Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue
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What is happening in chapter 4 of Behold the Dreamers?

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In chapter 4 of Imbole Mbue's Behold the Dreamers, Jende Jonga has just returned home from his first day of chauffeuring for the Edwards family. He tells his wife, Neni, about the family's schedule, including picking up and dropping off Cindy and Clark Edwards's youngest son, Mighty, at school and at his piano lessons, as well as picking up and dropping off Cindy Edwards at her beauty appointments.

Through Jende's observations, which are quite objective, Mbue conveys the emphasis on cultivation among New York's wealthy elite—that is, the cultivation of culture in Mighty and the cultivation of beauty in Cindy, giving a sense of how people are valued in their world. Jende's statement that Cindy looks the way a wealthy man's wife should, tells the reader that he, too, has internalized a particular idea of beauty standards, which are crafted by the very people for whom he works.

Jende also learns that Cindy and Clark's eldest son, Vince, attends Columbia University's School of Law, suggesting that he is taking a conventional path to economic success.

To Jende, the Edwards present the ideals which he hopes to attain for his own family—wealth, beauty, and social respectability. As the novel progresses, the Jongas will learn that the Edwardses lives and values are not what they seem. However, Jende uses what appears to be their reality to construct his own dream. He excitedly tells Neni about how much money they will be able to save and the suburban home they could one day buy with that sum.

The chapter ends with Neni examining Jende's suit, which she has bought him from T.J. Maxx, though she wanted to buy a cheaper one, a suit that would take up less of their savings. The fact that a suit from T.J. Maxx, a discount store, is expensive for the Jongas, gives the reader a sense of their poverty in relation to the Edwardses. Neni then recalls her friend Fatou's assertion that, one day, Neni will be able to buy Jende a suit from Target—"a fine white people store." Fatou is also a Cameroonian immigrant. Though she has been in the United States for far longer than Neni, her understanding of consumerism is based on the limited resources she remembers from home. She, too, cannot fathom the plenty in which the Edwardses live.

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