Summary of Chapter Six: The Pretender
The summer between high school and college is boring for Cedric but allows a breather. He is an intern at Price Waterhouse for $8 an hour through a national program called Inroads, assisting minority kids. He is able to buy a few clothes and some music. He is sent a present by Donald Korb, a Boston optometrist who becomes one of Cedric’s benefactors
. The bag contains two suits for his job at Price Waterhouse. Cedric thinks they are “old white man suits” and exchanges them for cash to buy graduation presents.
Cedric is still living in a world of violence where two young men he knows are killed: one had been working at McDonald’s and was victim of an armed robbery; the other was killed in a drug war. Phillip does not go to college. He gets a permanent job in a mailroom. LaTisha will attend UDC in the fall on full scholarship. Barbara keeps Cedric going to frequent church meetings in the hope of making a final impression on him before college. Bishop Long preaches at church that only God has the real answers. Long is now a wealthy pastor who lives in a suburban home, drives a Cadillac, and wears custom-made suits. His parishioners, like Barbara, tithe down to their last dollar and remain in poverty. Long knows the ones who make it, like Cedric, eventually leave his church because it is for the down and out.
Cedric Gilliam calls Barbara and asks if he can take Cedric to a concert in the Budweiser Concert Series at the D. C. Armory. Some of Cedric’s favorite artists are performing. He has failed a drug test on parole and is trying to buy a few more nights of freedom. She knows that it would mean a lot to the boy, but the more Gilliam talks on the phone, the more she remembers she can’t trust him. She still has one month left on her watch to deliver him safely to school without mishap. She declines to let him go.
For his birthday, Barbara buys Cedric take-out spare ribs. He asks if he can be driven to school in a rented Infiniti. She tells him that he can do that when he is a man. A man “takes care of himself physically, financially, and spiritually” (p. 145).
Barbara’s sister throws a farewell party for Cedric before he leaves for Brown. Barbara’s sisters and their children and a cousin named Douglas attend. The family prays for his success and then he walks by the old family house on 15th Street. His Uncle Butch is there with some friends on the porch. Butch has had a government job since he got out of prison. Cedric tries to talk to the older men of his family who were not at the gathering of women. He realizes he doesn’t fit with them and will be leaving this old life behind.
Commentary on Chapter Six: The Pretender
A “Pretender” can be someone playing a role, or it can mean a claimant to a throne. Cedric does some role-playing as he does periodically trying to find out who he is. He has a job and thinks ahead about his new life. This chapter demonstrates where Cedric finds himself now: “between worlds” (p. 141). He is between the black ghetto and his new life at Brown. He is between childhood and adulthood. He sees the life paths of high school friends going in a different direction. His church, family, and old lifestyle are being left behind. At the same time, he can’t relate to the suits Donald Korb sends him for his job.
He has some last conversations with his mother about manhood. Though she sees the day when Cedric will no longer belong to him, she has him for one last summer and knows her words are still important to him. She has “guilty satisfaction” that she can intimidate Cedric Gilliam by not allowing him to see his son (p. 145). She also knows it means something to her son that she withholds her pronouncement that he is now a man. He will not be a man until he is self-sufficient, she tells him. He tries to coax her to rent an Infiniti to drive him to school, wanting to arrive in style. This is still an adolescent wish that shows her he has not yet grown up.
They also discuss love and sex. This is important foreshadowing for his arrival at Brown where sexual mores will be much more diverse than in Cedric’s strict church life. Early sex is common in the ghetto as well as early parenthood, but Cedric has lived an isolated life without dating or girls. He is religious and knows that love and sex go with marriage. He asks his mother about love, how does one know if one is in love?
She says that “you can be yourself with that person,” (p. 146) but when he asks if she has ever been in love, she only answers, “I thought I was” (p. 147). He later asks the same questions of his father and gets a different answer. His mother warns him that for love to happen, “You need to know who you are and you need to know who they are” (p.147). This is another foreshadowing of the identity theme that will be important to him at Brown when he will be confused at the many lifestyles there.
His mother teases him that “You ain’t coming back here” (p.147) but she wonders, “will he leave forever?” (p. 147). She knows his desire for academic success, and she has helped him get it, but now, she will be alone.
This chapter sets up some suspense about Cedric’s new life. Bishop Long knows he is going to lose Cedric, a favorite of his. His church is for “people at the bottom” (p.151). The confident ones like Cedric end up having a “faith in their own ability to figure things out, improve themselves, and find their way in the world” (p. 151). This is “the secular way” (p. 151). This is indeed a preview of what is about to happen to Cedric at Brown. Long warns in his sermon, “God is sometimes hard to find on the college campus” (p. 153).