bounce to the door. “Okay, Brothers,” he said, “that’s our signal.”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:30AM) : The Signal more

The Brotherhood waits for this moment to insert and assert its presence.

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We went in a bunch, out of the dressing room and down a dim passage aroar with the distant sound. Then it was brighter and I could see a spotlight blazing the smoky haze. We moved silently, Brother Jack following two very black Negroes and two white men who led the procession, and now the roar of the crowd seemed to rise above us, flaring louder. I noticed the others falling into columns of four, and I was alone in the rear, like the pivot of a drill team. Ahead, a slanting shaft of brightness marked the entrance to one of the levels of the arena, and now as we passed it the crowd let out a roar. Then swiftly we were in the dark again, and climbing, the roar seeming to sink below us and we were moved into a bright blue light and down a ramp; to each side of which, stretching away in a curve, I could see rows of blurred faces — then suddenly I was blinded and felt myself crash into the man ahead of me. “It always happens the first time,” he shouted, stopping to let me get my balance, his voice small in the roar. “It’s the spotlight!”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:34AM) : Blinded more

Notice the narrator’s response and the other man’s response. “It always happens the first time.”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:31AM) : Spotlight. more

Lots of light in this chapter. A good question to ask might be, “What is all of this light doing and to what degree?”

It had picked us up now, and, beaming just ahead, led us into the arena and encircled us full in its beam, the crowd thundering. The song burst forth like a rocket to the marching tempo of clapping hands:

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John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave — His soul is marching on!

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:31AM) : Allusion: John Brown more

Who is John Brown? Who is John Brown according to the traditional song?

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Feb 1
Jarrett G (Feb 01 2021 11:52AM) : An allusion to John Brown (response) more

“American abolitionist whose raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia), in 1859 made him a martyr to the antislavery cause and was instrumental in heightening sectional animosities that led to the American Civil War " -Britanica.com.

According to Fredric Douglas, the traditional song, John Brown’s Body, He [John Brown] was with the troops during that war, he was seen in every campfire, and our boys pressed onward to victory and freedom, timing their feet to the stately stepping of Old John Brown as his soul went marching on.

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Imagine that, I thought, they make the old song sound new. At first I was as remote as though I stood in the highest balcony looking on. Then I walked flush into the vibrations of the voices and felt an electric tingling along my spine. We marched toward a flag-draped platform set near the front of the arena, moving through an aisle left between rows of people in folding chairs, then onto the platform past a number of women who stood when we came on. With a nod Brother Jack indicated our chairs and we faced the applause standing.

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Below and above us was the audience, row after row of faces, the arena a bowl-shaped aggregation of humanity. Then I saw the policemen and was disturbed. What if they recognized me? They were all along the wall. I touched the arm of the man ahead, seeing him turn, his mouth halting in a verse of the song.

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“Why all the police?” I said, leaning forward on the back of his chair.

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“Cops? Don’t worry. Tonight they’re ordered to protect us. This meeting is of great political consequence!” he said, turning away.

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Who ordered them to protect us? I thought — But now the song was ending and the building rang with applause, yells, until the chant burst from the rear and spread:

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No more dispossessing of the dispossessed! No more dispossessing of the dispossessed!

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Feb 1
Rachel B (Feb 01 2021 11:27AM) : No more dispossessing of the dispossessed! more

Separatism is a rather interesting topic in it’s own way. People are being deprived and isolated of their brotherhood simply based on their differences.

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Feb 3
Brianna S (Feb 03 2021 9:15AM) : Response to: "Separatism" more

It is interesting you bring this up because I agree there is a lot of racial divide and racially charged language in this book. There really is no sense of togetherness so far.

The audience seemed to have become one, its breathing and articulation synchronized. I looked at Brother Jack. He stood up front beside a microphone, his feet planted solidly on the dirty canvas-covered platform, looking from side to side; his posture dignified and benign, like a bemused father listening to the performance of his adoring children. I saw his hand go up in a salute, and the audience thundered. And I seemed to move in close, like the lens of a camera, focusing into the scene and feeling the heat and excitement and the pounding of voice and applause against my diaphragm, my eyes flying from face to face, swiftly, fleetingly, searching for someone I could recognize, for someone from the old life, and seeing the faces become vaguer and vaguer the farther they receded from the platform.

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Feb 1
Meredith A (Feb 01 2021 5:52PM) : Similar Response more

Back when the narrator was still enrolled in his college, we as readers experienced a church service led by Reverend Barbee. During this chapter the narrator describes the excitement and unity projected by the audience as Barbee talked about the history of the Founder. Now during this performance the narrator describes the audience becoming one and enjoying the show. Similar to the church service, the narrator notes the audience repeating phrases. During this chapter they repeat, “no more dispossessing of the dispossessed” and “John Brown’s body lies a-mold’ring in the grave.” During chapter five the narrator does not provide exact examples, but claims that people shouted out during Barbee’s speech. They shouted out in unison and seemed to shout the same thing. It is incredible how moved people can become when given the appropriate speech or performance. I feel like the book does a good job portraying an audience buying into a speech and how motivating they can be.

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The speeches began. First an invocation by a Negro preacher; then a woman spoke of what was happening to the children. Then came speeches on various aspects of the economic and political situation. I listened carefully, trying to snatch a phrase here, a word there, from the arsenal of hard, precise terms. It was becoming a high-keyed evening. Songs flared between speeches, chants exploded as spontaneously as shouts at a southern revival. And I was somehow attuned to it all, could feel it physically. Sitting with my feet on the soiled canvas I felt as though I had wandered into the percussion section of a symphony orchestra. It worked on me so thoroughly that I soon gave up trying to memorize phrases and simply allowed the excitement to carry me along.

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Someone pulled on my coat sleeve — my turn had come. I went toward the microphone where Brother Jack himself waited, entering the spot of light that surrounded me like a seamless cage of stainless steel. I halted. The light was so strong that I could no longer see the audience, the bowl of human faces. It was as though a semi-transparent curtain had dropped between us, but through which they could see me — for they were applauding — without themselves being seen. I felt the hard, mechanical isolation of the hospital machine and I didn’t like it. I stood, barely hearing Brother Jack’s introduction. Then he was through and there was an encouraging burst of applause. And I thought, They remember, some of them were there.

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The microphone was strange and unnerving. I approached it incorrectly, my voice sounding raspy and full of air, and after a few words I halted, embarrassed. I was getting off to a bad start, something had to be done. I leaned toward the vague audience closest to the platform and said, “Sorry, folks. Up to now they’ve kept me so far away from these shiny electric gadgets I haven’t learned the technique . . . And to tell you the truth, it looks to me like it might bite! Just look at it, it looks like the steel skull of a man! Do you think he died of dispossession?”

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Feb 1
Makenzie H (Feb 01 2021 12:47PM) : Speech more

Interesting how we saw the narrator with nothing but confidence and persistence to complete his speech the first time, yet he is struggling now. It goes to show how past experiences and a loss of innocence can change people.

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Feb 1
Trey K (Feb 01 2021 8:40PM) : Agreed more

Confidence in itself is an interesting idea. But this situation debunks the idea of “practice makes perfect.” Instead, it shows that “perfect practice makes perfect.”

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It worked and while they laughed someone came and made an adjustment. “Don’t stand too close,” he advised.

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“How’s that?” I said, hearing my voice boom deep and vibrant over the arena. “Is that better?”

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There was a ripple of applause.

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“You see, all I needed was a chance. You’ve granted it, now it’s up to me!”

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The applause grew stronger and from down front a man’s far-carrying voice called out, “We with you, Brother. You pitch ’em we catch ’em!”

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That was all I needed, I’d made a contact, and it was as though his voice was that of them all. I was wound up, nervous. I might have been anyone, might have been trying to speak in a foreign language. For I couldn’t remember the correct words and phrases from the pamphlets. I had to fall back upon tradition and since it was a political meeting, I selected one of the political techniques that I’d heard so often at home: The old down-to-earth,

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I’m-sick-and-tired-of-the-way-they’ve-been-treating-us approach. I couldn’t see them so I addressed the microphone and the co-operative voice before me.

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“You know, there are those who think we who are gathered here are dumb,” I shouted. “Tell me if I’m right.”

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“That’s a strike, Brother,” the voice called. “You pitched a strike.” “Yes, they think we’re dumb. They call us the ‘common people.’ But

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I’ve been sitting here listening and looking and trying to understand what’s so common about us. I think they’re guilty of a gross mis-statement of fact –we are the uncommon people –“

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“Another strike,” the voice called in the thunder, and I paused holding up my hand to halt the noise.

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“Yes, we’re the uncommon people — and I’ll tell you why. They call us dumb and they treat us dumb. And what do they do with dumb ones? Think about it, look around! They’ve got a slogan and a policy. They’ve got what Brother Jack would call a ‘theory and a practice.’ It’s ‘Never give a sucker an even break!’ It’s dispossess him! Evict him! Use his empty head for a spittoon and his back for a door mat! It’s break him! Deprive him of his wages! It’s use his protest as a sounding brass to frighten him into silence, it’s beat his ideas and his hopes and homely aspirations, into a tinkling cymbal! A small, cracked cymbal to tinkle on the Fourth of July! Only muffle it! Don’t let it sound too loud! Beat it in stoptime, give the dumb bunnies the soft-shoe dance! The Big Wormy Apple, The Chicago Get Away, the Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me!

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:36AM) : The Uncommon People/Dispossessed more

This will be a theme of the speech given here. It will be a cobbled-together synthesis of what the narrator has heard in the room.

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“And do you know what makes us so uncommon?” I whispered hoarsely. “We let them do it.”

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The silence was profound. The smoke boiled in the spotlight.

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“Another strike,” I heard the voice call sadly. “Ain’t no use to protest the decision!” And I thought, Is he with me or against me?

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“Dispossession! Dis-possession is the word!” I went on. “They’ve tried to dispossess us of our manhood and womanhood! Of our childhood and adolescence — You heard the sister’s statistics on our infant mortality rate. Don’t you know you’re lucky to be uncommonly born? Why, they even tried to dispossess us of our dislike of being dispossessed! And I’ll tell you something else — if we don’t resist, pretty soon they’ll succeed! These are the days of dispossession, the season of homelessness, the time of evictions. We’ll be dispossessed of the very brains in our heads! And we’re so uncommon that we can’t even see it! Perhaps we’re too polite. Perhaps we don’t care to look at unpleasantness. They think we’re blind — uncommonly blind. And I don’t wonder. Think about it, they’ve dispossessed us each of one eye from the day we’re born. So now we can only see in straight white lines. We’re a nation of one-eyed mice — Did you ever see such a sight in your life? Such an uncommon sight!”

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Fiorella P (Feb 01 2021 8:20AM) : Speech more

The narrator uses an extended metaphor of blindness to illustrate oppression. Blindness has divided oppressed people throughout the novel for example, the college’s faculty and students disowned Jim Trueblood because of their blind allegiance to an ideology.The narrator calls for an end to the blindness that causes such interracial divisions and urges the formation of a united front.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:37AM) : Blindness more

“Blind. Uncommonly blind.” This is an interesting description as it seems to suggest that the uncommong people are naturally unsighted vs. this a condition thrust upon them.

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“An’ ain’t a farmer’s wife in the house,” the voice called through the titters of bitter laughter. “It’s another strike!”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:37AM) : Allusion to a Nursery Rhyme more

Do you know this one?

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I leaned forward. “You know, if we aren’t careful, they’ll slip up on our blind sides and — plop! out goes our last good eye and we’re blind as bats! Someone’s afraid we’ll see something. Maybe that’s why so many of our fine friends are present tonight — blue steel pistols and blue serge suits and all! — but I believe one eye is enough to lose without resistance and I think that’s your belief. So let’s get together. Did you ever notice, my dumb one-eyed brothers, how two totally blind men can get together and help one another along? They stumble, they bump into things, but they avoid dangers too; they get along. Let’s get together, uncommon people. With both our eyes we may see what makes us so uncommon, we’ll see who makes us so uncommon! Up to now we’ve been like a couple of one-eyed men walking down opposite sides of the street. Someone starts throwing bricks and we start blaming each other and fighting among ourselves. But we’re mistaken! Because there’s a third party present. There’s a smooth, oily scoundrel running down the middle of the wide gray street throwing stones — He’s the one! He’s doing the damage! He claims he needs the space — he calls it his freedom. And he knows he’s got us on our blind side and he’s been popping away till he’s got us silly — uncommonly silly! In fact, In fact, his freedom has got us damn-nigh blind! Hush now, don’t call no names!” I called, holding up my palm. “I say to hell with this guy! I say come on, cross over! Let’s make an alliance! I’ll look out for you, and you look out for me! I’m good at catching and I’ve got a damn good pitching arm!”

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“You don’t pitch no balls, Brother! Not a single one!”

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“Let’s make a miracle,” I shouted. “Let’s take back our pillaged eyes! Let’s reclaim our sight; let’s combine and spread our vision. Peep around the corner, there’s a storm coming. Look down the avenue, there’s only one enemy. Can’t you see his face?”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:38AM) : A Reclaimation more

Let’s take back our pillaged eyes!

Doesn’t this suggest that this vision has not been lost but, rather, taken, and kept?

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Mar 11
Ryan E (Mar 11 2021 2:29PM) : Visibility more

The man is unconsciously aware of his invisibility, but is still fighting against it. He believes by rallying the crowd and convincing people to start a movement, they can gain visibility, and people will take notice to them. The men in charge of the committee, however, understand the invisibility of the people and want to use it to their advantage.

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Feb 1
Emma H (Feb 01 2021 5:39PM) : Visibility more

The narrator here tires to gain visibility for himself but the others like him in his community that have lost their visibility as well. The narrator is making a claim to his life and how he wants to regain control of his visibility and bring his community into the light as well.

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It was a natural pause and there was applause, but as it burst I realized that the flow of words had stopped. What would I do when they started to listen again? I leaned forward, straining to see through the barrier of light. They were mine, out there, and I couldn’t afford to lose them. Yet I suddenly felt naked, sensing that the words were returning and that something was about to be said that I shouldn’t reveal.

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Feb 1
Victoria H (Feb 01 2021 11:28AM) : Something he shouldn't reveal more

The narrator actually had the feeling that he was about to say something that he should not reveal. What did he think he was about to say? What shouldn’t he reveal to the followers?

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Feb 1
Jasmine M (Feb 01 2021 9:08PM) : I agree more

When reading this line, I felt like it was one of those moments when you put your foot in your mouth. Just because some things shouldn’t be said.

“Look at me!” The words ripped from my solar plexus. “I haven’t lived here long. Times are hard, I’ve known despair. I’m from the South, and since coming here I’ve known eviction. I’d come to distrust the world . . . But look at me now, something strange is happening. I’m here before you. I must confess . . .”

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And suddenly Brother Jack was beside me, pretending to adjust the microphone. “Careful now,” he whispered. “Don’t end your usefulness before you’ve begun.”

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Feb 1
Sarah T (Feb 01 2021 8:06AM) : Worried about the truth more

In this paragraph, I feel as though Brother Jack is a bit on edge by what the narrator is saying. I think he fears that if the narrator tells one of his truths and the audience doesn’t agree or like it, violence will break out. “Don’t end your usefulness before you’ve begun.” makes me think Brother Jack is using the narrator to look more diverse and like a better person.

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Feb 1
Jaclyn E (Feb 01 2021 11:49AM) : Response to Worried about the Truth more

I thought the same thing Brother Jack was using the narrator to look good and the narrator almost said something that Brother Jack did not like.

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Feb 1
Jon H (Feb 01 2021 7:27PM) : Usefulness more

Brother Jack has throughout knowing the narrator consistently displayed his unease with the narrator engaging in some different things, one of them being the narrator singing a spiritual. With each time Brother Jack has dissuaded the narrator from participating in things, even things as culturally relevant as spirituals, one must wonder what Jack’s motives really are. Tools are useful, but people can be so much more. Does Brother Jack view the narrator as a tool instead of a person? If so, a tool for what, given that he denies spirituals while claiming to fight for equality for all.

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Feb 1
Autumn F (Feb 01 2021 9:23PM) : Usefullness more

I love this quote, “ Don’t end your usefulness before you’ve begun.” It gives a sense of authority within it and overall a powerful but somewhat motivating feel. It’s like Brother Jack shows a caring and supportive role.

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“I’m all right,” I said, leaning toward the mike.

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“May I confess?” I shouted. “You are my friends. We share a common disinheritance, and it’s said that confession is good for the soul. Have I your permission?”

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“Your batting .500, Brother,” the voice called.

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There was a stir behind me. I waited until it was quiet and hurried on.

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“Silence is consent,” I said, “so I’ll have it out, I’ll confess it!” My shoulders were squared, my chin thrust forward and my eyes focused straight into the light. “Something strange and miraculous and transforming is taking place in me right now . . . as I stand here before you!”

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:39AM) : A Transformation more

Watch this paragraph and the ones following for a sort of transformation of our narrator. It could be a source of trouble for him.

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I could feel the words forming themselves, slowly falling into place. The light seemed to boil opalescently, like liquid soap shaken gently in a bottle.

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“Let me describe it. It is something odd. It’s something that I’m sure I’d never experience anywhere else in the world. I feel your eyes upon me. I hear the pulse of your breathing. And now, at this moment, with your black and white eyes upon me, I feel . . . I feel . . .”

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I stumbled in a stillness so complete that I could hear the gears of the huge clock mounted somewhere on the balcony gnawing upon time.

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“What is it, son, what do you feel?” a shrill voice cried.

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My voice fell to a husky whisper, “I feel, I feel suddenly that I have become more human. Do you understand? More human. Not that I have become a man, for I was born a man. But that I am more human. I feel strong, I feel able to get things done! I feel that I can see sharp and clear and far down the dim corridor of history and in it I can hear the footsteps of militant fraternity! No, wait, let me confess . . . I feel the urge to affirm my feelings . . . I feel that here, after a long and desperate and uncommonly blind journey, I have come home . . . Home! With your eyes upon me I feel that I’ve found my true family! My true people! My true country! I am a new citizen of the country of your vision, a native of your fraternal land. I feel that here tonight, in this old arena, the new is being born and the vital old revived. In each of you, in me, in us all.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:41AM) : More Human Than a Human more

Our narrator is approaching this transformation of self. More than body. Like super body. We’re not quite at a state of apotheosis here (because of this stage of the journey). But, there is real movement happening within the narrator here. Again. Watch to see if this becomes a problem.

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Feb 1
Jasmine M (Feb 01 2021 9:12PM) : hyper senses more

More human than human sounds like his confidence is through the roof. Like a discovery of ones self, if you will.

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Jocelyn F (Feb 01 2021 9:10AM) : More Human more

The narrator feels a sense of being “more human”. The passage is presented with much confidence and optimism for what might happen in the future.

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Feb 1
Kylie R (Feb 01 2021 6:54PM) : Response more

I agree the narrator felt more stronger and more confident then he was before. He had that break through of what he wanted to do and what he wanted to share with his audience.

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“SISTERS! BROTHERS!

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“WE ARE THE TRUE PATRIOTS! THE CITIZENS OF TOMORROW’S WORLD!

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“WE’LL BE DISPOSSESSED NO MORE!”

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The applause struck like a clap of thunder. I stood, transfixed, unable to see, my body quivering with the roar. I made an indefinite movement. What should I do — wave to them? I faced the shouts, cheers, shrill whistling, my eyes burning from the light. I felt a large tear roll down my face and I wiped it away with embarrassment. Others were starting down. Why didn’t someone help me get out of the spot before I spoiled everything? But with the tears came an increase of applause and I lifted my head, surprised, my eyes streaming. The sound seemed to roar up in waves. They had begun to stomp the floor and I was laughing and bowing my head now unashamed. It grew in volume, the sound of splitting wood came from the rear. I grew tired, but still they cheered until, finally, I gave up and started back toward the chairs. Red spots danced before my eyes. Someone took my hand, and leaned toward my ear.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:43AM) : Post Speech Dizzy more

How does the narrator’s speech become a sort of match given the venue? Who (or what) has he been boxing against? How might this be a form of “shadow boxing?”

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“You did it, goddamnit! You did it!” And I was puzzled by the hot mixture of hate and admiration bursting through his words as I thanked him and removed my hand from his crushing grasp.

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“Thanks,” I said, “but the others had raised them to the right pitch.” I shuddered; he sounded as though he would like to throttle me. I

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couldn’t see and there was much confusion and suddenly someone spun me around, pulling me off balance, and I felt myself pressed against warm feminine softness, holding on.

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“Oh, Brother, Brother!” a woman’s voice cried into my ear, “Little Brother!” and I felt the hot moist pressure of her lips upon my cheek.

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Blurred figures bumped about me. I stumbled as in a game of blindman’s buff. My hands were shaken, my back pounded. My face was sprayed with the saliva of enthusiasm, and I decided that the next time I stood in the spotlight it would be wise to wear dark glasses.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:44AM) : The I's Have It more

For a short paragraph, look at all of the references to eyes, sight, blindness, glasses…

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It was a deafening demonstration. We left them cheering, knocking over chairs, stomping the floor. Brother Jack guided me off the platform. “It’s time we left,” he shouted. “Things have truly begun to move. All that energy must be organized!”

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He guided me through the shouting crowd, hands continuing to touch me as I stumbled along. Then we entered the dark passage and when we reached the end the spots faded from my eyes and I began to see again. Brother Jack paused at the door.

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“Listen to them,” he said. “Just waiting to be told what to do!” And I could still hear the applause booming behind us. Then several of the others broke off their conversation and faced us, as the applause muffled down behind the closing door.

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“Well, what do you think?” Brother Jack said enthusiastically. “How’s that for a starter?”

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There was a tense silence. I looked from face to face, black and white, feeling swift panic. They were grim.

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“Well?” Brother Jack said, his voice suddenly hard. I could hear the creaking of someone’s shoes. “Well?” he repeated.

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Then the man with the pipe spoke up, a swift charge of tension building with his words.

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“It was a most unsatisfactory beginning,” he said quietly, punctuating the “unsatisfactory” with a stab of his pipe. He was looking straight at me and I was puzzled. I looked at the others. Their faces were noncommittal, stolid.

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Madelynn K (Feb 01 2021 11:32AM) : Unsatisfactory beginning more

Brother Jack had been the most excited to have the narrator speak and be a part of their group, but he seems to be the only one. The narrator wanted to make his speech powerful, moving, influential, or maybe at least a good start, but the other members of the group thought it was none of the above. Brother Jack, however, seemed to have loved it and was very enthusiastic over the result.

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“Unsatisfactory!” Brother Jack exploded. “And what alleged process of

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thought led to that brilliant pronouncement?”

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“This is no time for cheap sarcasm, Brother,” the brother with the pipe said.

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“Sarcasm? You made the sarcasm. No, it isn’t a time for sarcasms nor for imbecilities. Nor for plain damn-fooleries! This is a key moment in the struggle, things have just begun to move — and suddenly you are unhappy. You are afraid of success? What’s wrong? Isn’t this just what we’ve been working for?”

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“Again, ask yourself. You are the great leader. Look into your crystal ball.”

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Brother Jack swore. “Brothers!” someone said.

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Brother Jack swore and swung to another brother. “You,” he said to the husky man. “Have you the courage to tell me what’s going on here? Have we become a street-corner gang?”

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Silence. Someone shuffled his feet. The man with the pipe was looking now at me.

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“Did I do something wrong?” I said.

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“The worst you could have done,” he said coldly. Stunned, I looked at him wordlessly.

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“Never mind,” Brother Jack said, suddenly calm. “Just what is the problem, Brother? Let’s have it out right here. Just what is your complaint?”

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“Not a complaint, an opinion. If we are still allowed to express our opinions,” the brother with the pipe said.

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“Your opinion, then,” Brother Jack said.

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“In my opinion the speech was wild, hysterical, politically irresponsible and dangerous,” he snapped. “And worse than that, it was incorrect!” He pronounced “incorrect” as though the term described the most heinous crime imaginable, and I stared at him open-mouthed, feeling a vague guilt.

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Feb 1
Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:45AM) : One Brother's Assessment of the Speech more

Watch this passage and paragraphs following for the Brother’s assessment of the speech. This might be due in part to the RHETORICAL APPEAL of our narrator’s speech vs. the approach/appeal of the Brotherhood? Do you see it?

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“Soooo,” Brother Jack said, looking from face to face, “there’s been a caucus and decisions have been made. Did you take minutes, Brother Chairman? Have you recorded your wise disputations?”

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“There was no caucus and the opinion still holds,” the brother with the pipe said.

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“No meeting, but just the same there has been a caucus and decisions have been reached even before the event is finished.”

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“But, Brother,” someone tried to intervene.

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“A most brilliant, operation,” Brother Jack went on, smiling now. “A consummate example of skilled theoretical Nijinskys leaping ahead of history. But come down. Brothers, come down or you’ll land on your dialectics; the stage of history hasn’t built that far. The month after next, perhaps, but not yet. And what do you think, Brother Wrestrum?” he asked, pointing to a big fellow of the shape and size of Supercargo.

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“I think the brother’s speech was backward and reactionary!” he said. I wanted to answer but could not. No wonder his voice had sounded

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so mixed when he congratulated me. I could only stare into the broad face with its hate-burning eyes.

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“And you,” Brother Jack said.

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“I liked the speech,” the man said, “I thought it was quite effective.” “And you?” Brother Jack said to the next man.

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“I am of the opinion that it was a mistake.” “And just why?”

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“Because we must strive to reach the people through their intelligence . . .”

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Jackson N (Feb 01 2021 8:52AM) : Getting a point across more

I found this line to be somewhat interesting because it further explains the narrators way of reasoning and how he uses the intelligence that others already posses to get his point across more easily.

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“Exactly,” the brother with the pipe said. “It was the antithesis of the scientific approach. Ours is a reasonable point of view. We are champions of a scientific approach to society, and such a speech as we’ve identified ourselves with tonight destroys everything that has been said before. The audience isn’t thinking, it’s yelling its head off.”

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Paul H (Feb 01 2021 6:47AM) : "The Antithesis of Scientific Thought" more

To what degree might the Brotherhood’s approach be thought of as “scientific?” It’s calculated movements? It’s planned entries? The algorithms of placement and disruption?

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TJ B (Feb 01 2021 9:08PM) : Brotherhood's use of the word scientific more

The brotherhood’s label on the narrator’s speech as “not scientific”did not seem like the right word to use. I believe the brotherhood desired a different message from the narrator’s speech even though nothing about the narrator’s speech was specifically unscientific. The brotherhood just needed a reason to criticize his speech because it was not the speech they wanted him to give.

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“Sure, it’s acting like a mob,” the big black brother said.

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Brother Jack laughed. “And this mob,” he said, “Is it a mob against us, or is it a mob for us — how do our muscle-bound scientists answer that?”

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