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Study Guide: A Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind - Online Notes

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A HOPE IN THE UNSEEN BY RON SUSKIND: PLOT SYNOPSIS / ONLINE SUMMARY

THEMES

Major Themes

The main theme of this non-fiction work is the importance of correct choices in defining one's identity, especially in the face of adversity. Cedric chooses academic achievement as both a means to define himself and as his path to personal success. Education is thus another major theme of the book, while religion and faith - the titular "hope in the unseen" - is another major guide which helps steer Cedric on his quest.

The adversities Cedric faces are thematic concerns of the book, defining the difficult choices he must make. Race is the first such concern, as being African American and a part of the African American community poses specific challenges and opportunities. Social class is the second, as Cedric discovers his lower class background has been as limiting - if not more so - than his race. The last adversity that Cedric faces is masculinity: specifically, what defines manhood and how Cedric can assert this without forfeiting his ambitions.

Minor Themes

The nature of anger is one of the underlying themes in the development of Cedric's identity, as he often voices the need to have something to push against in order to succeed. Cultural understanding is the other minor theme of the book, as Cedric often finds himself dealing with people whose backgrounds and frames of reference are quite different from his.


MOOD

The overall mood of A Hope in the Unseen is very deadpan and serious. This owes to the journalistic roots of the work: it seeks to to convey a specific situation and chain of events in an objective fashion, and in doing so illustrate broader issues concerning American culture.

However, there are also strong novelistic flourishes in the work, which make the book more powerful and engaging. As a result, sometimes the book explores the mood of the character on which Suskind focuses, reflecting the character's emotions at that moment. This does not run against the objective journalistic tone; rather, it enhances that mood by dramatically adding insights in the same manner an eyewitness quote enhances a newspaper story.



Ron Suskind - A Hope in the Unseen Free Study Guide/Notes/Summary
Ron Suskind

Ron Suskind - BIOGRAPHY

Ron Suskind is a journalist who worked for the Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000 as the senior national affairs reporter. Early in his tenure at the paper, he wrote a series of feature stories about honor students in the inner city of Washington, D.C. While researching and writing, one student in particular came to his attention, Cedric Jennings. This series earned him a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1995, and was developed into the full-length book A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League. The book was a popular and critical success for its intimate portrayal of the intersection between race, class, and education.

Suskind has also written extensively about the George W. Bush Presidency and its policies. 2004's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill looks into the inner workings of the Bush administration, while 2006's The One Percent Doctrine deals with America's battle against terrorism and the strident foreign policy doctrine advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney. Suskind also contributed to 2002's Profiles in Courage for Our Times, writing a chapter on 1998 Profile in Courage Award Recipient Nickolas C. Murnion.

Ron Suskind attended the University of Virginia as an undergraduate and earned a master's degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1983. He lives in Washington with his wife, Cornelia Kennedy Suskind, and their children.


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

A Hope in the Unseen began as a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, then fleshed out into a full book. In terms of genre, this non-fiction account is also a bildungsroman - that is, a novel of education, not just in the sense of formal education but personal growth and self-awareness. The bildungsroman has a rich literary history, and elements of the genre are often found in other kinds of narratives. A Hope in the Unseen is not a novel in the sense that it is a journalistic work based on verifiable facts; however, there is a strong novelistic sensibility to the book which enhances its dramatic power and in that sense makes it a true bildungsroman.

The autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams is an inevitable point of comparison, as it is another work of nonfiction which combines a strong dramatic narrative with meditations on the nature of formal education. Other examples of the bildungsroman are Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical Emile; Or, On Education, about the training of the ideal citizen, the young adult novel The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and the darkly satirical White Noise by Don DeLillo.

Though Suskind is not black, his chosen subject places A Hope in the Unseen squarely as a work of African American literature, as it not only features a black protagonist but directly addresses important concerns of the African American community. Other works of African American literature are thus powerful points of comparison. Author Richard Wright is an important figure in the book - Cedric takes a seminar on his writing in his first semester at Brown - and while Native Son is directly referenced in the book, his autobiographical bildungsroman Black Boy in some ways mirror Cedric's own situation and development. Further, W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk is a seminal work of African American literature that is actually referred to in the book and inspires Cedric on his journey.

On a historical note, Cedric Jennings graduated from Brown University in 1999. He worked for several Internet companies before pursuing a Master's Degree in Education at Harvard, then a Master's Degree in Social Work at the University of Michigan. He works as a clinical social worker and returned to Scripture Cathedral as a youth minister. Both Cedric and his mother Barbara make public appearances in support of A Hope in the Unseen and its message.


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