Summary of Chapter Fourteen: Meeting the Man
During the final month of the Brown school year, there is general panic as students face final exams and papers, as well as planning their sophomore housing situation with off-campus apartments. Dorm rooms have to be cleaned and vacated for the year.
Cedric has accomplished a few more new experiences. He has attended more parties without drinking, smoking pot, having sex or losing himself. He attended a pop concert by the Fugees, a black group with screaming fans of all colors. “Cedric realizes he hasn’t felt so at home in a crowd since he was a kid at church” (p. 335). The main thing now are the grades that will give him a “permanent” place at Brown (p. 335). Calculus and Spanish are no problem, and in psychology, he received a 70% on his second midterm. He can pass psychology if he passes the final. His education course is hanging in the balance. He needs to do a scholarly final paper. He has careful plans for how to accomplish these tasks.
Rob and Cedric are at odds again. Rob shaved and did not clean out the sink. To show Rob how disgusting this inconsiderate behavior is to him, Cedric added baby powder and baby lotion to the mixture. Each continues to add something to the mix, during final week. They are not speaking. Rob is finished with finals first and packs. He is ready to leave. Cedric is sitting on his bed, studying Calculus. Rob wishes Cedric good luck on the final and for a good summer vacation. Cedric says, “Thank you.” He remembers his mother’s words that Rob is a test from God, and if he doesn’t fix it, another Rob will come to take his place. He decides he will find Rob next year to repair this misunderstanding. Zayd says good-bye with a big hug, something Cedric feels uncomfortable with, but he accepts it. He is learning that it is all right for men to show affection. He gets good-bye messages from two girls and decides, “Next year, I’ll dance” (p. 343 ).
At home Barbara Jennings is in trouble. She is calling and visiting aid agencies to come up with the money she owes for bills and court costs and penalties. She is suppressing her panic, while Cedric is happy and “oblivious to almost everything, even her” (p. 345). He has another week until he starts his summer job. Barbara has wanted to avoid involving the church in her trouble because her standing is high there. She finally calls an assistant pastor. There are only two hours left until she is evicted.
She has to confess this to Cedric, who is stunned. Then she calls her daughter Neddy at work who immediately calls the church. Cedric remarks, “This is really the sin of pride” (p. 346). Cedric is angry at his mother for not telling anyone. She confesses that the stress has been so bad she had chest pains and half her body went numb. Cedric goes to his room and cries. The marshals come and begin carrying out the furniture, but Cedric, now six-foot-one and 190 pounds, blocks his bedroom door. Meanwhile a crowd is gathering on the sidewalk ready to loot the belongings as soon as the marshals leave. At last Minister Borden arrives from the church to pay the bill, and the furniture is brought back.
Neddy says she will help her mother pay off the debt, but Cedric won’t talk to either of them. He says, “I don’t belong here anymore” (p. 351). Barbara is heartbroken and thinks, she doesn’t belong here either.
Cedric visits his father in prison and tries to put away his feeling of anger and disappointment. His father is being released to a drug rehabilitation program and seems old now. They speak as peers for once, discussing Cedric’s college courses. His father knows something about academics. Then Cedric asks his father if he ever loved his mother. Gilliam shuffles the question off. He hardly knows what it means. He shrugs. Gilliam thanks his son for coming. Cedric thinks he isn’t such a bad guy.
Barbara and Cedric have not talked for two weeks. Cedric is working now for Fannie Mae, the mortgage banker, at $7.50 an hour. They each buy their own food. A letter with his final grades shows that Cedric passed all his courses: “Full membership in the Brown community, won fair and square” (p. 357).
Another loose end is church. Cedric schedules a meeting with Bishop Long and tells him, “I feel I’ve outgrown the church” (p. 359). Long has been expecting this and gives his blessing: “As long as you carry God with you, in your heart, you can go out into the world, Cedric, and you’ll be fine” (p. 359).
Cedric talks to one of his mother’s oldest friends, Gloria Hobbs, and says how worried he is about his mother. He tells her that he is so worried he gets up every night to check on her to make sure she hasn’t had a heart attack. That night as he watches his mother sleeping, he realizes she is not the one to be angry at. She got him where he is, but she needs to take care of herself now and not be a martyr anymore.
Cedric wants to call his friends from Brown. He misses them and school. His mother comes home and says she talked to Gloria. She promises to take care of herself, and they embrace.
Commentary on Chapter Fourteen: Meeting the Man
Cedric comes back after a year at Brown more part of that world than southeast Washington. He is angry and shocked at the same old drama of eviction and his mother’s martyrdom. He has decided to get out of that scene. He stands up to the marshals; he is no longer intimidated but angry. His mother is still stuck in this lifestyle. He makes peace with everyone else, including his minister and father, but the one he loves the most he finds hardest to forgive. Part of this emotion is his own sense of guilt, especially when he thinks of spending Korb’s money on CDs instead of helping his mother. He is frightened at her possibly having a heart attack over the bills. The friend, Gloria Hobbs, becomes the mediator to bring them together again. Cedric knows, however, “that he needs to find his own way from here on” (p. 353).
Cedric has found his feet and is now part of the Brown community, having earned it himself, but with a lot of support from friends, relatives, teachers, and church. Suskind has carefully detailed the stages of growth, the challenges, and the kind of help a ghetto boy needs to transition to a new life. Cedric’s final paper for his education seminar takes up this same topic.
When Cedric says good-bye to Mr. Fleming, the teacher at Slater, he decides he wasn’t such a bad guy; in fact, he is a good teacher. His methods for arousing the students can mean joking, teasing, or reprimanding, but he cares about the students. Cedric looks at the Slater students, wondering if he can pick out a Cedric in the crowd. No, there is no way of knowing, he decides. He begins his paper: “The first step is to agree that most people share the goal of true diversity, with many races competing freely and successfully . . . how do we get there?” (p. 338). This is a question the book raises and illustrates through Cedric’s struggle. This book was written before the election of a black president and a multicultural cabinet, yet the book is still timely in that it concerns a question at the center of a current cultural and political shift in the United States. In the twenty-first century, most developed countries are multicultural and have had to find ways to “let the colors run.” Suskind’s book does not give exact answers but affirms that a way must be found to make sure the Cedrics and potential Cedrics don’t have to fight so hard to succeed. It is short-sighted to leave anyone behind.