Characters, Themes, and Quotes

Main Characters
Additional Characters
Central Themes


  • Jende Jonga – Jende was born in 1970 from Limbe. He immigrated from Cameroon to the United States in 2004 and is waiting for asylum, which makes him undocumented. He lands a job that pays 35,000 a year working as the personal driver for the Edwards Family. In his home town, he workes as farmers and street cleaners for the Urban Council. Because he comes from a poor family, Neni's father does not approve of their marriage. Back in Limbe, he was sent to prison by Neni's father for impregnating Neni. He is extremely loyal to everyone in his life, ranging from his wife and children, the Edwards' family and his family back in Cameroon. 


  • Neni Jonga – Jende’s wife. A 33- year-old Cameroonian immigrant who lives with Jende and their son in Harlem. She worked as a home health aide and because she did not have a green card, got paid in cash. She also gets a job working in the Hamptons for the Edwards family. On top of this, she is studying Chemistry at Borough of Manhattan Community College on a student visa in hopes to become a pharmacist. In Limbe, pharmacists gain great respect which is what inspired her to work towards that degree in the States. Neni is a big lover of New York City and strongly believes in the American Dream. Being in the United States, however, makes her question Jende and other male's dominance over herslef and other women.


  • Clark Edwards - Jenda’s employer who has worked as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers for 20 years. He is married to Cindy Edward and is the father of Vince Edward and Mighty Edwards. He wanted to be a professor like his father after he entered Stanford as a physics major, but changed his mind because investment bankers can make more money. During the financial crisis, he was caught cheating on his wife, thus further leading to the downfall of their marriage. 


  • Cindy Edwards A blonde, slim, attractive woman who is married to Clark Edward’s. She is the mother of Vince and Mighty. She sometimes worked as a nutritionist for models and actresses. She was born as the result of rape, and her mother resents her for it. Because of her rough childhood, she is very determined to keep her family together. Reputation is everything to her, and her self-esteem isn't the highest because of it. After learning about Clark’s infidelity through the press, she became distant with her the family and friends. She became very increasingly withdrawn from her life, Drinking and taking Vicodin, and eventually died in 2009 due to asphyxiation.



  • Liomi Jonga – A six-year-old boy who is the son of Jende and Neni. He receives a lot of pressure from Neni, which sometimes gives him little room to be a kid. His parents expect him to be a successful doctor or lawyer.


  • Winston Avera - Jenda’s cousin who attained American citizenship by joining the army. After, he worked as a grocery store cashier in Chicago. He recommended Jende for the job as Clark Edward’s chauffeur because he worked as an associate at Dustin, Connors, and Solomon on Wall Street after he went to law school.


  • Neni’s Father - He refused to allowed Neni and Liomi to move to the United States until Jende has the ability to pay Neni’s bride price. He worked as a custom officer at the seaport in Douala, which benefit his family, and was considered rich by Cameroonian standards.


  • Vince Edwards Clark and Cindy’s eldest son and Mighty’s older brother. He studied law at Columbia University School. He wanted to distance himself from his family because he didn’t want to follow the path arranged for him by his father and believes his parents are too materialistic and shallow. He moved to a reservation in Arizona for a few weeks before ultimately leaving for India to potentially build a retreat center for American executives.


  • Mighty EdwardsYoungest son of Clark and Cindy. He is very close to Vince but as result of his parents’ narcissism and neglect, he became lonely and withdrawn. He regarded Neni as a second mother figure because she spent an entire summer with him in the Hamptons. Through Neni, he begins to develop a close relationship with Liomi. After his mother's death, he gets ready to leave to Virginia with Clark.


  • Bubaker A lawyer in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and who "helped" Jende navigate the American immigration system. He helps the Jonga's apply for asylum by coming up with stories to plead his case. He received a law diploma from a school in Nebraska and his office is perfectly organized. Even though he has clients from all over the States, Winston still questions his reliability. 



  • Immigration Experience - Most of the novel revolves around issues such as finding a job and education, dealing with the immigration system, obtaining a green card, and the fear of deportation for immigrants. The reason for the Jonga's moving is to live out the "American Dream" of succeeding in America and leaving behind the poor lifestyle they had in Limbe to make something of themselves. Ultimately, the immigration experience ends up being a bad one for the family, as they had to file for a voluntary departure and go back to Cameroon.


  • The American Dream – The idea of "working hard equals prosperity" is key throughout the novel. Each character has a different idea of success and prosperity in America and is trying to reach their ideal life in the country. For the Jende it's making money, for Neni it's becoming a pharmacist, for Clark it's to succeed in his job, and for Cindy it's to maintain a happy, close family. Towards the end of the novel, however, the Jonga's soon realize the "American Dream" is based off lies and generalized myths.


  • Classism Behold the Dreamers exemplifies the dependence that lower classes, primarily immigrants, rely on their rich employers who are not understanding of their struggle and reliance on money to survive in the country. 


  • Family - The two different families in the story each show a different dynamic, yet both are interdependently reliant. The Jongas remain close to their families in Cameroon. On the opposite side of the dynamic, Cindy starts to fall apart emotionally as her family falls apart.


  • Expectations vs. AmbitionsBoth sets of son's have pressures placed on them from their parents. The Edwards' expecting their sons to grow up and follow in the successful path set in place for them, and the Jongas expecting their children to study hard, take school seriously, and become doctors and lawyers. Vince and Liomi, being the oldest children of the families, have their parents dreams and ideas for a successful life projected onto themselves.



  • "Stay away from any place where you can run into police- that's the advice I give to you and to all young black men in this country. The police is for the protection of white people, my brother. Maybe black women and black children sometimes, but not black men. Never black men"― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "I think the story is our best chance for asylum. We claim persecution based on belonging to a particular social group, We weave a story about how you're afraid of going back home because you're afraid your girlfriend's family wants to kill you so you two don't get married."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "As far as Immigration is concerned, there are many things that are illegal and many that are gray, and by ‘gray’ I mean the things that are illegal but which the government doesn’t want to spend time worrying about." ― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "In America today, having documents is not enough. Look at how many people with papers are struggling. Look at how even some Americans are suffering. They were born in this country."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "I don't know if I can continue suffering like this just because I want to live in America."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "While there existed great towns and cities all over the world, there was a certain kind of pleasure, a certain type of adventurous and audacious childhood, that only New York City could offer a child."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "Rich father, rich mother, rich husband. I’m sure her whole life she’s never known what it’s like to worry about money."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "Because right now we're pulling these tricks and the SEC's playing dumb, but you know as well as I do that if this shit falls apart and the chaos starts spreading they're going to throw us out for the public to crucify, by claiming they didn’t know a damn thing, and we all know it's a lie." ― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "That's the good thing about a life with no husband or children—no one to hold me back, make me feel as if I can't go where I want, whenever I want, do what I want."― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "At his [Vince] age, all I wanted was the life that I have right now. This exact life, this was what I wanted." ― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


  • "Look at my parents—they’re struggling under the weight of so many pointless pressures, but if they could ever free themselves from this self-inflicted oppression they would find genuine happiness. Instead, they continue to go down a path of achievements and accomplishments and material success and shit that means nothing because that’s what America’s all about, and now they’re trapped. And they don’t get it!"― Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers


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