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

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11. Back Home

Summary

Back home in Washington D.C. for Winter Break, Cedric wakes up one morning to find out area public schools were opening two hours late. He calls up Ballou to find out if Alumni Day was still going to happen, and finds out that is the case. A few days earlier, Bishop Long singled out Cedric and another college freshman during church services for questioning in front of the congregation. Cedric claimed he earned a 4.0 average in his first semester; this is a misleading technicality since he took all classes pass / fail, knew he earned an A in calculus, and was unsure of what he earned in the other courses.

Cedric arrives at Ballou around 10 AM, meeting Ms. Wingfield and also telling her he received a 4.0. Alumni Day is sparsely attended; Cedric notes during Doctor Jones' opening speech that his optimism has vanished in his second year as principal. The first student speaker is a student at Howard University who speaks of how she found Jesus while a freshman, and that Jesus is the reason for her high grades as well as her federal educational grants. When it's Cedric's turn, he speaks of how Ballou and its teachers are a shelter against real obstacles in achievement, which he realizes is a contradiction of what he said during his graduation speech. After the Alumni Day event is over, Cedric decides to visit Mr. Taylor but stops when he finds a blood stain on the steps to the second floor, from a knife fight he'd heard happened several days earlier. He decides there was no need to return to Ballou.

On January 22, Cedric takes LaTisha to Scripture Cathedral for afternoon service. Afterwards, over dinner at a home style restaurant, she speaks of having been moved by the Holy Spirit when Bishop Long touched her forehead, which leaves Cedric mildly skeptical. LaTisha asks Cedric what he has been doing in the previous three weeks of break, and confides that she will only go part-time at college next semester and work in the same mail room as Phillip Atkins. They return to Scripture Cathedral for evening services, where Bishop Long cautions against women over-dressing for church, that they should be presentable but not showy. Disappointed with how the day with Cedric has gone, LaTisha falls asleep and is woken up an hour later by Cedric when services are over. On the ride home, LaTisha misunderstands what Bishop Long said about how people should dress for church, saying it doesn't matter how one looks; this angers Cedric, who points out that Bishop Long wanted people to look as good as they can and not let themselves go. The two realize they are arguing about each other in actuality, not Bishop Long's statement.

Cedric feels comfortable returning to Brown and his new life in Providence, which amuses him as he attends the first class of Elementary Psychology with Professor Billy Wooten. He knows he can't take a whole semester pass / fail again, nor will he receive the benefit of the doubt the way he had in the first semester. In the huge auditorium of Wooten's class, he realizes not only the difficulty of this course but also his relative anonymity in it. Cedric also takes Calculus 10 with doctoral candidate Peter Berman as his instructor, showing off his knowledge in early classes and enjoying the feeling even if it runs against his church's admonitions against pride. He realizes in Computer Science 22, Discrete Math, that the confident Asian kid answering questions was exactly what he was like in Ballou, and that pride is not his enemy but actually the answer to doing well. Exhilarated by this realization, he decides to take five classes instead of the minimum of four - the other two classes being Spanish and his Education seminar - and takes some comfort in the advice of Miriam at Doctor Korb's Thanksgiving dinner.

At the university hangout The Gate on Thursday evening, Cedric and Zayd feel tension as they talk about various topics about race and authenticity, including Zayd's new boots and music. Zayd is trying to reach out to Cedric, who resists and quotes Sister Souljah that just because white people are around you doesn't mean that they are for you. Zayd protests that he could be for Cedric since Cedric's for him, which Cedric sharply questions. Zayd pleads for their friendship but Cedric rebuffs him.

Notes

Cedric's return to Ballou makes him realize how much the school protected him, which contradicts his fiery sermon at graduation. This is certainly in keeping with the nature of the bildungsroman, where past attitudes are refined and seen in a different light as a result of new experiences. Here, Cedric sees that his anger while at Ballou clouded his judgment in the benefits the school provided, especially as he now has a very different set of challenges before him as a student at Brown.

That said, his argument with LaTisha about Bishop Long's sermon highlights how far he has moved from Ballou, even from the person who was his closest friend there. LaTisha rightfully credits the church for giving Cedric some of the motivation which helped get him to Brown, but does not consider that she could have found such motivation on her own. This shortsightedness - reflected also in her willingness to cut down her college studies to work and earn more money - influence the choices she makes that keeps her from moving beyond her present situation. This chapter marks the last time that Ballou receives attention from Cedric in the book, as he continues to shed his old identity in order to mold his new one.

The rift with LaTisha contrasts sharply against the rift with Zayd. Where the parting with LaTisha seems inevitable because of the differing paths they've chosen, the break with Zayd's friendship is initiated because Cedric is confused and unsure of where he stands. It is not inevitable or even welcome by both sides, as seen by the way Zayd repeatedly tries to reach out to Cedric while they speak. Cedric uses race - specifically a suspicion of white people as voiced by Sister Souljah - to justify his actions, yet this choice clearly damages him more than heals him. It is a choice he actively regrets, but also an important lesson he needs to learn.


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