What if Behold the Dreamers was written with a feminist approach?
In Behold the Dreamers by Mbue we see the struggle of immigrants coming to America through Jende, Neni, and their family. It is obvious that Mbue’s goal of this novel is to share and spread light on the struggle immigrants face, and that it does not always end beautifully. The American dream is essentially garbage that has been commercialized for years. Well, what if Mbue chose another unidealistic approach to the story? In the store we see the Jongas” story unravel. At first it is just Jende is America, he has been there, and is making effort to get Neni and Liomi also to America. Once Neni is in the picture we see the very traditional thinking of, Jende is the boss of the household because he is the man. He is her husband, and his role is to be the leader of the household. While that traditional thinking is fading in America, in Cameroon it was still very much prevalent. I believe Mbue could have taken a path of women empowerment with Neni. We see Neni start going to pharmaceutical school once she gets to America, which she is excited about. She is also excited about everything New York related. As the story progresses, we see their life in America get harder and harder. Along with Jende’s work and the struggle to be able to stay in America, Neni and Jende’s relationship is also in turmoil. They are not on the same page about what they will do to stay in America. This all boils down to Jende’s pride as a man because there are just some things he will not stoop to, for example Neni’s church plan.
“But if America says they don’t want us in their country, you think I’m going to keep on begging them for the rest of my life? You think I’m going to sleep in a church? Never. Not for one day. You can go and sleep on the church floor all you want. The day you get tired, you can come and meet me and the children in Limbe. Nonsense!”
I believe this is where Mbue could have started an alternate ending and could have taken it in a feminist direction. As things progressively get rougher for the Jongas’, Jende becomes shorter tempered with Neni. He even gets to the point of physical violence, to the point that she did not even want to discuss things with him,
“But she also knew it would be futile reasoning with a raging man, so she decided to sit quietly with her head bowed as he unleashed a verbal lashing, as he called her a stupid idiot and a bloody fool. The man who had promised to always take care of her was standing above her vomiting a parade of insults, spewing out venom she never thought he had inside him. For the first time in a long love affair, she was afraid he would beat her. She was almost certain he would beat her.”
For her to be in such submission to him after awhile is not healthy in my opinion. I believe Mbue could have easily made it to where Neni said okay and let Jende go home like he wanted but for her to take the job with the Edward’s and stay in America to pursue her dreams. She had so much more potential in America than Jende did, because she was so willing to stay.