Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Christmas morning, the Jongas eat fried ripe plantains and beans but they don’t exchange gifts—Jende doesn’t want Liomi to conflate exchanging gifts with love. In the afternoon, they eat rice and chicken stew, like most people in Limbe do, and Neni makes chin-chin and cake. The night before, the family watched It’s a Wonderful Life. For the rest of Christmas Day, Jende tells Liomi stories and rocks Timba to sleep. No one comes to visit, but it’s a far happier Christmas for Jende than his first Christmas in America, when he laid all alone on his upper-level bunk in the apartment he shared in the Bronx because Winston had gone to Aruba with a woman he was dating. He imagined Neni taking Liomi to new town to see Ma Jonga who would have prepared a meal of chicken stew with yams, a side of ndolé, plantains, and nyama ngowa.
It’s more likely that Jende doesn’t provide any gifts for Liomi because he can’t afford them. Christmas at the Jonga household is a mixture of Cameroonian tradition, indicated by the food that they make, and their adaptation of American traditions, such as watching the iconic film It’s a Wonderful Life. For Jende, it’s a happier holiday because he has his family with him and he’s less nostalgic for past holidays at home, which he associated with the comforts of food and family companionship. Jende’s frustration causes him to briefly overlook how far he’s come in the past year: he has a more comfortable residence, and his wife and children are with him.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Five days after Christmas, Jende returns to work, “only to find that there [isn’t] much to do.” Anna tells him that Clark is living at a hotel. She also tells him that Cindy won’t be needing his services, but that Mighty will need to get to his piano lesson and back. Jende could return home after that and wouldn’t have much else to do during the holidays. Anna says that there’s no telling how long Clark will remain at the hotel or how much longer Cindy will keep herself locked away in the apartment. Anna also mentions that Cindy’s drinking is getting worse.
Unlike the warmth that has characterized the Jonga family’s Christmas, the holiday was merely a reminder of the discord between Cindy and Clark. Clark has moved out of the apartment and Cindy is self-medicating with alcohol, in addition to isolating herself away from those who could help her. Her behavior is indicative of someone who’s lost faith in everything she once held dear.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Jende greets Mighty and asks about his Christmas, which Mighty says he doesn’t want to talk about. He mentions that Cindy called Vince on Skype and that Vince now as “some funny-looking dreadlocks.” He then mentions that his parents fought in the kitchen the night before. Jende tries to comfort the boy by saying that married people “like to fight sometimes,” but it doesn’t mean anything. Mighty sniffles and says that he heard his mom crying and throwing things at the wall while his father shouted for her to stop. He reports that Cindy said, “I don’t ever wanna see his face again,” and to “get rid of him right now.” Mighty tells Jende that he doesn’t know who his mother was talking about, but that she was screaming it repeatedly, while his father said, “I won’t do it.”
Just as Jende comforted Mighty before with assurances that things would turn out all right, he does so now, with the same dual purposes of comforting the worried boy while also alleviating his own concern about how the infighting between the couple could impact his job. However, Cindy’s vague mention of wanting to get rid of someone, in addition to her violent behavior, is a strong indication that Cindy will fulfill on her promise to have Jende fired. Clark’s resistance, however, seems to be no match for his wife’s hysteria, at least for the time being.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Mighty worries that his parents will get divorced. When the boy leaves the car to meet Stacy and go to his piano lesson, Jende calls Winston, who assures Jende not to worry. Jende is sure that Cindy was talking about him, but Winston says that women like her have lots of people working for her. Winston offers to call Frank and ask him, figuring that Clark would mention this to Frank. Winston can then ask Frank to help him convince Clark to keep Jende. After getting off of the phone, Jende closes his eyes and reclines his head against the car seat. He thinks about the pain he’s experienced, not only Neni’s father sending him to prison, but also the “dread and despair” he experienced when Liomi and Neni ended up in the hospital after a bus accident. This occurred during his first year in America. He thought of them dying while he was so far away from home.
Mighty’s report of Cindy’s behavior makes Jende feel helpless, like a man who isn’t in control of his fate, due to his complete dependence on the Edwardses. He compares this to other moments in which he felt powerless against circumstances. Then, as now, he has to rely on others to ensure a good outcome. He has to rely on Winston to put a good word in for him by proxy because Jende’s work—his effort—is no longer enough to hold him in good stead. Similarly, his love for Neni was not enough to convince Neni’s father that he was worthy of marrying her.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
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