A Hope in the Unseen


Ron Suskind

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A Hope in the Unseen Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ron Suskind's A Hope in the Unseen. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ron Suskind

Born in Kingston, New York in 1959, Ron Suskind studied at Colombia University and became a news reporter for The New York Times in 1983. He subsequently wrote for the St. Petersburg Times, was the editor of Boston Business magazine, and then returned to New York to write on the national affairs desk at the Wall Street Journal. While he was at the Wall Street Journal, Suskind wrote an article about Cedric Jennings, a young man from the inner city of Washington, D.C., who went on to study at Brown University; in 1995, Suskind won a Pulitzer Prize for the article, and then in 1998, he expanded it into a book entitled A Hope in the Unseen. Suskind has also written The Price of Loyalty, The One Percent Doctrine, The Way of the World, Confidence Men, and Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, which is a memoir about his life with his autistic son, Owen.
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Historical Context of A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen is set mainly in the 1990s, and references a number of important events that took place during that time, especially those events focused on race relations in the United States. Marion Barry is the mayor of Washington, D.C., when Cedric is in high school there; Barry was a prominent civil rights activist, but his political career was mired in scandal when he was caught smoking crack and arrested on drug charges. While Barry spent time in prison, many people within the African American community sided with the former mayor, citing racism in the criminal justice system. Cedric also meets Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, another prominent African American who was caught up in a scandal: a lawyer named Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment, and public opinion was split. While many believed Anita Hill’s story, others believed this was a strategic move to keep an African American from a Supreme Court seat. Finally, during Cedric’s time at Brown, celebrity athlete O.J. Simpson was put on trial for the murder of his wife, a white woman. The trial was highly publicized, and when Simpson was found not guilty, the reactions from the public were split along racial lines.

Other Books Related to A Hope in the Unseen

A Hope in the Unseen centers around academic success and upward mobility, and readers interested in stories of educational advancement will be glad to know that Cedric Jennings is not the only student to beat the odds and climb out of poverty. In And Still We Rise, Los Angeles Times reporter Miles Corwin follows students in a gifted program in South-Central Los Angeles, focusing on many of the same issues from A Hope in the Unseen. Wes Moore’s memoir The Other Wes Moore traces the very different path of two black boys named Wes Moore, both of whom were raised in poverty in Baltimore, but ended up with drastically different futures. There is also Jeff Hobbs’s The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, in which the title character goes from Newark to Yale and back again, but with a tragic twist.
Key Facts about A Hope in the Unseen
  • Full Title: A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League
  • When Written: 1995
  • Where Written: New York, Washington, D.C., and Providence, Rhode Island
  • When Published: 1998
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Biography
  • Setting: Washington, D.C., and Providence, Rhode Island
  • Climax: Cedric Jennings leaves home for Brown, leaving behind his impoverished inner-city life.
  • Antagonist: Poverty, racism
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for A Hope in the Unseen

Happy Ending. Cedric Jennings graduated from Brown University, and currently works in Washington, D.C., as a clinical social worker and motivational speaker. Upon graduation, he received offers to work on Wall Street, but felt that he would be of more value to his community through social work.

Dreams are Contagious. Cedric’s story has inspired a generation of young people, but none more than the students at his old high school, Ballou. In 2017, every single student in the senior class applied to college. Many attribute this impressive move to Jamada Porter, the new college and career coordinator for the school.