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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: STUDY NOTES / SYNOPSIS

CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS

1. Something to Push Against

Summary

At a Frank W. Ballou High School assembly with guests D.C. mayor Marion Barry and singer Tevin Campbell, school principal Richard Washington surprises the students by handing out the one hundred dollar checks to students who managed at least a B average. In a school of 1,389 students with high dropout and transfer rates, there were only 79 students who made this level. Most of them do not want attention drawn to themselves, as they wish to avoid persecution and even physical harm for such an achievement, which is why Principal Washington has to make this award ceremony a surprise. He calls out Cedric Jennings' name, but Cedric is not at the assembly. Instead, he is taking a practice SAT test in the chemistry classroom of Clarence Taylor, having suspected the ceremony would take place and wishing to avoid the hassle.

When Taylor finds him there, he tries to provide encouragement for Cedric, whom he's taken under his wing. Taylor asks about his application to a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology for top minority high schools students; this program often helps pave the way for such students to attend MIT for college. Cedric assures Taylor he sent in the application and asks if he thinks he'll get in. The bell rings before Taylor can properly answer and Cedric heads to Unified Math class, getting teased along the way by students who noticed he wasn't present at the awards ceremony. At Unified Math, he becomes calm as he takes a test, enjoying the confidence and surety it gives him, and expressing his love of the course in the last question of the test.

A week after the assembly awards, Cedric decides to go to the Martin Luther King avenue bus stop and listens as two crack dealers discuss receiving sex in exchange for drugs. He sees other boys flirting with girls but purposely keeps his distance. He goes home to an apartment near the corner of 16th and V streets, and soon after his mother Barbara arrives from work. He makes hash for dinner and, instead of eating separately, they sit together this evening. She assures him he will make it into the MIT program.

On another day of classes, a Code Blue is announced by Assistant Principal Ballard while Cedric is in Advanced Physics. The Code Blue means that students who aren't where they're supposed to be will be rounded up by security. The physics teacher, Mr. Momen, hands out a worksheet which puzzles Cedric. When he sees a girl looking at his paper, she tries to flirt with him. Cedric makes an appeal to Momen, who tells him to get along better with others. After class, he goes to meet his friend LaTisha Williams in the cafeteria; he usually eats alone in empty classrooms, and is harassed by other students along the way. Over lunch, LaTisha teases him about his masculinity and how he once tried to come on to Connie Mitchell. At the end of the day, he runs into LaTisha and they go to the bus stop. There, a boy threatens another with a gun, causing panic among the other students, but that boy runs away without firing. On the bus headed home, Cedric remembers how last spring after the awards ceremony he was threatened by another boy with a gun, this one expressing jealousy at the one hundred dollar check Cedric earned. With that thought, Cedric realizes he didn't go to the awards ceremony, not because he was ashamed of his academic achievements, but because he was scared. This comes as a relief to him, as it is something he can accept about himself.

Notes

The theme of ethnicity and whiteness is played throughout various scenes in the chapter. Students who do well in studies are called "Whitey!", which is considered the harshest epithet against them. Cedric's khaki pants are singled out for ridicule, as they are not popular in this setting. Further, Connie Mitchell, the girl Cedric tries to talk to in LaTisha's story, is described as "a gorgeous, light-skinned ingénue". Masculinity is also touched on, as Cedric is made to feel feminine --and therefore, weak in this context - because he cares about his education so deeply.


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