Behold the Dreamers Discussion Questions

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

'Behold the Dreamers' is a novel depicting the American life of a Cameroonian family trying to make it as immigrants in Harlem. Use these questions to help your high school students delve more deeply into some of the novel's important themes.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue's novel, Behold the Dreamers, explores the lives of the Jonga family and juxtaposes their immigrant experiences with the wealthy lifestyle of the Edwards family. Help your high school students digest the novel's themes by using these discussion questions. Guide them in meaningful conversations about the American Dream, the relationships among friends and family, and both significant and subtle cultural differences highlighted in the novel.

You may want to use the questions to engage in a one-on-one conversation with a single student or provide a list of questions to student teams. Alternatively, you can use them as a springboard for a whole-group discussion.

The American Dream

  • The Jonga family travels to the United States in search of the American Dream. How do they define this dream? How would you define it? Do you think they achieve it? Why or why not?
  • Would the Jongas have moved to the United States if it were not for Neni's family's insistence? Why or why not? Do you think the Jongas made the right decision in making the move? Do you think they made the right decision in returning to Cameroon?
  • Compare and contrast the Jongas' lives as new immigrants and their lives at the end of their time in the States. How did it change and develop? Are they better people near the end? What has changed about their interactions with others and their own value systems, if anything? Explain your answers fully.
  • Does the American Dream involve financial prosperity? What else does it include? What other benefits did the Jonga family enjoy because of their immigration to the United States, if any? What did they miss about Cameroon?

Friends and Family

  • Cindy struggles with the demons of her past and with her present addiction to drugs and alcohol. Do you think these two things are linked? Why or why not? Would you blame Clark for Cindy's attempts to escape life through use of these substances? Why or why not? How does Clark change after Cindy's death? Do you think Clark would have changed if she was still alive? Explain your reasoning.
  • Describe the changes in the relationship between Neni and Jende. What factors do you think are responsible for the changes? Do you think Neni should have stayed in the United States? Why did Jende become violent with her? Does someone who abuses a spouse always have that inclination, or can it be a result of experience? Where could Neni have gotten help in dealing with the domestic violence? Do you think that help is readily available for abuse victims and survivors? Why or why not?
  • Vince and Mighty Edwards are very different. Describe the differences between these two characters. How does one's family upbringing impact achievement and worldview? How do these characters change throughout the novel? Do you think Vince is right in his decision to leave his family's wealth for a more altruistic life? Is there anything wrong with having wealth? Why or why not?
  • How were Neni's friends integral to her life in the United States? How did they help her? Did she have any bad experiences with friends? Was she a good friend? Which one of her friends was the best support for her and why? Use examples to explain your answers.

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