Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jende Jonga walks into the halls of Lehman Brothers for his job interview with Clark Edwards. This is the first time in which Jende has worn a suit—the “green double-breasted pinstripe suit” that he wore when he arrived in America—for a job interview. He never even had a résumé before recently seeking the help of a volunteer career counselor at the library. In his homeland of Cameroon, Jende worked as a farmer and a street cleaner. In New York, he worked as a dishwasher and a livery cab driver. When he walks into Mr. Edwards’s office, Jende is determined to impress the man into making him his chauffeur.
The interview causes Jende to feel and experience a level of distinction that’s new to him. Though his suit can be perceived as loud and unprofessional, wearing it makes him feel like more than a menial worker. The process of learning to present himself on paper is also new. The scene foreshadows how his relationship with Clark—an upper-class man—will make Jende more self-conscious about the way he presents himself.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Jende’s mouth falls open at the sight of the Clark’s plush furnishings and the views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Clark asks Jende to sit, never taking his eyes off of a shredder in which he is inserting paper. He asks if Jende’s been in any accidents or has any outstanding tickets; Jende answers no to both questions. Clark then asks Jende to tell him about himself. Jende explains that he lives in Harlem but comes from a little coastal town in Cameroon called Limbe. Clark asks if Jende has any “papers.” Jende assures him that he has a work permit, which he believes will hold him over until he gets his green card. He also assures Clark that he’s in the country legally, “for the long term.”
Clark’s office signifies a level of wealth and importance that is new to Jende. The papers that he’s inserting into the shredder foreshadow the revelation of Lehman Brothers’ dishonest financial practices. The juxtaposition of this criminal act with Clark’s question about whether or not Jende has any outstanding tickets seems ironic. Meanwhile, Jende’s explanation of his immigration status reveals the thinking process of some undocumented workers. Knowing that laborers aren’t granted visas, they must circumvent the system.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Jende tells Clark that he’s been in the country since 2004. During the interview, Jende feels both parched and sweaty but senses that he’s doing well. Clark says that Jende will sign a “confidentiality agreement,” swearing never to reveal anything about what he sees Clark doing—not to anyone—while chauffeuring him around town. When Jende isn’t taking care of Clark, he’ll chauffeur other members of the Edwards family. After assuring Jende that he’ll hear from Clark’s secretary the following day regarding his decision, Clark advises Jende to get a better suit, in black, blue, or gray, and to wear a real tie, instead of the clip-on that Jende’s presently wearing. They shake hands, with Jende thanking him in advance, and offering to be “the best chauffeur” if he gets the job. Clark smiles and pats him on the arm.
His feelings of being both “parched” and “sweaty” are signs of his nervousness because Jende knows how much he needs this job to gain a foothold in his new country. The confidentiality agreement will later be the cause of a personal dilemma in Jende—as the Edwards family’s driver, he’ll become privy to aspects of their personal and professional lives without wanting to be. Though Jende doesn’t impress Clark with his appearance, he learns a lesson in how not to present himself, which he will use going forward.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon