‘Behold The Dreamers’: An Exposure To The Faulty American Dream

Valentine Schieneman, Columnist

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Behold the Dreamers is a novel that subtilty criticizes the American Dream while weaving a engaging story about life, love and disappointment. 

In this book, we follow Jende and Neni Jonga, a recently immigrated couple from Cameroon. As the story unfolds, Jende stumbles upon a chauffeur job for Mr. Clark, a high-ranking Lehman Brothers employee. With this new job, Jende became much more confident in his economic outlook as he was struggling to make ends meet in the busy streets of New York. 

As Jende becomes close to Mr. Clark and his family, it becomes apparent that life around the Clarks is on the brink of collapse. With the impending bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers organization, the family mirrors such hopelessness and catastrophe. All the while Jende is struggling with his visa and strives desperately not to return to his native Cameroon. 

This novel is quite tragic and powerful during parts of the story. This is a testament to Imbolo’s writing ability and storytelling. This is truly a feat when combined with such realism being evident in this story. 

We come to understand over the novel that Mbue is poking at America’s system to take in immigrants and spit them out wealthy and happy. This is a notion that many people claim now is simply not the case. Also, the contemporary setting of the novel is a breath of fresh air, as a modern setting creates a much relatable bond for me as a young reader. The dialogue is also very believable, with many characters talking naturally and fluidly.  

A tragic transformation in the novel that is executed with expertise is that of Jende. As his stay in America becomes a test of his character, we realize that his dream of a better future is fading. We can see such dreams become trampled as his view of his potential in America declines. 

Jende comes to America seeking his dreams. He is hopeful and courageous. Yet, America disappoints. This is a view of modern America—a power that rejects and emits so many dreams at once. In this aspect Mbue does not disappoint. 

I believe that this book is a good choice for those who want a study of the quest for American values in a contemporary setting. The charm of reading this book is that it doesn’t worship Americans and it doesn’t degrade America to a hopeless blob of regression and material worthlessness. 

Over the course of this I found that Mbue creates a hopeful environment alongside a depressing one. This novel creates a message of modern America that all rings true in this day and age. America is a paragon of freedom, yet it is unbalanced. A place where society gives as much as it takes. And that notion is shown over the novel to be uniquely American.