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

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9. Bill Payers on Parade

Summary

Zayd's parents Bernadine Dohrn and Billy Ayers arrive at Brown for Parents Weekend; Dohrn and Ayers were leaders of the Weather Underground in the 1960s and on the FBI's Most Wanted List, but after years as fugitives they re-emerged in mainstream society with their progressive beliefs intact. With them as they walk around campus is Bear and his mother Harriet Beinfeld, a friend dating back to the sixties. Bernadine wishes her son Zayd was more concerned about social issues, and is especially troubled at how he seems to use women instead of promoting women's rights. She was delighted to have met Zayd's friend Cedric in an earlier visit to campus and wishes to meet his mother this weekend. Bernadine embarrasses Zayd when they arrive at his dorm room, cursing unnecessarily.


Meanwhile Barbara Jennings and her daughter Neddy arrive in Providence by train, traveling overnight to arrive at noon. Her life back home hasn't been as stable now that Cedric's gone, with depression setting in and her finances slowly sliding into ruin; Cedric became concerned and asked Neddy to look after her. Barbara and Neddy arrive at the East Andrews dorm but cannot get in, finally being let in when Evan Horowitz and his family arrive. Mother and sister wake up Cedric in bed, who is happy to see them. Like many other parents, Barbara wants to take her child shopping off-campus instead of attending seminars and other scheduled programs. However, she doesn't want to take part in the more affluent stream of shoppers on Thayer Street, instead going to nearby malls and more familiar discount chain stores to buy Cedric hair clippers.

That evening, they return to College Hill and have dinner at Adesso; they feel uncomfortable at the upscale restaurant, but their waitress' candid opinion of the beet flan appetizer helps put them at ease. The following morning, Barbara and Neddy are ready to go home; Barbara notes that most of the other parents have gone to college, including many who were part of the counterculture. Ironically, while the rights of African Americans were part of the counterculture's agenda, they made up a small percentage of college students at the time. On her way out of the dorm, Barbara is stopped by Bernadine Dohrn, who is with her husband and son. Despite Bernadine's enthusiastic greetings, Barbara is wary and only briefly exchanges pleasantries before leaving for the train station.


Notes

The encounter between Barbara Jennings and Bernadine Dohrn exposes a difference in the priorities of these two women. Bernadine embodies the progressive rhetoric and beliefs of the 1960s counterculture, but in doing so turns the flesh-and-blood Jennings into symbols of racial understanding and tolerance. Bonding with the Jennings is meant to make a larger political point for Bernadine, and to show how virtuous she is as a bastion of a more idealistic time. Barbara is considerably more pragmatic - she sees no connection with Bernadine, as she is not at all concerned with symbolism and political statements but simply with surviving financially and morally in an unwelcoming world. As a result, she has no time for Bernadine, instead focused on returning to her own world back in Washington, D.C., and all the demands it places on her.



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