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

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6. The Pretender

Summary

The summer before starting at Brown, Cedric works at the Price Waterhouse Accounting firm through an Inroad internship. He has a benefactor, Donald Korb, who has paid for various incidentals and even provides Cedric with two suits; unfortunately, the suits are not to Cedric's liking, as they are "old white man suits", so he trades them in for graduation presents. He uses his first check to buy an outfit, but he still receives undue notice when he goes to a Georgetown mall. That night, he speaks on the phone with LaTisha, who tells him a fellow graduate, Marvin Peavy, was killed in a workplace robbery. Cedric considers the fate of other students: Henry Wimbush died while dealing drugs, Torrence Parks failed English and did not graduate, Phillip Atkins is working in a mail room.


One day, Cedric Gilliam calls to ask Barbara Jennings for permission to take Cedric Junior to the Budweiser Concert Series at the D.C. Armory. Barbara refuses, and Cedric Senior does not argue. On Cedric's eighteenth birthday, mother and son celebrate with takeout spare ribs. Cedric and Barbara talk about whether or not Cedric is yet a man, Barbara stressing that a man is someone who can take care of himself with nobody else helping. They talk about love and Barbara admits she thought she was in love once, meaning Cedric Gilliam.

Attendance at Scripture Cathedral is higher in the summer because of the air conditioning. Bishop Long wishes to single out Cedric Jennings one day, as he knows that Cedric's future may lead him away from the church. He addresses Cedric and his situation in an indirect fashion, and is pleased when Cedric joins gives a donation to receive a special blessing.

Cedric Gilliam is out on parole but heroin was found during a urine test; he is being hunted down by federal marshals and knows it's only a matter of time before he's sent back to jail. Cedric Junior goes to his Aunt Chris' home for a dinner party in his honor. After, he walks past the house of his grandparents and runs into his Uncle Butch and his uncle's friend, Cornelius Leonard. Cornelius opines that Ballou is no place for students, which makes Cedric laugh. He knows it's time to leave this place behind.

Notes

The choices that Cedric has made are contrasted against those of his peers, such as Torrence Parks embracing Islam to the point where he ruins his future academically. The older men encounters in this chapter - Cedric's father, but also Uncle Butch and Cornelius Leonard - stand as cautionary tales for what the wrong choices can mean for Cedric. Cedric Gilliam is of course the most distressing example for Cedric Jennings: the son seeks the approval of the father but does not know how to relate to him. Further, the father has earned a good education but that has not translated into a prosperous life. Education in and of itself is not the answer, but also the strong moral fiber that Barbara and Bishop Long embody for the son. The argument over Cedric Senior taking Cedric Junior to a concert illustrates that moral authority, as Barbara wins in barring her son from going. Barbara also clearly defines for Cedric what manhood entails, which is an important foreshadowing of their conversation at the close of the book where he becomes a man by not only standing up for himself, but also by being available to support his mother.

The narrative tangent which follows Bishop Long is a highly calculated assessment of how increasingly affluent congregants abandon his church, yet the religious convictions he carries are nonetheless still conveyed in a sincere and convincing manner. For many readers, there is a disconnect between the religious values that Long preaches and the fact that he leads a considerably more luxurious life than his followers, who often donate money to him to the point of poverty. Whether this is exploitation by Long or simply receiving his due for doing the Lord's work is open to debate, especially as he does provide strong spiritual sustenance to both Barbara and Cedric Jennings. Suskind is sharply aware of this seeming contradiction, but does not condemn either Long or his followers, leaving it for individual readers to decide.


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