Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jende is driving Clark back from Washington, D.C. They are cruising across the Delaware Memorial Bridge and entering New Jersey when Clark asks Jende to tell him about Limbe. Jende smiles and a nostalgic lilt enters his voice. He tells Clark about the sign that welcomes people: “Welcome to Limbe, the Town of Friendship.” It’s a sign that, along with the smell of the ocean breeze, makes people happy to be there. Jende describes Limbe as a small town, but one “made of magic, an OPEC city” with a “national refinery on one side of the shore, fishermen with their nets on the other side.” People in Limbe lead simple lives, Jende says, but they enjoy their lives.
Jende’s initial description of Limbe idealizes it because he misses his home, though he may not yet realize that he does. He describes a place that is intimate (“a small town”) and special (“made of magic”). It’s also a place that is rich in natural resources (“an OPEC city” and a great place for fishermen). His note that people lead simple but enjoyable lives contrasts with the lavishness and misery in which the Edwardses live.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Clark describes this as “fascinating,” while reopening his laptop. Jende goes on to say that Limbe “is the best town in Africa,” and that Vince once told him that “it’s the type of town he wants to live in.” Clark is unsurprised by this and asks when Vince told Jende this. Jende says that Vince mentioned it two nights ago, when he was driving Vince back to Columbia after he had dinner with Mighty and Cindy.
Vince’s desire to live in such a town probably strikes Clark as yet another example of what he perceives as his son’s flakiness and his wish to live a kind of alternative lifestyle. Unlike Jende, Clark doesn’t take the comment seriously. Vince is eager for the simple, enjoyable life that Jende has described.
Themes
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Clark asks Jende why he’s in America if Limbe is so beautiful. Jende says that everyone wants to be in America. Clark is unconvinced, leaving Jende to think about “what to say without saying too much.” Jende says that his country “is no good” and that, if he had stayed, he “would have become nothing” and “would have remained nothing.” He feared that Liomi would grow up to be poor like him, just as Jende was poor like his father, Pa Jonga. In America, Jende knows that he can “become a respectable man” and that his son can become respectable, too.
Clark is unconvinced because Jende is speaking in clichés. Jende’s description of Cameroon as “no good” contrasts sharply with his vision of Limbe as an ideal place. Jende can idealize Limbe because it’s his home, but he can also regard Cameroon objectively as a place in which no one from his kind of background is ever able to advance.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon
Clark takes a call in which he explains in ten seconds why someone shouldn’t be fired for something. He then asks why Jende couldn’t achieve respectability in his own country. Jende’s voice drops “ten decibels lower” as he explains that, to be somebody in Limbe, you have to be born in a family with money. Jende’s voice escalates again when he contrasts this condition with life in America, where someone like Obama, who didn’t come from the nation’s elite, is trying to become president of the United States.
The brevity of Clark’s speech, is juxtaposed with Jende’s slow narrative about why America is better than Cameroon. What he doesn’t realize is that the kind of poverty that he found inescapable also exists in America and that it’s people like Clark, who make ten-second judgments that determine the outcome of people’s lives, who can foster that poverty.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
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Clark picks up a buzzing phone and says something to someone named Phil about being unsure about what Tom, the CEO, is thinking. He says that the company can’t continue doing the same things, expecting different results. Clark is worried about their “superficial short-term fixes” coming back to haunt them. He expresses concern that their lives, careers, and reputations will be compromised. He takes a deep breath while listening again, then laughs and agrees to a round of golf sometime soon. Clark declines another offer from Phil, saying it’s not his “cup of tea,” but that he’ll probably beg Phil for “her number” when he finds himself “on the verge of an explosion.”
Clark worries that his career may be ruined by Lehman Brothers’ fiscal irresponsibility. What he doesn’t mention is how the lives of people who aren’t rich executives will be more severely compromised. Phil’s offers of golf and a prostitute are examples of how some of these people comfort themselves when they feel guilt. Clark’s description of “superficial short-term fixes” could also apply to these activities.
Themes
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
Clark places other calls, including one to Paris during which Jende overhears him speaking “mediocre French,” which he praises as “very good French” at the end of Clark’s call. Clark says that he lived in Paris for a year while he was studying at Stanford and, when Jende registers ignorance, he explains that Stanford is “a college.” Jende notes that the school has a good football team. When Clark says that he originally comes from Evanston, Illinois, Jende recalls that his cousin, Winston, lived in Illinois for a few months, but he called home all the time complaining about the cold. Jende says that he thinks Winston joined the army so that he could move to a warm place. Clark chuckles at the supposed logic and wistfully recalls his childhood in Illinois. He says that his sister, Ceci, is thinking of moving back there.
Their conversation reveals how, despite Jende’s lack of formal education, each possesses a knowledge that the other doesn’t have. Jende probably speaks far better French than Clark, due to French being one of Cameroon's official languages; but, he’s never had the privilege of going to France and is unfamiliar with Stanford as a prestigious academic institution. He knows of Clark’s home state only from Winston’s stories. In the conversation they each reveal more about themselves. Clark, like Jende, exposes his wistfulness for his original home.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Thinking of Ceci, Clark calls her. He leaves a voicemail message in which he notes how busy he’s been at work and that he insists that Ceci go to Mexico for their father’s eightieth birthday. Clark says he’ll pay for everything and promises that he’ll try to pick up the next time Ceci calls, though email or text is always better for him. He throws his head back after hanging up and closes his eyes. He then asks  Jende if he had a job back home. Jende says that he worked for Limbe Urban Council. When Clark asks if this was “a good job,” Jende says that there aren’t really good jobs or bad jobs in his home country. The problem is that the job offered him no solid future, not even a sure way to marry Neni.
Despite Clark’s seeming indifference to his wife and children, his eagerness to reconnect with his parents and sister for a special occasion suggests that he misses a life that he no longer has—a life he associates with Illinois and the family he grew up with. It’s the money that he earns in New York, however, that gives him the privilege to foster this connection. Jende, on the other hand, didn’t have a job in Limbe that gave him the privilege of creating and maintaining the family he wanted.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Clark doesn’t understand. Poor people marry all the time. Jende explains that, in Cameroon, “not everyone can marry the person that they want.” Neni’s father, for instance, refused to allow him and Neni to marry because he wanted her to find someone with money who would give him money whenever he asked for it. Though Jende acknowledges that people do elope and live together before marriage in Cameroon, he wanted to do things the right way and pay Neni’s bride-price, which included livestock, cloth, bags of rice, bottles of wine, and an envelope of cash containing twice the sum that Neni’s father demanded. After Jende’s family handed over the bride-price to Neni’s family, the relatives sang and danced together, and then he and Neni were married. He says that the payment of the bride-price means more to him than his marriage certificate.
Jende’s explains to help Clark understand that in his culture, people don’t feel that they have the freedom to do as they please. Clark imagines how people in the U.S. “marry all the time” with no concern of what others think. For Jende, however, it was very important that he do things in a way in which Neni’s father would approve. This is partly due to Jende wanting to show the snobby, greedy man that he is perfectly capable of giving Neni a good life and to get back at him for having Jende imprisoned for impregnating Neni. The payment of the bride-price is important to Jende because it disproves what Neni’s father believed about him.
Themes
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Clark says that he hopes Neni’s “worth it.” Jende insists that he has “the best wife in the whole world.” Clark then asks if Jende thinks that America is better than Cameroon. Jende insists that it’s a “million times” better, proven by the fact that he’s driving such a nice car and that Clark is talking to him as if he’s “somebody.” He’s also sitting in the driver’s seat, “feeling as if [he’s] somebody.”
Jende speaks in superlatives, not only because he feels optimistic about his new life, which places him in proximity to someone as wealthy as Clark, but because he feels that he’s already triumphed over his original circumstances by winning over Neni from her family.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Class and Interdependency Theme Icon
While flipping through some loose papers from a folder, Clark asks how Jende could afford to buy a plane ticket to the U.S. if he was so poor. Jende explains that Winston helped with that. Clark recalls that Winston is an associate at Dustin, Connors, and Solomon—a Wall Street firm. Clark then wonders how Winston arrived in the U.S.; Jende says that Winston “won the green card lottery” and then joined the army. When Jende begins to explain how Winston “used the money” from the G.I. Bill to attend law school, Clark stops him, remembering that Frank told him Winston’s story.
Clark uses Jende’s story, it seems, to distract him from the hopeless drudgery that characterizes his daily life. The stories of Jende and Winston’s  ascendancy into American life is juxtaposed with Clark’s imminent fall from his lofty position. Jende characterizes Winston’s good fortune as luck, which discounts Winston’s relatively financially privileged background, which gave him an advantage, and his personal sacrifice in joining the army.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Clark’s phone buzzes again. He speaks to someone about someone else going to Arizona and then hangs up and dials another number. He’s calling Vince to say that Cindy just called to tell Clark that Vince is turning down “the Skadden internship offer” to spend a month on a reservation in Arizona. He asks if Vince can’t just go there after the internship. He asks Vince to call him back or come to his office so that they can talk. He directs Vince to call Leah and check his calendar, saying it’s important that he talk to his parents before making “major decisions.”
Vince’s rejection of the internship is yet another example of how Vince is rejecting the life that his parents are trying to create for him. Clark views Vince’s search for spiritual fulfillment as something that should be relegated to a hobby as opposed to making it a serious pursuit. Clark tries to make time to talk to Vince but forces his son to work around his schedule and work obligations.
Themes
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon
Clark hangs up the phone and sighs deeply, muttering about how “unbelievable” his son is. Jende longs to tell him that he’s sorry about Vince and that “nothing could be harder than a disobedient son.” Clark then calls Frank, asking if he can arrange for an internship for Vince at Dustin, Connors, and Solomon. When he ends the call, he tells Jende that he’s glad that he understands that he’s been given a “great opportunity.” Jende nods and says that he thanks God every day for the opportunity. He says that anything is possible for an American. He hopes that, one day, Liomi will grow up to be “a great man” like Clark.
Jende identifies with Clark because he believes that the life that Clark has and the one that he wants for his son are the only legitimate paths for success. Clark’s privilege is also expressed in his ability to arrange jobs and internships on Vince’s behalf, which is something that Jende is unable to do for Liomi. This scene shows how achievement is often less determined by accomplishments than by social connections.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon