A Hope in the Unseen

by

Ron Suskind

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A Hope in the Unseen: Chapter Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The school year is nearing its end, and Cedric is able to partake in another first—the Fugees performance is his first pop concert. He feels completely at home in the crowd, and realizes that he now needs to finish out this first year by passing his classes. He is most concerned about psychology, and goes to meet with his professor, who gives him good advice about taking notes and studying. In addition, the professor—who has seen many of his African American students drop out after freshman year—agrees to consider “demonstrated progress” when calculating Cedric’s grade for the semester, allowing him to pass despite his failing grade on the first midterm.
The fact that the Fugees are performing at Brown is significant, as they are a group of black performers who enjoyed immense success among white college students, echoing Cedric’s integration into the majority-white student population at Brown. In his academic work, Cedric has challenged himself, but his psychology professor still ends up seeing him through the lens of race, offering to help boost his grade in order to maintain diversity on the Brown campus.
Themes
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The only other task at hand is Cedric’s final paper for his education class—he needs to do well on this paper if he wants to double major in education. He thinks about his experience at Slater Junior High School, and with Mr. Fleming, whom he has come to appreciate a little more than when he first met the man, especially because he seems to be able to get through to the students. Cedric also recalls searching through the hallways of the school to see if he could pick out a future Cedric, and wondering how many students there might be whose potential is dimmed by the despair of their surroundings. He begins to write his paper, focused—as always—on getting an A.
Cedric’s possible education major is fitting, as much of his life has been focused on academic achievement and making the most of the underserved schools in his neighborhood. His major stumbling block is finding the emotional distance from the topic to shake off his anger and take on the perspective of a scholar. While he is focused on the grade he will earn in the class, the larger outcome is that he is developing college-level skills.
Themes
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Nearing the very end of the year, the relationship between Rob and Cedric is strained again. They have been at war over their dorm sink, after Rob shaved and neglected to clean out his hairs. Cedric responded by adding baby powder and lotion, and Rob followed up with chocolate syrup, and then Cedric added hair from his freshly shaven head, and so on. Rob realizes that this work of modern art is their way of expressing their frustration at each other. He leaves the sink alone for the moment, noting that it could use a dash of ketchup and getting back to his schoolwork. He is worried about exams, although he knows that even if he were to fail, his family would still love him just the same.
The battles between Rob and Cedric are now becoming comical, and are beginning to look more the typical tensions between roommates, outside of race and class differences. While the origin of this particular disagreement is still cultural in nature—based on Rob’s disdain for cleaning that conflicts with Cedric’s need for tidiness and organization—their inability to communicate at a time when they are stressed over finals is a very common story among freshman-year roommates.
Themes
Race, Racism, and Identity Theme Icon
Class vs. Wealth Theme Icon
After his chemistry final, Rob wanders down to Café Paragon for a beer and some social time with friends before leaving in the morning. He has painted his fingernails blue, along with some of his friends from the unit, and enjoys the looks he is getting from people at the café, knowing that there may be more to Rob than they have come to expect. In the morning, his father comes to pick him up and Rob says his goodbyes to the friends who are still left on campus. He also attempts to say goodbye to Cedric, but his roommate hardly looks up from his calculus book and says nothing in return. In fact, Cedric does respond to Rob, but only once he is nearly out the door, and Cedric cannot be sure that his roommate has heard him.
As the perspective shifts briefly towards Rob and his final days of freshman year, it is interesting to see that he, too, has opened up and changed. While they may seem frivolous in comparison with Cedric’s momentous struggles at the intersection of race and class, the changes in Rob are not insignificant. For this straight-laced, affluent college student, painting his fingernails blue offers a small way to visually represent his rebellion and openness to new people and experiences. This openness, and Cedric’s changes, will allow them to make friends in the future.
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Cedric is frustrated at himself, and at his inability to reciprocate Rob’s offer of peace until it was too late. He knows that he will replay the conversation throughout the summer, and it will eat at him. Barbara recently told him that his conflict with Rob was a test from God, and that he would continue to have these same types of conflicts until he got it right. Cedric agrees, and promises himself that he will reach out to Rob next year, when they no longer have to live together. Later that afternoon, Cedric returns to his dorm to see Zayd waiting for him, ready to leave but wanting to say goodbye. Zayd reaches out to hug Cedric, and although this is a level of intimacy that Cedric is not used to, he returns the hug.
When Cedric views his conflict with Rob as a test from God, he is able to create some emotional distance from it, and resolve to do better in the future. Although Cedric has been doubting his connection to Scripture Cathedral throughout this year, he certainly has not lost his religious foundation, and still uses his faith as a compass to direct his actions. He has, however, become more open to displays of affection that he would have previously considered un-masculine.
Themes
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Religion and Hope Theme Icon
Back in Washington, D.C., Barbara is making a last-minute attempt to find money to cover her back rent and penalties. She is at the United Planning Office, where she learns that while she needs to pay $2,790 to keep from being evicted, they can only offer her $491 this month. She returns home, panicked and noticing a tingling feeling in her left side, when she realizes that she has one more option. She calls Minister Borden, the assistant pastor at Scripture Cathedral, and explains her predicament. He is unsure if he can help, but he promises to try. She hangs up the phone and Cedric comes into the living room, and she finally musters the courage to tell him what is happening.
Barbara is making a last-ditch attempt to save herself from eviction, when she should have asked for help months earlier, when the problem was still manageable. When the government fails to come through with a miracle, she reaches out to Scripture Cathedral in the hopes that all of the money she has given to the church will finally be returned to her, tenfold, as Bishop Long has always promised. She has also been keeping this information from her son, out of fear and shame.
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Barbara feels ashamed, but she has to tell Cedric, because if Minister Borden doesn’t come up with the money, they will be evicted at 1 P.M. Cedric is furious with her, telling her that she has committed “the sin of pride” by refusing to tell anyone or ask for help. He reminds her that he could have used the money from Dr. Korb, that he wouldn’t have spent that money on CDs, but now he is facing the prospect of homelessness because his mother did not want to burden him with her problems. She acknowledges that she has handled this badly, and that the stress has been causing her medical problems—she had chest pains recently, and was sent to a cardiologist. Cedric can do nothing but go to his room and cry alone.
This conversation between Barbara and her son demonstrates how much they have both changed in the past year: Barbara is no longer Cedric’s protector, and Cedric no longer needs his mother to take care of him. Instead, he is in a position to help—he could give his money from Dr. Korb to Barbara for rent—but she is not yet ready to accept these new roles. Barbara has suffered emotionally since Cedric left, and her inability to share her feelings with Cedric makes him feel sad and alone.
Themes
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At 12:40 P.M., Barbara opens the door to Steve Turner from the U.S. Marshals, who has come to evict her, along with a moving crew. They are ready to take all of her belongings and place them on the street, and lock the door behind them, sealing Barbara out of the place she has called home. However, Barbara still has until the door is locked to come up with the money, though there is no guarantee that they will return her belongings to her apartment. She decides to tell Steve Turner that a minster from her church might come with the money, and he asks the movers to slow down a bit. When they move towards Cedric’s room, he blocks the doorway and keeps them out for the moment.
While this is not the first time that Barbara has ever been evicted, it is a much more difficult experience—she has already lost Cedric to college, and she is losing her home as well. The interaction between Barbara, the U.S. Marshal, and the movers is an interesting display of class differences. The Marshal takes pity on Barbara as she holds on to her last hope, but the movers—who are working-class people like her—have no interest in waiting around or hearing Barbara’s excuses.
Themes
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Steve Turner’s assistant is guarding Barbara’s belongings outside on the street, because until the move is finished, she and Cedric are still officially tenants. There is a growing crowd waiting for the process to finish so that they can pick through the items and take them home—one woman is already checking out a lamp, wondering if there is a match to it. Turner comments to Barbara that even though the movers are going as slowly as they can, the process will end soon. At that moment, Minister Borden barges in with a cashier’s check for the full amount, but it is made out to the Marshal’s Service and not the realty company, so he must go back to the bank and make the change. He even offers the movers $80 to move the items back into the apartment.
When someone’s belongings are moved on to the street during an eviction, the neighbors often come crowd around to pick at the items like vultures, calling into question any loyalty among the residents of this neighborhood. The Marshal and his assistant are keeping the scavengers at bay, maintaining order and respect in the process. But luckily for Barbara, the church does come through for her at the very last minute. Barbara has put her faith into Scripture Cathedral, and the minister’s actions have only increased her faith and dependence.
Themes
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Class vs. Wealth Theme Icon
Minister Borden returns with a new check, but he is short $40, so he pays the rest in cash. This money was part of the $80 he promised the movers, and they are upset when they realize they will only be getting half as much as they thought. Neddy, who has shown up only a few minutes earlier, pitches in with another $40, and the movers leave, pacified. Barbara goes back into her apartment, happy to have a place to live, even though she knows that this money from Minister Borden is a loan she must repay. Neddy offers to take out a bank loan to help her, and then goes in to talk to Cedric. He tells her that he doesn’t belong there anymore.
Despite the fact that Barbara has given her last dollar to the church on many occasions, the money to save her from her eviction is just a loan that she must repay, proving that her contributions will not actually come back to her. This series of events had taught Barbara nothing, and she will continue to be irresponsible with money and beholden to the church, secure in the faith that she will be saved again—but the church will not save her a second time.
Themes
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In the days since the near-eviction, Cedric has not talked to Barbara at all. He is angry, and this anger has overtaken the guilt he has been feeling about leaving his old neighborhood and life behind. He knows that he no longer belongs in Washington, D.C., and that he must find his own way from now on. He first goes to visit his father, whom he has not seen in two years. He feels different about their relationship—less intimidated, and ready to have a more direct conversation with Cedric, Sr., and ask some questions that have been bothering him for a while.
Cedric has learned a lot about personal responsibility during his time at Brown, and much of this wisdom directly contradicts what he sees around him in Washington, D.C., signaling that he has outgrown the world where he grew up. In middle-class families, leaving the nest is a normal part of life, but for the Jennings, this is a painful separation. To make a truly clean break, Cedric must also speak with his father.
Themes
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Anger Theme Icon
Cedric Gilliam greets his son, and immediately asks about the girls at Brown, which is exactly what Cedric expected from him. They move on to talk about academics for a moment, and then Cedric launches in with his questions. He asks if Cedric, Sr., loved Barbara, which catches the man off guard. He responds that he is not much of one to talk about it or use “that word,” which makes Cedric repeat the word—“love. The word love.” Cedric takes this non-answer as proof that it was just about sex for his father. They sit in silence for a moment, and then Cedric, Sr., announces that he’s getting out of prison the very next day, and has a spot in a drug treatment program. Cedric congratulates him, and then leaves.
Cedric’s conversation with his father illustrates the vast difference between the two men in terms of their conceptions of masculinity and value in society. While Cedric is particularly proud of his academic achievement, his father has little interest in that, and only wants his son to prove his manliness through sexual conquest. Cedric learns that his father never loved his mother, and that she was merely a victim of Cedric, Sr.’s toxic masculinity. This ensures that Cedric and his father have nothing in common.
Themes
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Cedric receives his grades from Brown: he got an A in calculus, a B in his education fieldwork seminar, and two S’s (for satisfactory), in Spanish and psychology. He is proud to have completed his first year at Brown, and he knows that his mother would be happy to know about his grades, but he does not want to tell her. He does not want her to live through him anymore—she must find her own happiness, and start taking better care of herself. He knows that she has not been to the doctor about her chest pains, and instead has simply been praying about it.
Cedric’s mother would like nothing better than to bask in the glow of her son’s success, this is another way in which she has become dependent on others and has shortchanged herself in the past year. Cedric has little sympathy for his mother’s struggles, and decides that the best way to teach her a lesson is by withholding the thing she wants most—her source of pride.
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A few weeks later, Cedric dresses and goes to church to speak with Bishop Long. They talk about Barbara first, and Bishop Long tells Cedric that she must rely on her faith to get her out of her financial difficulties. When Cedric expresses shame over what has happened, Long replies that there have been many people in the church who have gone through the same experiences. Finally, Cedric gets around to what he really wants to say: he still believes in God, but no longer feels a connection to the church, and is ready to leave permanently. Long understands this, and tells Cedric that as long as he carries God within him, he will be fine.
Cedric’s conversation with his pastor is long overdue, and Bishop Long has expected that this college-educated young man would begin to see the weaknesses in the church’s philosophy. The fact that Cedric has come to have this conversation with Bishop Long demonstrates the deep respect that he has for the man and for the church, despite the fact that it is no longer meeting his needs. Long knows that Cedric’s mother will remain faithful, and that is enough for him.
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Related Quotes
Cedric goes to church on Sunday, without Barbara, who is sleeping in. He does not want to separate from the church entirely, and wants Bishop Long to understand that he will be attending every once in a while. Before the service starts, he sees a good friend of his mother’s, and tells her that he is worried about Barbara. The woman tells Cedric that Barbara will be just fine, but he then reveals that she has been having chest pains, and that he gets up during the night to check on her. A few days later, Barbara returns from church, having talked to her friend. She tells Cedric that he doesn’t need to worry, and that she will be taking care of herself from now on. And after weeks without speaking, they embrace, and both burst into tears.
Cedric’s visit to Scripture Cathedral illustrates the profound social role that the church has had in the Jennings’ lives. Even after leaving the church, Cedric attends out of respect for the people who have known him since childhood. He also goes to talk with Barbara’s friends, hoping that they will be able to help her when he is not around. Barbara is not often comfortable confiding in others, and so Cedric needs to ensure that someone is available to her, looking after her as she has always looked after Cedric.
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