Mbue does an excellent job at showing character development in Behold the Dreamers. Over the course of the novel almost every character seemed to change in some way. Clark Edwards started off as very cold and distant to his family, but ended up a loving, dedicated father towards the end of the book. Cindy ended up changing for the worse as she turned to drugs to help cope with her loneliness, leading to her ultimate death. In the beginning of the novel Jende was very hopeful and excited to be in America, but as the story went on he became very stressed out and defeated. Out of all of these characters though, I think Neni’s development was probably my favorite. In the beginning of the book she was very uncertain of herself, but over the course of the novel we saw her come out of her shell and fight for what she wanted.
I feel like one of the best examples of Neni’s uncertainty is seen in the bar scene in the beginning of the book. Winston was celebrating his birthday at a bar with a bunch of friends and he invited the Jongas. Neni was very nervous and she basically kept to herself the whole time because a lot of Winston’s friends were white. Mbue writes that “nothing shamed her more than black people embarrassing themselves in front of white people by behaving the way white people expected them to behave.” Neni also tended to go along with whatever Jende wanted in the beginning of the book. There were a few times that she disagreed with Jende, but she felt that it was her job as his wife to go along with what he wanted. For example, when Liomi overhears her talking to one of her friends about them possibly having to return to Limbe, Jende is furious. Even though Neni doesn’t think that it’s wrong for her to talk about these things, she apologizes and assures Jende that it won’t happen again.
As the novel continues though, we start to see Neni become more confident and she begins to stand up for herself more. Her desire to stay in America causes her to become a much more assertive person and we see that she is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid returning to Limbe. For example, after Clark fires Jende, she goes to Cindy’s house and blackmails her with a picture of her doing drugs. She ends up getting $10,000 from Cindy. This is definitely something that she wouldn’t have done in the beginning of the novel and it shows just how much America has toughened her. She is beginning to go to desperate measures to get the things that she wants. She even starts to stand up to Jende a lot more towards the end of the book. The best example of this is probably seen the night where Jende hits her. Jende has decided for his whole family that they are going to return to Limbe, despite Neni’s wishes to keep fighting to stay in America. Neni suggests divorcing so that she can marry her friend’s cousin and gain citizenship. Jende tells her to stop talking, but she continues explaining her idea until Jende ends up hitting her. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with Neni’s idea, I definitely respect that Neni was able to stand up for herself and advocate for what she wanted, something that definitely wasn’t the case when the book started.