In A Hope in the Unseen, many of the characters in Cedric’s neighborhood express anger over the circumstances that keep them in poverty. Cedric’s narrative demonstrates how anger can actually be a productive and positive force, however, as long as it is channeled appropriately. Cedric’s anger fuels his motivation to succeed—he calls it “something to push against”—showing that anger can make a person more tenacious and committed to their goals.
The sense of hopelessness and dependence is omnipresent in Cedric’s community, and what most of the residents have in common is their tendency to respond in anger. However, in many of these cases, anger isn’t channeled into something productive, like the pursuit of one’s goals, making it a harmful rather than helpful force. Cedric’s mother is hurt and frustrated at the circumstances that have kept her from a better life. One evening, as both she and Cedric go hungry because her meager $5 per hour wages are not enough to feed them on a regular basis, she lashes out at her son. As her anger bubbles up, she thinks about how she has been “killing herself, her lifeblood channeled through scriptural pieties and long-shot hopes for Cedric’s future, leaving her own urges untended and volatile.” She regrets that expression of anger, however, and returns to her usual state of resigned frustration and powerlessness. Her anger is unproductive because it makes her combative, sad, and then despondent, rather than fueling her search for a better life.
The young men who surround Cedric are also quick to anger, like the gang member who pulls a gun on another boy at the bus stop in the middle of the afternoon, resorting to violence at the first sign of conflict. The gang activity at Ballou High School is a direct result of anger at a world that has rendered them helpless to escape poverty and violence. Cedric’s classmate Delante Coleman, for example, feels marginalized and resents his life circumstances, and channels his anger into making money and rising through the ranks of a school gang. The narrator notes that while Delante and Cedric are matched in their anger and drive, it is “what each does with his fury” that separates them. Both boys’ anger stems from the same place, but while Delante’s anger is destructive, Cedric’s is productive. In response to these same circumstances, Cedric carefully channels his anger so that it’s like rocket fuel propelling him up and out of Ballou High School and into a better life. As a ninth grader with Mr. Taylor, Cedric was motivated by a sense of anger and rebellion: the teacher would challenge him with intellectual riddles, which were “combative but productive,” capitalizing on the young man’s competitive spirit. Anger fuels Cedric as he advocates for fair grades from teachers and calls out classmates who try to copy his work. This prompts some teachers and administrators to see Cedric as combative, but he feels that this is what is necessary to rise above his circumstances. In fact, it is Cedric’s focused anger that pushes him to apply to Brown University: after hearing from the hated Reverend Keels, a science teacher, that his low SAT score will never land him in an Ivy League college, Cedric vaguely recalls that Keels had mentioned a former Ballou student attending Brown. From this moment on, Cedric is focused on Brown as a refuge from his life at Ballou and a way of proving to the naysayers wrong. His anger over this teacher’s comments could have derailed him entirely, but instead, it makes him even more tenacious about achieving his goals.
Halfway through his freshman year at Brown, however, Cedric begins to realize that he no longer needs that anger, and it slowly begins to dissipate. While it was effective fuel to launch him into better circumstances, it no longer seems to serve a productive purpose for Cedric as a student at Brown. He can now look to the future with hope instead of looking back at the past in anger. One afternoon in February, Cedric reflects on his high school experience and realizes that he has linked his identity to the sense of rejection he felt at Ballou. That rejection—and the anger that he felt towards the classmates who bullied him—set him apart and made him feel special. But there was no such rejection at Brown, no bullying or threat of violence, and therefore, there was no place for Cedric’s anger. Later that evening, he notes that he “can’t seem to locate his fury.” In place of an essay for his education course, Cedric pens a passionate and highly emotional poem, for which his professor nearly fails him. In their subsequent discussion in Professor Wakefield’s office, Cedric begins to recognize that a major part of his college education involves building mental skills like rational thought and critical analysis, which help him to look at his own background and life experiences from a distance and to evaluate them with less emotion and more clarity. He quickly internalizes the professor’s advice to put away his anger and “not have it bubble up so much” when faced with adversity. Cedric ultimately learns that anger is an effective tool that can push him toward success, but it needs to be channeled carefully and at appropriate times. In the Epilogue of the book, Cedric sits calmly at his desk job in the Brown University Admissions office, recalling the stresses and frustrations of his high school experience. He notes that in some ways, he misses having “something to push against” as he did back then. This anger-turned-motivation was necessary for Cedric during his time at Ballou, especially as he recognized it and used it to grow into the man he wanted to become.
Anger Quotes in A Hope in the Unseen
“If you’re going to make it here, Cedric, you’ll have to find some distance from yourself and all you’ve been through. The key, I think, is to put your outrage in a place where you can get at it when you need to, but not have it bubble up so much, especially when you’re asked to embrace new ideas or explain what you observe to people who share none of your experiences.”