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

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3. Rise and Shine


Throughout March, Cedric gets up early and is dressed by six every morning, finding this helps him get pumped for the day ahead. He tries to explain to Mr. Taylor that he believes himself at a crossroads, but does not wanting to sound too urgent. He goes to the computer lab before classes start, explaining to Mr. Govan he needs that edge to do better than kids from "other, harder schools". Cedric had panicked and did poorly on the PSAT, but is looking forward now and anxious to hear from MIT about their summer program. However, after the science and math classes, he and the other students on that track must attend classes with the rest of the student populace, and his enthusiasm is drained by the sudden drop in motivation and interest in those classes.

After classes end, Cedric gets into a conversation with Tanya Parker and LaTisha about wanting to go to an Ivy League school. LaTisha scoffs at this, wondering why someone would want to go someplace they'd never seen when there are acceptable colleges such as University of the District of Columbia within reach. Mr. Taylor tries to console Cedric, citing Hebrews 11:1, quoting "The substance of faith is a hope in the unseen." Cedric points out that Mr. Taylor had the quote all wrong, but the teacher's point is to take from the Holy Scripture what one needs, and nothing more. As a result of this advice, Cedric remembers Mr. Taylor's version of the Bible verse and finds it is one he can indeed take with him.

Cedric Gilliam is on a work release program from Lorton. He has taken full advantage of the situation, renewing a relationship with Leona, whom he dated at the same time as Barbara Jennings, and dealing heroin from his work release job as a barber. One morning he is told that he won't be going out and that his work card has been pulled. Cedric checks with his program officer, who notes Cedric gets a good deal more traffic in and out of the barbershop than his haircuts indicate. Cedric Senior then thinks of his son: the last time they talked on the phone, Cedric Senior brought up an old incident where Cedric Junior disrespected his grandmother. The accusation led to a shouting match between father and son, and they hadn't spoken since. Cedric Senior mulls over this and wants to call his son to tell him he'll be there for the graduation, then realizes he may not even be able to attend his son's college graduation.

In SAT-PREP class, Cedric is complimented for simply completing his homework, which he finds puzzling. Phillip Atkins draws positive attention by acting as the class clown; Cedric notices this, as well as Head flirting with one of his classmates from the hallway. When instructor Janet Johns-Gibson talks about a Ballou junior who earned a 1050, Phillip compliments Cedric and says he will do even better. This surprises Cedric and makes him think of how Phillip, who is clearly smart, has made his own choices. Cedric decides not to go to Mr. Taylor's classroom after class to work on an acid rain project for a citywide competition; LaTisha finds him on the stairwell and tells him that he is a special person because he has a drive that other people, including herself, do not possess.

On another day, Phillip Atkins is elated to make a transistor radio work and, in a good mood, he teases Cedric by stealing a book while he's at his locker. Cedric chases and confronts him; Phillip relents and returns the book, thinking Cedric shouldn't take such matters so seriously. This sours his mood for the rest of the day and he ponders the double life he leads: a class clown who parties at school, and the obedient son in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses at home. His decision to be the class clown was conscious, as he did not want to become a nerd. At home, he overhears his father Israel Senior speaking with a friend about how his children should not reach so high or pursue a creative career: Phillip's brother Israel Junior was considered gifted on the saxophone but now that he is out of high school works at manual labor. As for Phillip, he had learned tap dance and performed at the Kennedy Center Auditorium, but became discouraged when his father did not attend.

On Thursday in the first week of April, Cedric goes into Mr. Dorosti's classroom while class was being held. Normally, he is allowed to use Mr. Dorosti's upgraded computer because of an independent study he has, but this day Mr. Dorosti tells Cedric someone in the class needs to use it. Angered, Cedric calls Mr. Dorosti a "damn immigrant" which angers the teacher. He runs away to Mr. Taylor's room and tells him that he isn't doing the science fair project nor seeing the mentor who helped organize it. Cedric walks through the rain that night and arrives at Scripture Cathedral late. Though he initially resists, he finds himself moved by the music and sings along, feeling rejuvenated. When they go home late that night, Cedric and Barbara finds a letter informing him that he's been accepted to the MIT program. Cedric is excited, believing his life is finally about to begin.


The title of the novel is explained in this chapter as a Bible quote that Mr. Taylor gets wrong when trying to impart wisdom to Cedric. While Cedric originally focuses on the incorrect quotation, he finds the phrase "a hope in the unseen" is powerfully suggestive. Cedric's strengths are on display in this exchange between teacher and student: he is not defensive or angry when correcting Taylor, but finds it an enjoyable challenge. Further, he sees past the so-called "letter of the law"

(the exact quote) as with the "spirit of the law" (the important lessons that can be learned), a flexibility he still has to learn in other aspects of his academic and personal development. We see here the potential that Cedric holds, which makes it easier to root for him. It should also be noted that technically, all faith is "a hope in the unseen" - that is, faith is predicated on believing something that rational observation can not validate.

The darker side of Cedric is his run-in with Mr. Dorosti, which makes clear that there is considerably more growth required. Afterwards, he initially seeks validation for his chosen path by going to church, but acceptance into the MIT summer program is contrasted as an even more powerful affirmation of his abilities and untapped potential.

This chapter detours outside of Cedric's life to explore the situation of Phillip Atkins. Phillip is seen initially as a threat to Cedric, then as the class clown, and in this chapter revealed to be a tragic figure. He becomes a cautionary tale about making the wrong choice for the sake of ease: he hides his academic ability to avoid the unwelcome attention that somebody like Cedric receives. What seems like an acceptable choice in the short term has the long term impact of limiting his choices in life. The issue of religion also influences his choices, as his father's beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness means whatever ambitions Phillip holds are actively discouraged, as seen by the fate of older brother Israel Junior.

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