Thorpe's Notes: R. Kelly's Trapped In The Closet
List of Characters:
R. Kelly: The narrator of the story, who has awakened in a strange woman’s house and must deal with her angry husband.
Cathy: The unfaithful woman in whose closet R. Kelly finds himself trapped.
Rufus: Cathy’s husband, who is carrying on a homosexual affair with Chuck.
Chuck: Rufus’s secret lover
R. Kelly’s Wife: The wife of the narrator, who tries to disguise her own unfaithfulness through rowdy sex.
Policeman: Secret lover of R. Kelly’s wife.
The following sections contain explanatory notes and textual insights on Trapped in the Closet. There is a summary of each chapter, as well as helpful commentary that illuminates literary motifs and stylistic elements within the narrative. Please keep in mind that there is no single correct interpretation of a complex work of literature like Trapped in the Closet, so your own interpretation of the themes and events present in the work may differ from the one presented here.
The narrator awakens in a bed that he does not recognize. He hears Cathy’s voice call out to him, and he is shocked that he is in the bed of a woman who is not his wife. He tries to piece together the events of the previous night, and he determines that he left a club with Cathy and only intended to stay with her for a short while, but instead fell asleep with her.
R. Kelly scrambles to put on his clothes and gather his belongings so that he can go home, but Cathy tries to prevent him from leaving. R. Kelly tells her that he has a wife at home, and urges her to let him leave so he can avoid trouble. She informs him that her husband is coming home, so he can’t leave without being seen.
R. Kelly tries to think of a way to escape the apartment, but he determines that there is no safe way to leave. He decides to hide in the closet in hopes that Cathy’s husband will not discover him.
Rufus enters the apartment, and Cathy pretends that nothing strange is happening; she tries to distract Rufus with amorous advances, but R. Kelly’s cell phone rings, alerting Rufus that something strange is afoot in his apartment. Rufus searches the apartment, looking under the furniture and in the bathroom, until he reaches the closet. R. Kelly pulls out his gun in anticipation of a conflict with Rufus. As the chapter ends, Rufus is opening the closet, about to discover R. Kelly.
Immediately we are presented with the theme of R. Kelly’s mixed feelings toward infidelity. He scolds himself for being stupid and allowing him to fall asleep at the house of his paramour, but he seems to be more concerned with the danger of getting caught than with feelings of guilt over his own infidelity. He admits to Cathy that he has a wife, but only in an attempt to make her understand that he has to leave immediately.
While we are initially led to believe that Cathy wants R. Kelly to stay despite his brusque treatment of her, we soon learn that she is only trying to prevent him from walking out the door because he would be discovered by her husband, Rufus. Her decision to hide R. Kelly and to distract and deceive her husband is as much for her own protection as for R. Kelly’s. R. Kelly states that Cathy’s deception “deserves an Oscar,” implying that she is an expert liar. The theme of deception is prominent in this and subsequent chapters.
By the end of the chapter, R. Kelly is prepared to threaten Rufus with a gun in order to leave the apartment. Throughout the narrative, R. Kelly is presented as a thoughtless and thuggish man, set adrift on a sea of troubles of his own making. He often seems remorseless; what regrets he has stem not from the fact that he has hurt others, but from the fact that he has put himself in precarious situations. He urges God not to let Rufus open the closet, but offers no penance for his sins; seemingly, Kelly feels as if he is owed favors by God, despite the fact that he behaves thoughtlessly without regard to the feelings of others.
Glossary of Difficult Words and Phrases:
Beretta: Refers to a band of handgun manufactured in the USA.
Shuh, shuh: Cathy makes this sound to indicate to R. Kelly that he should be quiet.
Shit is going down: Bad things are going to happen.
She deserves an Oscar: R. Kelly is implying that Cathy deserves an Academy Award for her deception of her husband.
Put it on Vibrate: Silencing a cellular phone so that it vibrates instead of ringing.
Rufus opens the closet door, exposing R. Kelly. Rufus quickly ascertains that his wife has been unfaithful to him, despite his wife’s efforts to claim that it was some sort of misunderstanding. Rufus is furious, and says that he would kill R. Kelly if R. Kelly wasn’t holding a gun.
Rufus’s cell phone rings, but he continues to talk to R. Kelly. Rufus explains that he is a pastor, which prompts R. Kelly to suggest that they deal with the situation like Christians. However, Rufus is still furious; his wife attempts to apologize, but he rejects her apology and asserts that nobody can leave until he reveals a secret.
Rufus answers his telephone and tells the party on the other end to come back to his apartment immediately. He tells his wife that he doesn’t intend to be the only broken-hearted one, so he intends to expose his own infidelity. Rufus’s telephone rings and the person on the other end announces that they are downstairs.
R. Kelly threatens to shoot Rufus unless he is allowed to leave, but Rufus insists that there is a shocking secret that he needs to reveal before anyone will be allowed to leave. R. Kelly asserts that he will count to four and then start shooting; as he counts, Rufus and Cathy beg for their lives. When the count reaches four, Kelly is interrupted by a man entering. R. Kelly is shocked to find that Rufus’s lover is not a woman, but that he is carrying out a homosexual affair.
Already the titular literal closet is done away with, and we see that the title of the narrative refers to broader themes. Most obviously, Rufus was “trapped in the closet” as well; he was carrying out a secret gay romance, but he has exposed it to Cathy and R. Kelly so that they might see that their infidelity cannot make a fool of him. One could also see “the closet” as a metaphor for all the sneaking and deception carried out by the various adulterous characters: the closet is the thing that keeps R. Kelly and Rufus’s adulterous affairs hidden.
The chapter starts out with one of the narrative’s most telling expositions of the themes of deception and adultery. Rufus stares at R. Kelly “as if he was staring in the mirror.” In R. Kelly, Rufus sees himself: tricky, adulterous, and cocky. Rufus’s anger at R. Kelly is probably not centered upon the fact that he had relations with his wife, but is more probably a product of Rufus’s own insecurities. In R. Kelly, he sees his ugly reflection.
R. Kelly’s uneasy relationship with God is further illuminated in Chapter Two. Upon Rufus’s revelation that he is a pastor, R. Kelly once again tries to use his fair-weather faith to weasel his way out of a difficult situation. He suggests that he and Rufus work out the situation “Christian-like,” but is seemingly unaware of the irony of his statement, considering that he has just committed adultery and is currently threatening a pastor with a gun.
Little insight is gained into Cathy’s personality in this chapter. She seems to be overwhelmed with the situation, and her gift for trickery fails her when she is confronted with her husband’s anger and R. Kelly’s needless violent threats.
Bogus shit: Unpleasant business.
Mack shit: The lies of an insincere womanizer.
Nigga: A negro.
R. Kelly stares in disbelief at Rufus, initially unwilling to believe that he’s really Rufus’s secret lover. R. Kelly tells everyone that they are crazy, and he is leaving. Cathy tries to persuade him to stay, but he says that he has nothing to do with the present mess, and he has to get home. Cathy persuades him to stay, suggesting that the story of how this affair came about may be an interesting one.
Kelly agrees to stay for three minutes while Rufus and Chuck explain themselves. Cathy lashes out at Rufus, asking him how he could do such a hurtful thing to her, but he counters her volley by reminding her that she’s lied to him and been adulterous as well. Cathy puts forth the opinion that a homosexual affair is much more unexpected and hurtful than her simple infidelity, but Rufus insists that since she hid a man with a gun in their closet she has no right to judge him.
R. Kelly, sick of all the arguing, insists upon an explanation. Chuck explains that he and Rufus have been carrying on a secret affair for a year, sleeping in motels and doing their best to avoid discovery. This causes Cathy and Rufus to erupt into another argument, which frustrates and bewilders R. Kelly. He fires a shot into the air to shock them into silence, and announces that he can’t handle any more of their fighting. He uses his cellular phone to call his house, and is shocked to hear a man’s voice answer.
With R. Kelly, Rufus, and Chuck now decidedly “out of the closet,” the situation erupts into conflict and violence. R. Kelly seems incredibly conflicted in this chapter; his initial instinct is to leave, but Cathy manages to convince him to stay by appealing to his curiosity. R. Kelly is both repulsed and intrigued by Rufus’s affair with Chuck; just as Rufus saw elements of himself in R. Kelly, R. Kelly clearly sees parallels to his own situation in Rufus and Chuck’s romance.
While he initially agreed to stay in the hope of witnessing an interesting dramatic spectacle, he became more and more eager to leave when Rufus and Cathy began fighting. It becomes clear that R. Kelly has a strange aversion to conflict. Although he could leave at any time (since he has a gun and nothing to gain by staying), he seems to be staying in Rufus and Cathy’s apartment only to act as a mediator. He repeatedly demands that they stop fighting, although their affairs are truly none of his concern. This provides crucial insight into R. Kelly’s character: the combination of habitual infidelity and extreme distaste for arguments among couples suggests that he was the product of a dysfunctional family, probably involving an abusive and unfaithful father. This might explain why R. Kelly demands to be in control at all times.
Although he is a Casanova himself, R. Kelly has an obvious aversion to being played. He becomes hurt when it is revealed that Cathy didn’t use her real name when she courted him at the nightclub, even though it has little bearing on his situation. Although he is unfaithful himself, he is stunned when, at the end of the chapter, a man answers the telephone at his house.
Deep shit: A difficult situation.
Y’all ass is crazy: Your entire ass is crazy.
Bitch, please: Used to express disbelief at a woman’s words.
Club hoppin’: Searching for sexual encounters or cheap thrills at nightclubs
I’ma: I am going to
R. Kelly is speeding home to investigate his suspicion of his wife’s infidelity. His angry stewing is interrupted when he is pulled over by a police officer who informs him that he’s going eighty miles an hour in zone with a speed limit of sixty miles per hour. He tries to tell the police officer that it’s an emergency, but the officer will accept no excuses.
R. Kelly angrily bursts into his house and confronts his wife, but his fears are allayed when she reminds him that her brother Twan is visiting. He apologizes for the misunderstanding, and they exchange pleasantries and go to the bed to engage in marital intimacy. R. Kelly gets a cramp in his leg right as his wife is about to reach the height of her physical excitement, and has to stop the proceedings. He turns back the bedspread to discover a prophylactic left in the bed.
The bulk of Chapter Four is contained in the early driving scene and the later love scene, which are comparatively relaxed; there is less tension and conflict in Chapter Four, making it a much-needed interlude between the high conflict of Chapter Three and the shocking resolution provided by Chapter Four.
We are introduced to two new characters in Chapter Four: a police officer who stops R. Kelly for speeding as he drives home, and R. Kelly’s wife, who at first appears to be a calm and faithful counterpoint to R. Kelly’s tightly-wound mania.
Chapter Four provides R. Kelly with a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the narrative writing that made him famous; he has always had a flair for romantic and sensual scenes, and the love scene between the narrator and his wife presented in this chapter can be placed among his finest work: “And then she looked at me / and said ‘go deeper please.’ / And that’s when I start going crazy, / like I was trying to give her a baby.”
Climax: The fictional height of a woman’s physical experience.
Rubber: A latex sheath for the male genitalia which prevents the transmission of sperm and disease.
R. Kelly confronts his wife about the prophylactic he found in the bed. He berates and threatens her, and then he draws his gun again and asks if the man she slept with is still in the house. She admits that she did have a man over, but that he left shortly after R. Kelly called.
As R. Kelly continues his tirade against his wife, she interrupts him to tell him that she knows about his infidelity, and launches a withering counterattack. R. Kelly physically menaces her until she agrees to tell him the name of the man who just left.
She explains that a friend of hers knows a fellow named Chuck who is friends with a man named Rufus, and Rufus’s wife Cathy introduced her to the man with whom she was having an affair: the very policeman who stopped R. Kelly in Chapter Four.
In chapter five, the ironic underpinnings that buttressed the story all come into plain view. It is revealed that not only was R. Kelly’s wife aware of his marital infidelity, but that she was carrying on an affair with a man who knew Cathy, the woman with whom R. Kelly was having an affair. The theme of perverted religious faith comes full circle in the end, with R. Kelly’s wife rattling off a list of names of friends-of-friends which reads like a biblical lineage.
The central morality tale of the story also comes to light once all the pieces of the puzzle are revealed. All four of the married characters in the story are furious at their spouses for their infidelity, but all of them are unfaithful themselves. The story presents a vicious circle of revenge and mistrust, in which infidelity feeds more infidelity. The married characters are still very much “trapped” in the “closet” of their own guilty consciences and frustrated relationships.
Baby, you gonna be breathless: I am going to beat you until you are dead.
Students may find this review section beneficial in testing their own knowledge and understanding of the events and themes presented in Trapped in the Closet. We are confident that students who have a deep enough understanding of the source material to answer these questions will be equipped to understand much of the body of critical writing about Trapped in the Closet, and may even be able to meaningfully contribute to that body.
1. What name does Cathy give R. Kelly when she meets him at the club?
2. Which of these places does Rufus check when he is looking for R. Kelly?
a. Underneath the dresser
b. Between two opposite walls
c. Wedged between the neighbors’ brownstone and the window
d. R. Kelly’s house
3. What is the main plot function of Chuck and Rufus’s romance?
a. To illustrate the pervasive infiltration of sodomites in our society
b. To legitimize homosexuality among blacks
c. To explore R. Kelly’s bi-curious fantasies
d. All of the above
4. Why doesn’t R. Kelly just leave Cathy’s house?
a. He’s curious about Chuck and Rufus, even though he keeps telling them to shut up
b. He wants to see Cathy and Chuck argue, even though he keeps telling them to stop
c. He is physically intimidated by Chuck, even though he has a gun
d. For some reason
5. Who survives at the end of the text?
b. Rufus and R. Kelly’s wife
c. R. Kelly
d. Nobody dies
Answers: 1: d 2: a 3: b 4: d 5: d
Identify the character who spoke each of these lines:
1. “That’s right, nigger, I was there.”
2. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”
3. “God, please don’t let this man open the closet.”
4. “Don’t give me that mack shit please.”
5. “Oh my goodness, I’m about to climax.”
Answers: 1: R. Kelly’s wife, in Chapter 5. 2. Marcellus in Act 1, Scene 4. 3. R. Kelly in Chapter 1. 4. Chuck in Chapter 2. 5. R. Kelly’s wife in Chapter 4.
1. Why does Chuck look for R. Kelly under the dresser? How big do you imagine the dresser to be?
2. In Chapter 4, what does R. Kelly mean by “a tear fell up out my eye?”
3. When R. Kelly’s wife is describing the string of friends that led to the policeman, who is Tina and where does she fit into anything?