Summary of Chapter 11: Back Home
Cedric returns home for a month for Christmas break, having passed his first semester courses. At first he is glad to be home with his family, but he begins to feel more and more tension as time goes by. Everything feels dull, even his return to Ballou for an alumni day. He speaks to his teachers but sees that all around him is the decay of the inner city. Few students come to hear him speak in the auditorium. Violence has been rising at the school. He sees blood on the stairs. No one has energy or vision for the future or even cares. He feels he cannot come back here again.
LaTisha and Cedric have been writing to each other, and he takes her to Scripture Cathedral. She says she has an experience with Bishop Long and feels “saved.” UDC has been hard for her, and next semester she will only take two courses. She seems hopeful of more from Cedric, especially in terms of their having religious experience together, but he is no longer able to relate to LaTisha. She has been somewhat romantically attached, but now, they have nothing in common. They end up fighting.
Cedric is happy to get back to Brown. His life in the ghetto is falling away, and now he has to make this his home. He decides to take on the full academic challenge this semester and stop hiding. He signs up for psychology, calculus, education field work, Spanish, and a computer science course in discrete math. Even in the first days, he feels the added challenges but realizes that he has to muster up his old pride that was his driving force through high school. Pride has been called a sin in church and called down revenge from the other Ballou students, but pride has been his source of success. He still believes God guides him, but his own pride is what gets him through.
Zayd and Cedric are happy to see one another again. They encounter some difficulties when they discuss whether an interracial friendship can have the same depth as one within one’s own race. Zayd says there is no difference, but Cedric still has not let go of “Black Ghetto” as his identity. He thinks others are acutely aware of his race and cannot see him as a person. This conflict begins to come between them and sour the relationship.
Commentary on Chapter 11: Back Home
In this chapter Cedric is bouncing between two worlds, at home in neither, as he had been warned would be the case. He thinks he leaves the ghetto behind him because he can no longer identify with its decay and despair, yet he has not completely moved on to the Brown world either. He is still carrying the ghetto as his identity that he thinks others cannot see past. It is perhaps that he has not seen past it yet himself to his emerging self. The insights of Tom James in the last chapter make us wonder if Cedric is truly one of the “culturally fixed” types, unable to adapt. He has a chip on his shoulder that is part of his pride. His pride still contains a lot of “black pride” to an extent, rather than Cedric’s full individual pride, something that is slowly being uncovered as he goes along. Growth is knowing what to carry with you and what to let go.
The Christmas vacation shows that Cedric has grown, though it is a bit confusing to himself and his friends. LaTisha recognizes that “Cedric Jennings really doesn’t live here anymore” (p. 272). When Cedric goes back to Ballou to encourage the other students, he is dismayed by the metal detector, the blood on the stairs, and the shabbiness of the teachers’ clothes. Very few students come to hear him. He feels “disembodied” watching it all like a bad dream (p. 265). He puts on a bit of a pose at church, saying he has a 4.0 average and is a triple major in computer science, math, and education. His façade cracks a bit at Ballou, however. He is surprised to hear himself saying to the students that Ballou is a “shelter” from the real world, which is “very hard” (pp. 266-67). He wonders that he didn’t notice before how bleak the ghetto was. He lets on that he is very successful at Brown, but hints that it is harder than students can imagine. It is his pretense of academic success at home that makes him determined to do it for real in the next semester when he gets back to Brown. It is clear, however, that he is no longer the wide-eyed innocent. He has a more realistic view of the road ahead of him.
Another major issue in this chapter is religion. Both Bishop Long and Dr. Korb had predicted that Cedric would change or needed to change his religious stance. Long sees Cedric’s falling away as inevitable; when he begins to rise he will rely more on himself than on God. Korb predicts that Cedric needs to do this, to rely more on reason than on faith if he is to succeed. Cedric begins to reflect on these points during Christmas break. Bishop Long asks him if he has found a church in Providence, and Cedric says no. LaTisha is just going through a religious conversion, perhaps to get closer to Cedric. Watching her and how she is using religion as a crutch angers Cedric. They fight over this point. She wants Cedric and God to accept her limitations, her failure at college and her overweight appearance. Cedric, however, has the attitude that God helps those who help themselves, and warns LaTisha that Bishop Long was preaching, “don’t let yourself go” (p. 271). In other words, she has some responsibility for her life. This is also an issue that Cedric has with his mother, who has become a martyr, totally neglecting her own needs for her son’s. LaTisha is hurt because Cedric could once see inside her and validate her, and now she is aware that he sees her as “an overweight, clinging black girl with few prospects” (p. 271). Cedric is reminded of his former reliance on religion by hearing another student at Ballou insist that Jesus helped her get A’s and even got her a federal loan. Cedric has become more cynical and laughs at the notion of Jesus giving out federal loans. He tells LaTisha, “his enthusiasm for church and the unquestioned power of faith is slowly ebbing” (p. 279). When he gets back to Brown, he is “disoriented” (p. 272) about being more on his own but liking it at the same time.
LaTisha had been an understanding friend who knew about Cedric’s “issues of trust and respect, about achievement and toughness and manhood” (p.269). Now, Cedric is airing out those same issues with a white friend, Zayd, who is “light-footed and unencumbered” (p. 279), not knowing what is troubling Cedric. Cedric admits to Zayd that “the closer I get [to someone], the more I worry about being abandoned,” obviously thinking of his father (p.279). Zayd tells him he has to have faith in people, something Cedric did not learn in the ghetto.
In classes, Cedric feels “faceless, just a number, like a walking, breathing SAT score” (p. 273). At home, everyone was ranked according to “sacrifice and faith,” and at Brown, “everyone is ranked strictly by achievement” (p. 275). This discrepancy is still a shock to him, and he has not yet adjusted. Long tells him that only God can give success, but he sees plenty of people at Brown who have not put their trust in God, doing quite well.