When Pharoah is selected to participate in the school’s spelling bee, he prepares for weeks before the contest, repeating words and training himself to relax and think calmly before speaking so that he will not stutter. On the day of the event, he wants his friend Rickey to be there, but Rickey has been sent to the principal’s office out of fear that he could lose control and disrupt the contest. Pharoah is confident enough about his abilities and his practice that he believes he can place second or third. However, when he stands on the stage, he becomes extremely nervous, afraid that he will stutter and embarrass himself, and that everyone will make fun of him.
Pharoah’s training before the spelling bee shows how dedicated he is to his academic work. However, he soon realizes that his greatest obstacle is not necessarily his ability to spell, but to control his stutter. This episode thus serves as a highly symbolic event, as Pharoah is given the opportunity to show whether he can overcome the fear that his environment instills in him (which his stutter renders visible) or whether his emotions will overwhelm him.
Pharoah succeeds at spelling words until only five contestants are left. However, when asked to spell “endurance,” which he knows how to spell, he becomes so excited that he begins to speak to fast. His stutter returns, and he finds himself unable to spell the letters out. The buzzer sounds, marking his elimination, and Pharoah tries to keep himself from crying in public. Ms. Barone congratulates him, telling him she is proud of him, but Pharoah returns home disappointed and sad.
Pharoah’s inability to spell a word he knows because of his stutter gives the impression that his body is more powerful than his mind. It seems unfair that a physical problem would impede him from expressing his intellectual capacities. At the same time, though, Pharoah benefits from support, and Ms. Barone’s words are meant to remind him that he has done well, especially considering his speaking impairment.
At home, LaJoe also tries to reassure him. She knows that Pharoah will succeed at school and that he might be the first of her children to bring home a high school diploma. Pharoah, however, has higher ambitions, since he knows that he could have won the contest. He decides to work hard to prepare for next year’s contest.