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

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13. A Place Up Ahead

Summary

Back at his dorm room, Cedric shows Zayd the poem he wrote for Education class; the week before, he finally called Zayd and renewed their friendship. Cedric originally wanted to write a traditional paper for the midterm, but found it unsatisfactory and began thinking up verses instead. Zayd compliments the poem and when pressed about his favorite line, points to the couplet that advises to "let the colors run". The next day they go to Sam Goody's to look at new albums and Zayd lends Cedric money to buy some mini-disc CDs.

At Psychology class, Cedric receives his midterm exam back and realizes he has the lowest score. He decides to take the course pass / fail, as he cannot drop it since he'll have to drop Discrete Math. This decision is confirmed when he receives the results for his take-home midterm in Discrete Math. For his Calculus class, he convinced his instructor Peter Berman to let him take a test for the second midterm instead of a take-home assignment with a lengthy word problem. Cedric crams for this test for two days, using an old textbook he found at a thrift store in Washington, D.C. On the day of the test, he is less confident about his chances and confesses this to Berman, who tells him to try his best. Cedric then goes to Mr. Chin's class to take the midterm exam, and is surprised to find Taylor polynomials on the test as Berman hadn't covered it yet. However, he read about it in his thrift store textbook and tackles the problem. On Thursday he calls Berman to request if he can do the other project instead, but Berman again advises patience. At the end of Friday morning's class, Berman returns the midterm exam to Cedric: it's a 98, which Berman finds particularly surprising because of the Taylor polynomial question.


Cedric goes home for Spring Break at the end of March; he notices a late payment notice for his mother during that week, but thinks little of it. In early April, Cedric goes on a date with Chiniqua Milligan, going to a midrung shopping center that Brown students don't frequent. They stop at Popular Club so Chiniqua can return a pair of shoes: Cedric becomes defensive when he sees a woman about their age with a newborn, sizing up Chiniqua and wondering what she's doing there. Next they go to a Coconuts music store, where they talk about music while looking through the racks. When Cedric gets into a shouting match with an apparently deranged white man, Chiniqua is unimpressed by this needless show of machismo. Things run smoother as they talk over a meal at McDonald's, then see the movie A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. Afterwards, the two discuss the movie Waiting to Exhale: Cedric takes issue with the premarital sex in the story, while Chiniqua considers them consenting adults.

At another time, Cedric is surprised when Rob says he likes the music Cedric is listening to, "I'll Fly Away" by Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir. In turn, Cedric finds himself enjoying one of the artists Rob listens to, Alanis Morissette. Cedric has dinner with Zayd, where they talk about potential romances: Cedric does not mention Chiniqua, and Zayd speaks of a new girl who he considers different from others he's known. Cedric advises this may be the relationship to take slow, and Zayd vaguely agrees.

On the weekend of April 12 and 13, many student organizations on-campus host events. Chiniqua tries to convince him to go to a party at Harambee House, but Cedric again insists he didn't go to Brown to be with black people. In their dorm room, Rob brings up The Underground, a common hangout for his dorm mates, during a friendly conversation. Cedric had never gone there despite numerous invitations; however, the previous night he was waiting on line to get in before again changing his mind and leaving. Rob then mentions a Sexual Assault outreach event, which leads to Cedric opining that if you don't try sex, nothing like that can happen. Rob asks how it's possible to go through life without trying things out. Cedric says little to this, but that night goes with Molly Olsen to The Underground to watch some comedians. Without the attention of his dorm mates, he enjoys himself unselfconsciously.

On Saturday, Cedric wakes up around noon and finds himself thinking about an assignment in his first semester in which he wrote an autobiographical essay. Now he finds himself asking the same question, "Who is Cedric?", but isn't as sure about the answer as he once was. He goes for a walk and stops at the Salvation Army to look at clothes, buying himself a beige wool overcoat. When he sees his reflection, he is surprised at how much he looks like his father. On the street, ee asks an older white man driving an Infiniti Q30 about his car and the man drives away scared. Cedric considers W.E.B. DuBois' idea of double consciousness: that African Americans see themselves as they are and as how white culture sees them. As he returns to campus, he stops at the grocery to buy Oodles of Noodles in preparation for finals. The irony is that he was forced to eat that food often when he lived with his mother.

At the dorm, he leaves a message with Chiniqua asking about the party at Harambee House that night. He then returns to his room in time for a phone call from his teacher from Ballou, Clarence Taylor; Taylor and his wife are in Providence at that moment, on their way to Boston for the marathon. They stop by Brown to say hello to Cedric briefly. Cedric happily reminds Taylor about the Biblical quote regarding "a hope in the unseen" and how that has helped him. Taylor leaves a Bible magazine with Cedric, but he doesn't want it and leaves it for someone else.

Cedric goes to the Harambee House party with Chiniqua and two of her friends, Julia and Jodie. The girls invite him to dance, but he refuses. Instead, he watches the party while sitting on a couch. He realizes that he's been refusing to go to Harambee House, not because of the sex and alcohol that Bishop Long and his mother warned him about, but because the students here intimidated him. They were black kids from affluent homes who could comfortably take on the street cred of inner city kids like himself; thus, what Cedric feared was that he'd take the easy route and align with this crowd, instead of mixing with people of all different races and backgrounds. He decides to leave around midnight and basks in the wide variety of experiences and celebrations taking place on-campus that evening. He takes off his jacket to feel the rain.

Notes

The friendship with Zayd is renewed at the start of the chapter and the reconciliation described in brief. This is not the most dramatically satisfying approach to this subplot, but a choice clearly made to keep focused on the larger issues of the book. Note how Cedric's decision to let pride guide his second semester does not keep him from making necessary choices to assure his viability as a Brown student. Thus, he sees his dropping of the Discrete Math class as a fallback, not a retreat - he sees this choice in an objective, strategic manner which isn't filled with self-recrimination or even anger towards others. Cedric is clearly making progress here, earning a sense of distance and analytical acumen that was a necessary goal of his first year at Brown.

Cedric ponders who he is in this chapter, but in a calm manner quite different from the confusion and anger exhibited in earlier times. He even comes to terms with the fact that he bears a resemblance to his father, acknowledging the lineage despite the differences between them. Further, he is no longer afraid of his past in Washington, D.C., as he actively seeks comfort - the Oodles of Noodles - that he once found so distasteful when it was forced on him in his younger days. The irony is appreciated, showing a lack of bitterness and even a nostalgic appreciation for all he had to go through to get where he is now. His break with religious ties - but not spirituality itself - is symbolized in a special visitor from his past, Clarence Taylor, who leaves a Bible magazine which Cedric does not keep.

The party at Harambee House is the climax to Cedric's first year at Brown: after actively avoiding the dorm all year, he finally relents. This is in keeping with his newfound comfort in his individual identity, and an affirmation of his masculinity - he not only attends the party with three females, but is dressed in his new "pimp" jacket. He acknowledges the intimidation he had felt about Harambee House and the easy path of staying with an African American group; the reason he acknowledges this now is because he no longer fears this easy path, is secure enough in who he is to face it and refuse it. This is brought home by the closing image of the chapter, as he stands in the middle of Brown during a night of celebration by the rich diversity of the campus population, and basks in the rain. He is home here and the rain symbolizes a kind of baptism or renewal in his newfound sense of self.


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