Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Behold the Dreamers can help.

Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Neni knocks “lightly” but “insistently” at Cindy’s door to ask where she’d like to have her breakfast. It’s eleven o’clock. Cindy says that she’ll have breakfast by the pool in an hour. Cindy emerges from her bedroom just before noon, wearing a purple-striped halter-top dress, while Neni is slicing pineapples for her breakfast. When Neni finishes and carries the tray out to the pool, where Cindy is waiting, Cindy asks where Mighty is. Neni says that he went to the beach with a neighbor and the neighbor’s son. When Neni turns to reenter the house, Cindy asks her to pull up a chair and sit with her.
Neni is worried about disturbing Cindy but also worries that there remains a possibility that Cindy could be drugged and passed out again. Her summery appearance contrasts with the ugly and slovenly condition in which Neni found her the day before. Her invitation for Neni to sit with her by the pool briefly places the women on equal footing, even if it’s only for Cindy to ask Neni for something.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Cindy thanks Neni for helping her yesterday. She picks up her sunglasses and puts them on, despite it being an overcast day. Neni says that she was glad to help “madam” when she was “a little sick.” Cindy says that she wasn’t sick and she suspects that Neni knows that, having seen everything on her nightstand. Cindy insists that Neni is smart enough to “put two and two together,” though Neni still insists that she didn’t see anything. Cindy resists her pretense of ignorance and says that she wishes Neni wouldn’t take her for a fool. Neni apologizes for finding out about Cindy’s drug and alcohol abuse, while Cindy stirs her coffee with a silver spoon and sets it down.
The sunglasses are an attempt to shield her eyes so that Neni can’t see how vulnerable Cindy is, despite the secret having been revealed the day before. Neni’s attempts to pretend that she didn’t witness Cindy’s drugged condition, and her apologies for finding out, stem from her fear of being discarded for learning Cindy’s shameful secret, for seeing beneath her boss’s flawless façade. Meanwhile, the silver spoon reminds readers of Cindy’s privilege, which has done nothing to disguise her pain.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Cindy takes off her sunglasses and looks into Neni’s eyes. She tells Neni that she wasn’t born into wealth and came from a poor family. When Neni says that she did too, Cindy says that it’s not the same because poverty in Africa is common, which makes it less shameful for them. Neni nods as though she understands what Cindy is saying and agrees. Cindy goes on to say that, in the U.S., poverty is embarrassing and painful. A tear falls down her cheek as she tells Neni that she has “no idea” how much Cindy has endured.
When Cindy removes her glasses, it coincides with her desire to reveal to Neni who she really is and what she comes from. She inadvertently reveals herself to be ignorant (she assumes that most Africans are poor) and thinks that her problems are more extraordinary than everyone else’s. Neni doesn’t realize that she’s being insulted, but it doesn’t seem to matter in response to what ails Cindy.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Cindy talks about how she rose above her circumstances by working her way through college, getting a job, her own apartment, and how she learned to carry herself in such a way so that she would fit in to an upper-class world. She picks up her silver teaspoon and stirs her coffee again, then puts it down and looks at Neni, whose eyes are lowered. Cindy says that she’s telling Neni all this to help her understand why Cindy fights so hard to remain where she is and to keep her family together. This is also why Neni must never tell anyone what happened yesterday. Neni swears that she’ll tell no one. Cindy asks Neni to make her promise “as from one woman to another” who knows the importance of protecting family. Neni swears and places her right hand into Cindy’s, which lays open on the table.
Cindy reveals her story of how she achieved her American dream, which was to rise out of poverty and join the upper-class through marriage. She keeps stirring with her silver spoon, which is both a nervous tic and a reminder that it belongs to her, that she finally has all of the beautiful things she wants. However, her grasp of these things is tenuous, it seems—reliant on her ability to maintain a façade of perfection. She asks Neni not to tell anyone about what she saw yesterday because it would destroy the illusion that Cindy wants to maintain.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Get the entire Behold the Dreamers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Behold the Dreamers PDF
Cindy thanks Neni and then offers to give her some clothes that she was going to send to the thrift store. Though Cindy is a smaller size, Neni says that she knows how to alter clothes. Cindy says that the garments are all designer goods, which Neni may have. She also has some of Mighty’s old clothes and toys, which Neni may give to Liomi. Neni is grateful. Cindy then instructs Neni to remind her of her bonus before she leaves because she’ll need the money for the baby. Cindy looks at the gleeful pregnant woman and smiles again, while Neni smiles back. They’ve found “a win-win solution.”
Cindy’s gifts of money, toys, and clothes could be perceived as bribes that would make Neni feel to grateful to betray Cindy’s trust. However, they could also be gifts that Cindy bestows because she genuinely wants to help Neni, whose own wishes to lift herself from poverty and to provide the best life for her children mirror Cindy’s own concerns. The situation is “win-win” because Cindy’s wins Neni’s silence and Neni wins the goods she covets.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon