Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The American Dream

The novel's most important theme is the American Dream, a concept that Mbue encourages the reader to reassess through her presentation of the Jongas' and Edwardses' parallel lives.

The Jongas are a family of immigrants from Cameroon. Jende Jonga wants to create for himself and his family the life that the Edwardses have. Meanwhile, the family for which he works is very unhappy. Clark Edwards is overworked and racked with guilt over the dishonest practices of his investment bank, Lehman Brothers. Jende regards Clark as a great success because he's achieved the wealth and status that Jende covets, but Clark's disenchantment is indicative of his sense of personal failure.

Cindy and her youngest son, Mighty, want the familial closeness that the Jongas have. Vince, Cindy and Clark's eldest son, wants the simpler life that he believes the Jongas have, not understanding the way in which dysfunction is creeping into the Jongas' lives due to the pressure on Jende to find a way to stay in the United States legally.

The Complexities of the American Immigration System

The latter point leads to the second theme: the complexities of the American immigration system. Mbue uses Jende to explore how easily immigrants are exploited economically, particularly by shady lawyers, such as Bubakar, who use the desperation of those who want to stay in the country to pad their pockets.

The Wealth Gap in the US

Another important theme is the wealth gap in the United States. Mbue shows how people of all economic strata were impacted by the financial crisis, while emphasizing how cataclysmic it was for the lives of some, such as Clark's secretary, Leah, a sexagenarian laid off from Lehman Brothers and unable to find another job due to her age. On the other hand, Cindy and her friends, who remain wealthy, worry over petty things, such as the possibilities of having to give up summer homes or flying economy instead of first-class.

Mbue's purpose in exploring these themes is to encourage the reader to reassess what it means to be American, what American values are, and if the nation will ever recognize its flaws and correct them.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Behold the Dreamers by Imolo Mbue is about characters like Jende and Neni, who are immigrants. The theme of immigration and all of the ideas and the additional theme that goes with it are central to the novel. In Jende’s case, he is immigrating to the United States in order to seek asylum.

Other stories of this kind might take a narrative like this one, especially as it is set in 2008 during the banking crisis in the US, and make it a purely political story about class. The author tries to avoid that approach in his themes, however. For example, the story isn’t about Jende, who is from Cameroon and eschews the American way of life, standing apart from the more consumerist approaches of Jende’s boss, Clark Edwards. Jende embraces the American approach to consumerism as well and even embraces the idea of hard work as he becomes a driver for Clark.

The author has these themes of class in the story, but complexity is added into the mix. This is a ripe approach for any paper you need to write on the subject, namely the complexities that swirl at the heart of immigration and identities formed by allegiance to two different nations.

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