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[2 of 5] Invisible Man, Chapters 6 - 10, by Ralph Ellison (1947)

Author: Ralph Ellison

“Chapters 6-10.” Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, Random House, 1952.

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Chapter 6

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Down the sloping lawn below me the male students moved toward their dormitories, seeming far away from me now, remote, and each shadowy form vastly superior to me, who had by some shortcoming cast myself into the darkness away from all that was worthwhile and inspiring. I listened to one group harmonize quietly as they passed. The smell of fresh bread being prepared in the bakery drifted to me. The good white bread of breakfast; the rolls dripping with yellow butter that I had slipped into my pocket so often to be munched later in my room with wild blackberry jam from home.

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Lights began to appear in the girls’ dormitories, like the bursting of luminous seeds flung broadside by an invisible hand. Several cars rolled by. I saw a group of old women who lived in the town approaching. One used a cane which from time to time she tapped hollowly upon the walk like a blind man. Snatches of their conversation fluttered to me as they discussed Barbee’s talk with enthusiasm, recalled the times of the Founder, their quavering voices weaving and embroidering his story. Then down the long avenue of trees I saw the familiar Cadillac approaching and started inside the building, suddenly filled with panic. I hadn’t gone two steps before I turned and hurried out into the night again. I couldn’t stand to face Dr. Bledsoe immediately. I was fairly shivering as I fell in behind a group of boys going up the drive. They were arguing some point heatedly, but I was too agitated to listen and simply followed in their shadows, noticing the dull gleam of their polished shoe-leather in the rays of the street lamps. I kept trying to formulate what I would say to Dr. Bledsoe, and the boys must have turned into their building, for suddenly finding myself outside the gates of the campus and heading down the highway, I turned and ran back to the building.

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When I went in he was wiping his neck with a blue-bordered handkerchief. The shaded lamp catching the lenses of his glasses left half of his broad face in shadow as his clenched fists stretched full forth in the light before him. I stood, hesitating in the door, aware suddenly of the old heavy furnishings, the relics from the times of the Founder, the framed portrait photographs and relief plaques of presidents and industrialists, men of power-fixed like trophies or heraldic emblems upon the walls.

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“Come in,” he said from the half-shadow; then I saw him move and his head coming forward, his eyes burning.

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He began mildly, as if quietly joking, throwing me off balance.

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“Boy,” he said, “I understand that you not only carried Mr. Norton out to the Quarters but that you wound up at that sinkhole, that Golden Day.”

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It was a statement, not a question. I said nothing and he looked at me with the same mild gaze. Had Barbee helped Mr. Norton soften him?

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“No,” he said, “it wasn’t enough to take him to the Quarters, you had to make the complete tour, to give him the full treatment. Was that it?”

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“No, sir . . . I mean that he was ill, sir,” I said. “He had to have some whiskey . . .”

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“And that was the only place you knew to go,” he said. “So you went there because you were taking care of him . . .”

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“Yes, sir . . .”

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“And not only that,” he said in a voice that both mocked and marveled, “you took him out and sat him down on the gallery, veranda — piazza — whatever they call it now’days — and introduced him to the quality!”

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“Quality?” I frowned. “Oh — but he insisted that I stop, sir. There was nothing I could do . . .”

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“Of course,” he said. “Of course.”

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“He was interested in the cabins, sir. He was surprised that there were any left.”

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“So naturally you stopped,” he said, bowing his head again.

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“Yes, sir.”

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“Yes, and I suppose the cabin opened up and told him its life history and all the choice gossip?” I started to explain.

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“Boy!” he exploded. “Are you serious? Why were you out on that road in the first place? Weren’t you behind the wheel?”

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“Yes, sir . . .”

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“Then haven’t we bowed and scraped and begged and lied enough decent homes and drives for you to show him? Did you think that white man had to come a thousand miles — all the way from New York and Boston and Philadelphia just for you to show him a slum? Don’t just stand there, say something!”

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“But I was only driving him, sir. I only stopped there after he ordered me to . . .”

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“Ordered you?” he said. “He ordered you. Dammit, white folk are always giving orders, it’s a habit with them. Why didn’t you make an excuse? Couldn’t you say they had sickness — smallpox — or picked another cabin? Why that Trueblood shack? My God, boy! You’re black and living in the South — did you forget how to lie?”

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“Lie, sir? Lie to him, lie to a trustee, sir? Me?”

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He shook his head with a kind of anguish. “And me thinking I’d picked a boy with brain,” he said. “Didn’t you know you were endangering the school?”

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“But I was only trying to please him . . .”

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“Please him? And here you are a junior in college! Why, the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie! What kind of education are you getting around here? Who really told you to take him out there?” he said.

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“He did, sir. No one else.”

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“Don’t lie to me!”

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“That’s the truth, sir.”

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“I warn you now, who suggested it?”

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“I swear, sir. No one told me.”

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“Nigger, this isn’t the time to lie. I’m no white man. Tell me the truth!”

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It was as though he’d struck me. I stared across the desk thinking,

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He called me that . . . “Answer me, boy!”

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That, I thought, noticing the throbbing of a vein that rose between his eyes, thinking, He called me that.

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“I wouldn’t lie, sir,” I said.

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“Then who was that patient you were talking with?”

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“I never saw him before, sir.”” What was he saying?”

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“I can’t recall it all,” I muttered. “The man was raving.”

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“Speak up. What did he say?”

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“He thinks that he lived in France and that he’s a great doctor . . .” “Continue.”

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“He said that I believed that white was right,” I said.

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“What?” Suddenly his face twitched and cracked like the surface of dark water. “And you do, don’t you?” Dr. Bledsoe said, suppressing a nasty laugh.

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“Well, don’t you?”

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I did not answer, thinking, You, you . . .

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“Who was he, did you ever see him before?”

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“No, sir, I hadn’t.”

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“Was he northern or southern?”

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“I don’t know, sir.”

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He struck his desk. “College for Negroes! Boy, what do you know other than how to ruin an institution in half an hour that it took over half a hundred years to build? Did he talk northern or southern?”

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“He talked like a white man,” I said, “except that his voice sounded southern, like one of ours . . .”

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“I’ll have to investigate him,” he said. “A Negro like that should be under lock and key.”

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Across the campus a clock struck the quarter hour and something inside me seemed to muffle its sound. I turned to him desperately. “Dr. Bledsoe, I’m awfully sorry. I had no intention of going there but things just got out of hand. Mr. Norton understands how it happened . . .”

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“Listen to me, boy,” he said loudly. “Norton is one man and I’m another, and while he might think he’s satisfied, I know that he isn’t! Your poor judgment has caused this school incalculable damage. Instead of uplifting the race, you’ve torn it down.”

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He looked at me as though I had committed the worst crime imaginable. “Don’t you know we can’t tolerate such a thing? I gave you an opportunity to serve one of our best white friends, a man who could make your fortune. But in return you dragged the entire race into the slime!” Suddenly he reached for something beneath a pile of papers, an old leg shackle from slavery which he proudly called a “symbol of our progress.”

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Feb 8
Tristan M (Feb 08 2021 11:42PM) : Dr. Bledsoe anger more

Dr. Bledsoe was very angry against the invisible men and started regretting the opportunity he gave to him

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“You’ve got to be disciplined, boy,” he said. “There’s no ifs and ands about it.”

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“But you gave Mr. Norton your word . . .”

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“Don’t stand there and tell me what I already know. Regardless of what I said, as the leader of this institution I can’t possibly let this pass. Boy, I’m getting rid of you!” It must have happened when the metal struck the desk, for suddenly I was leaning toward him, shouting with outrage.

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Feb 8
Tristan M (Feb 08 2021 11:47PM) : Dr. Bledsoe measures more

“Boy, I’m getting ride of you!” As he said that I assumed that he wanted to say that he can’t let the invisible men continue to stay in he institution as he had possibly destroyed what they built for hundred years in a single hour

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“I’ll tell him,” I said. “I’ll go to Mr. Norton and tell him. You’ve lied to both of us . . .”

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“What!” he said. “You have the nerve to threaten me . . . in my own office?”

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“I’ll tell him,” I screamed. “I’ll tell everybody. I’ll fight you. I swear it, I’ll fight!”

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“Well,” he said, sitting back, “well, I’ll be damned!” For a moment he looked me up and down and I saw his head go back into the shadow, hearing a high, thin sound like a cry of rage; then his face came forward and I saw his laughter. For an instant I stared; then I wheeled and started for the door, hearing him sputter, “Wait, wait,” behind me.

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I turned. He gasped for breath, propping his huge head up with his hands as tears streamed down his face.

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“Come on, come,” he said, removing his glasses and wiping his eyes. “Come on, son,” his voice amused and conciliatory. It was as though I were being put through a fraternity initiation and found myself going back. He looked at me, still laughing with agony. My eyes burned.

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“Boy, you are a fool,” he said. “Your white folk didn’t teach you

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anything and your mother-wit has left you cold. What has happened to you young Negroes? I thought you had caught on to how things are done down here. But you don’t even know the difference between the way things are and the way they’re supposed to be. My God,” he gasped, “what is the race coming to? Why, boy, you can tell anyone you like — sit down there . . . Sit down, sir, I say!”

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Reluctantly I sat, torn between anger and fascination, hating myself for obeying.

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“Tell anyone you like,” he said. “I don’t care. I wouldn’t raise my little finger to stop you. Because I don’t owe anyone a thing, son. Who, Negroes? Negroes don’t control this school or much of anything else — haven’t you learned even that? No, sir, they don’t control this school, nor white folk either. True they support it, but I control it. I’s big and black and I say ‘Yes, suh’ as loudly as any burr-head when it’s convenient, but I’m still the king down here. I don’t care how much it appears otherwise. Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it. Let the Negroes snicker and the crackers laugh! Those are the facts, son. The only ones I even pretend to please are big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me. This is a power set-up, son, and I’m at the controls. You think about that. When you buck against me, you’re bucking against power, rich white folk’s power, the nation’s power — which means government power!”

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Feb 23
Tristan M (Feb 23 2021 11:53PM) : The real face more

As our main protagonist (the invisible man) decided to tell everyone about Dr. Bledsoe real nature, the man first started to beg for mercy to the young “negroes” as he call him but changed his mind and started intimating the boy in an arrogant way showing his real nature to the invisible man

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He paused to let it sink in and I waited, feeling a numb, violent outrage.

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“And I’ll tell you something your sociology teachers are afraid to tell you,” he said. “If there weren’t men like me running schools like this, there’d be no South. Nor North, either. No, and there’d be no country — not as it is today. You think about that, son.” He laughed. “With all your speechmaking and studying I thought you understood something. But you . . . All right, go ahead. See Norton. You’ll find that he wants you disciplined; he might not know it, but he does. Because he knows that I know what is best for his interests. You’re a black educated fool, son. These white folk have newspapers,

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magazines, radios, spokesmen to get their ideas across. If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well that it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you’re lying, they’ll tell the world even if you prove you’re telling the truth. Because it’s the kind of lie they want to hear . . .”

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I heard the high thin laugh again. “You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist — can’t you see that? The white folk tell everybody what to think — except men like me. I tell them; that’s my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about. Shocks you, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the way it is. It’s a nasty deal and I don’t always like it myself. But you listen to me: I didn’t make it, and I know that I can’t change it. But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am.”

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He was looking me in the eye now, his voice charged and sincere, as though uttering a confession, a fantastic revelation which I could neither believe nor deny. Cold drops of sweat moved at a glacier’s pace down my spine . . .

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“I mean it, son,” he said. “I had to be strong and purposeful to get where I am. I had to wait and plan and lick around . . . Yes, I had to act the nigger!” he said, adding another fiery, “Yes!

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“I don’t even insist that it was worth it, but now I’m here and I mean to stay — after you win the game, you take the prize and you keep it, protect it; there’s nothing else to do.” He shrugged. “A man gets old winning his place, son. So you go ahead, go tell your story; match your truth against my truth, because what I’ve said is truth, the broader truth. Test it, try it out . . . When I started out I was a young fellow . . .”

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But I no longer listened, nor saw more than the play of light upon the metallic disks of his glasses, which now seemed to float within the disgusting sea of his words. Truth, truth, what was truth? Nobody I knew, not even my own mother, would believe me if I tried to tell them. Nor would I tomorrow, I thought, nor would I . . . I gazed helplessly at the grain of the desk, then past his head to the case of loving cups behind his chair. Above the case a portrait of the Founder looked noncommittally down.

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Feb 24
Tristan M (Feb 24 2021 12:06AM) : confession more

Dr. Bledsoe confessed to the young invisible men that the system is corrupt and we can’t changed this. This makes allusion to some societies present in our current era, that there is some place which really control the society through mediums like medias, internet, newspaper and moreover

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“Hee, hee!” Bledsoe laughed. “Your arms are too short to box with me, son. And I haven’t had to really clip a young Negro in years. No,” he said getting up, “they haven’t been so cocky as they used to.”

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This time I could barely move, my stomach was knotted and my kidneys ached. My legs were rubbery. For three years I had thought of myself as a man and here with a few words he’d made me as helpless as an infant. I pulled myself up . . .

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“Wait, hold on a second,” he said, looking at me like a man about to flip a coin. “I like your spirit, son. You’re a fighter, and I like that; you just lack judgment, though lack of judgment can ruin you. That’s why I have to penalize you, son. I know how you feel, too. You don’t want to go home to be humiliated, I understand that, because you have some vague notions about dignity. In spite of me, such notions seep in along with the gimcrack teachers and northern-trained idealists. Yes, and you have some white folk backing you and you don’t want to face them because nothing is worse for a black man than to be humiliated by white folk. I know all about that too; ole doc’s been ‘buked and scorned and all of that. I don’t just sing about it in chapel, I know about it. But you’ll get over it; it’s foolish and expensive and a lot of dead weight. You let the white folk worry about pride and dignity — you learn where you are and get yourself power, influence, contacts with powerful and influential people — then stay in the dark and use it!”

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How long will I stand here and let him laugh at me, I thought, holding on to the back of the chair, how long?

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“You’re a nervy little fighter, son,” he said, “and the race needs good, smart, disillusioned fighters. Therefore I’m going to give you a hand — maybe you’ll feel that I’m giving you my left hand after I’ve struck you with my right — if you think I’m the kind of man who’d lead with his right, which I’m most certainly not. But that’s all right too, take it or leave it. I want you to go to New York for the summer and save your pride — and your money. You go there and earn your next year’s fees, understand?”

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I nodded, unable to speak, whirling about furiously within myself, trying to deal with him, to fit what he was saying to what he had said . . .

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“I’ll give you letters to some of the school’s friends to see that you get work,” he said. “But this time, use your judgment, keep your eyes open, get in the swing of things! Then, if you make good, perhaps . . . well, perhaps . . . It’s up to you.”

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His voice stopped as he stood, tall and black and disk-eyed, huge. “That’s all, young man,” he said, his tone abrupt, official. “You have

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two days in which to close your affairs.” “Two days?”

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“Two days!” he said.

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I went down the steps and up the walk in the dark, making it out of the building just before it bent me double beneath the wisteria that hung from the trees on rope-like vines. Almost a total disembowelment and when it paused I looked up through the trees arched high and cool above me to see a whirling, double-imaged moon. My eyes were out of focus. I started toward my room, covering one eye with my hand to avoid crashing into trees and lampposts projected into my path. I went on, tasting bile and thankful that it was night with no one to witness my condition. My stomach felt raw. From somewhere across the quiet of the campus the sound of an old guitar-blues plucked from an out-of-tune piano drifted toward me like a lazy, shimmering wave, like the echoed whistle of a lonely train, and my head went over again, against a tree this time, and I could hear it splattering the flowering vines.

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When I could move, my head started to whirl in a circle. The day’s events flowed past. Trueblood, Mr. Norton, Dr. Bledsoe and the Golden Day swept around my mind in a mad surreal whirl. I stood in the path holding my eye and trying to push back the day, but each time I floundered upon Dr. Bledsoe’s decision. It still echoed in my mind and it was real and it was final. Whatever my responsibility was for what had occurred, I knew that I would pay for it, knew that I would be expelled, and the very idea stabbed my insides again. I stood there on the moonlit walk, trying to think ahead to its effects, imagining the satisfaction of those who envied my success, the shame and disappointment of my parents. I would never live down my disgrace. My white friends would be disgusted and I recalled the fear that hung over all those who had no protection from powerful whites.

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How had I come to this? I had kept unswervingly to the path placed before me, had tried to be exactly what I was expected to be, had done exactly what I was expected to do — yet, instead of winning the expected reward, here I was stumbling along, holding on desperately to one of my eyes in order to keep from bursting out my brain against some familiar object swerved into my path by my distorted vision. And now to drive me wild I felt suddenly that my grandfather was hovering over me, grinning triumphantly out of the dark. I simply could not endure it. For, despite my

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anguish and anger, I knew of no other way of living, nor other forms of success available to such as me. I was so completely a part of that existence that in the end I had to make my peace. It was either that or admit that my grandfather had made sense. Which was impossible, for though I still believed myself innocent, I saw that the only alternative to permanently facing the world of Trueblood and the Golden Day was to accept the responsibility for what had happened. Somehow, I convinced myself, I had violated the code and thus would have to submit to punishment. Dr. Bledsoe is right, I told myself, he’s right; the school and what it stands for have to be protected. There was no other way, and no matter how much I suffered I would pay my debt as quickly as possible and return to building my career . . .

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Back in my room I counted my savings, some fifty dollars, and decided to get to New York as quickly as possible. If Dr. Bledsoe didn’t change his mind about helping me get a job, it would be enough to pay my room and board at Men’s House, about which I had learned from fellows who lived there during their summer vacations. I would leave in the morning.

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So while my roommate grinned and mumbled unaware in his sleep I packed my bags.

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NEXT morning I was up before the bugle sounded and already on a bench in Dr. Bledsoe’s outer office when he appeared. The jacket of his blue serge suit was open, revealing a heavy gold chain linked between his vest pockets as he moved toward me with a noiseless tread. He passed without seeming to see me. Then as he reached his office door he said, “I haven’t changed my mind about you, boy. And I don’t intend to!”

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“Oh, I didn’t come for that, sir,” I said, seeing him turn quickly, looking down upon me, his eyes quizzical.

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“Very well, as long as you understand that. Come in and state your business. I have work to do.”

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I waited before the desk, watching him place his homburg on an old brass hall-tree. Then he sat before me, making a cage of his fingers and nodding for me to begin.

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My eyes burned and my voice sounded unreal. “I’d like to leave this morning, sir,” I said.

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His eyes retreated. “Why this morning?” he said. “I gave you until tomorrow. Why the hurry?”

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“It isn’t hurry, sir. But since I have to leave I’d like to get going. Staying until tomorrow won’t change matters . . .”

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“No, it won’t,” he said. “That’s good sense and you have my permission. And what else?”

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“That’s all, sir, except that I want to say that I’m sorry for what I did and that I hold no hard feelings. What I did was unintentional, but I’m in agreement with my punishment.”

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He touched his fingertips together, the thick fingers meeting delicately, his face without expression. “That’s the proper attitude,” he said. “In other words, you don’t intend to become bitter, is that it?”

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“Yes, sir.”

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“Yes, I can see that you’re beginning to learn. That’s good. Two things our people must do is accept responsibility for their acts and avoid becoming bitter.” His voice rose with the conviction of his chapel speeches. “Son, if you don’t become bitter, nothing can stop you from success. Remember that.”

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“I shall, sir,” I said. Then my throat thickened and I hoped he would bring up the matter of a job himself.

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Instead, he looked at me impatiently and said, “Well? I have work to do. My permission is granted.”

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“Well, sir, I’d like to ask a favor of you . . .”

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“Favor,” he said shrewdly. “Now that’s another matter. What kind of favor?”

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“It isn’t much, sir. You suggested that you would put me in touch with some of the trustees who would give me a job. I’m willing to do anything.”

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“Oh, yes,” he said, “yes, of course.” .

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He seemed to think for a moment, his eyes studying the objects on his desk. Then touching the shackle gently with his index finger, he said, “Very well. When do you intend to leave?”

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“By the first bus, if possible, sir.” “Are you packed?”
“Yes, sir.”

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“Very well. Go get your bags and return here in thirty minutes. My secretary will give you some letters addressed to several friends of the school. One of them will do something for you.”

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“Thanks, sir. Thank you very much,” I said as he stood.

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“That’s all right,” he said. “The school tries to look out for its own. Only one thing more. These letters will be sealed; don’t open them if you want help. White folk are strict about such things. The letters will introduce you and request them to help you with a job. I’ll do my best for you and it isn’t necessary for you to open them, understand?”

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“Oh, I wouldn’t think of opening them, sir,” I said.

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“Very well, the young lady will have them for you when you return. What about your parents, have you informed them?”

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“No, sir, it might make them feel too bad if I told them I was expelled, so I plan to write them after I get there and get a job . . .”

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“I see. Perhaps that is best.”

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“Well, good-bye, sir,” I said, extending my hand.

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“Good-bye,” he said. His hand was large and strangely limp. He pressed a buzzer as I turned to leave. His secretary brushed past me as I went through the door.

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Feb 24
Tristan M (Feb 24 2021 12:15AM) : departure more

after confessing to him all the darkness of the society, Dr. Bledsoe decided to give again his hand to the young man so as to help him to become and influent person in the society. So, the invisible man prepared himself and this chapter ends on the departure of the young man for a new beginning

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The letters were waiting when I returned, seven of them, addressed to men with impressive names. I looked for Mr. Norton’s but his was not among them. Placing them carefully in my inside pocket, I grabbed my bags and hurried for the bus.

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Chapter 7

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The station was empty, but the ticket window was open and a porter in a gray uniform was pushing a broom. I bought my ticket and climbed into the bus. There were only two passengers seated at the rear of the red and nickel interior, and I suddenly felt that I was dreaming. It was the vet, who gave me a smile of recognition; an attendant sat beside him.

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“Welcome, young man,” he called. “Imagine, Mr. Crenshaw,” he said to the attendant, “we have a traveling companion!”

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“Morning,” I said reluctantly. I looked around for a seat away from them, but although the bus was almost empty, only the rear was reserved for us and there was nothing to do but move back with them. I didn’t like it; the vet was too much a part of an experience which I was already trying to blot out of my consciousness. His way of talking to Mr. Norton had been a foreshadowing of my misfortune — just as I had sensed that it would be. Now having accepted my punishment, I wanted to remember nothing connected with Trueblood or the Golden Day.

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Feb 24
Tristan M (Feb 24 2021 8:15AM) : the bus more

The invisible man arrived at the station and saw that the station was empty and he even thought at a moment that he was dreaming… but that was the reality

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Crenshaw, a much smaller man than Supercargo, said nothing. He was not the type usually sent out to accompany violent cases and I was glad until I remembered that the only violent thing about the vet was his tongue. His mouth had already gotten me into trouble and now I hoped he wouldn’t turn it upon the white driver — that was apt to get us killed. What was he doing on the bus anyway? God, how had Dr. Bledsoe worked that fast? I stared at the fat man.

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Feb 24
Tristan M (Feb 24 2021 10:43PM) : crenshaw more

In this chapter, we can see the introduction of a new character in the story, As the invisible man was really reluctant to be where he was(the bus) he still made a minded description of Crenshaw

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“How did your friend Mr. Norton make out?” he asked. “He’s okay,” I said.

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“No more fainting spells?”

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“No.”

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“Did he bawl you out for what happened?”

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“He didn’t blame me,” I said.

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“Good. I think I shocked him more than anything else he saw at the

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Golden Day. I hoped I hadn’t caused you trouble. School isn’t out so soon, is it?”

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“Not quite,” I said lightly. “I’m leaving early in order to take a job.” “Wonderful! At home?”

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“No, I thought I might make more money in New York.”

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“New York!” he said. “That’s not a place, it’s a dream. When I was your age it was Chicago. Now all the little black boys run away to New York. Out of the fire into the melting pot. I can see you after you’ve lived in Harlem for three months. Your speech will change, you’ll talk a lot about ‘college,’ you’ll attend lectures at the Men’s House . . . you might even meet a few white folks. And listen,” he said, leaning close to whisper, “you might even dance with a white girl!”

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Feb 24
Tristan M (Feb 24 2021 11:45PM) : New York dream more

Crenshaw said something that really interested me. When he said “That’s not a place, it’s a dream” liked that because he said what Ney York city is really because around the work it’s a place where every one wants to be and even within the country because In this city, this place you can be what you really want to be due the allision to a dream he gave to New y
York city

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Feb 24
Jessica H (Feb 24 2021 11:50PM) : Yes. It is both larger than life, like a dream, and also terribly, frighteningly real.
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“I’m going to New York to work,” I said, looking around me. “I won’t have time for that.”

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“You will though,” he teased. “Deep down you’re thinking about the freedom you’ve heard about up North, and you’ll try it once, just to see if what you’ve heard is true.”

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“There’s other kinds of freedom beside some ole white trash women,” Crenshaw said. “He might want to see him some shows and eat in some of them big restaurants.”

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The vet grinned. “Why, of course, but remember, Crenshaw, he’s only going to be there a few months. Most of the time he’ll be working, and so much of his freedom will have to be symbolic. And what will be his or any man’s most easily accessible symbol of freedom? Why, a woman, of course. In twenty minutes he can inflate that symbol with all the freedom which he’ll be too busy working to enjoy the rest of the time. He’ll see.”

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I tried to change the subject. “Where are you going?” I asked. “To Washington, D. C.,” he said.

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“Then you’re cured?”

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“Cured? There is no cure –“

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“He’s being transferred,” said Crenshaw.

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“Yes, I’m headed for St. Elizabeth’s,” the vet said. “The ways of authority are indeed mysterious. For a year I’ve tried to get transferred, then this morning I’m suddenly told to pack. I can’t but wonder if our little conversation with your friend Mr. Norton had something to do with it.”

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“How could he have anything to do with it?” I said, remembering Dr. Bledsoe’s threat.

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“How could he have anything to do with your being on this bus?” he said.

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He winked. His eyes twinkled. “All right, forget what I’ve said. But for God’s sake, learn to look beneath the surface,” he said.

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“Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it — that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a strait jacket or a padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way — part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate – I wish I had time to tell you only a fragment. We’re an ass-backward people, though. You might even beat the game. It’s really a very crude affair. Really Pre-Renaissance — and that game has been analyzed, put down in books. But down here they’ve forgotten to take care of the books and that’s your opportunity. You’re hidden right out in the open — that is, you would be if you only realized it. They wouldn’t see you because they don’t expect you to know anything, since they believe they’ve taken care of that . . .”

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“Man, who’s this they you talking so much about?” said Crenshaw.

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The vet looked annoyed. “They?” he said. “They? Why, the same they we always mean, the white folks, authority, the gods, fate, circumstances — the force that pulls your strings until you refuse to be pulled any more. The big man who’s never there, where you think he is.”

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Crenshaw grimaced. “You talk too damn much, man,” he said. “You talk and you don’t say nothing.”

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“Oh, I have a lot to say, Crenshaw. I put into words things which most men feel, if only slightly. Sure, I’m a compulsive talker of a kind, but I’m really more clown than fool. But, Crenshaw,” he said, rolling a wand of the newspaper which lay across his knees, “you don’t realize what’s happening. Our young friend is going North for the first time! It is for the first time, isn’t it?”

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“You’re right,” I said.

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“Of course. Were you ever North before, Crenshaw?”

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“I been all over the country,” Crenshaw said. “I know how they do it, wherever they do it. And I know how to act too. Besides, you ain’t going North, not the real North. You going to Washington. It’s just another southern town.”

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“Yes, I know,” the vet said, “but think of what this means for the young fellow. He’s going free, in the broad daylight and alone. I can remember when young fellows like him had first to commit a crime, or be accused of one, before they tried such a thing. Instead of leaving in the light of morning, they went in the dark of night. And no bus was fast enough — isn’t that so, Crenshaw?”

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Crenshaw stopped unwrapping a candy bar and looked at him sharply, his eyes narrowed. “How the hell I know?” he said.

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“I’m sorry, Crenshaw,” the vet said. “I thought that as a man of experience . . .”

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“Well, I ain’t had that experience. I went North of my own free will.” “But haven’t you heard of such cases?”

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“Hearing ain’t ‘speriencing,” Crenshaw said.

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No, it isn’t. But since there’s always an element of crime in freedom–“

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“I ain’t committed no crime!”

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“I didn’t mean that you had,” the vet said. “I apologize. Forget it.” Crenshaw took an angry bite from his candy bar, mumbling, “I wish you’d hurry up and git depressive, maybe then you won’t talk so damn much.”

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“Yes, doctor,” the vet said mockingly. “I’ll be depressive soon enough, but while you eat your candy just allow me to chew the rag; there’s a kind of substance in it.”

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“Aw, quit trying to show off your education,” Crenshaw said. “You riding back here in the Jim Crow just like me. Besides, you’re a nut.”

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