Dreams From My Father Summary and Study Guide

Barack Obama

Dreams From My Father

  • 83-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 19 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with over a decade of teaching experience
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Dreams From My Father Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 83-page guide for “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 19 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Race and American Identity and Geography, Travel, and Identity.

Plot Summary

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is a memoir by Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States. Published in 1995, two years before Obama’s run for the Illinois State Senate, the book narrates Obama’s attempt to grapple with the legacy of his mostly absent father (hereafter referred to as “Obama Sr.”) and to come to terms with his racial identity. The memoir covers Obama’s life from his childhood in the 1960s to his thirties in the 2000s. Over these decades, Obama lives in and travels to Indonesia, Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Kenya.

Part One of the memoir focuses on Obama’s early life. Obama’s earliest memories are of living in Hawaii after Obama Sr. leaves the family and Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, moves the family to Indonesia after her marriage to Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian geologist. Ann works in the American embassy and Lolo becomes increasingly involved with the Indonesian elite and multinational corporations, much to the chagrin of Obama’s idealistic mother.

Convinced that she needs to rescue her child from what she perceives as growing corruption, Ann sends Obama home to Hawaii to live with her parents, Stanley “Gramps” Dunham, a salesman, and Madelyn “Toot” Dunham, a bank executive. Ann and Obama’s half-sister Maya eventually rejoin Obama in Hawaii. During this time, Obama is a student at the elite Punahou School, where he is something of a misfit. His mother and grandparents protect the young boy from the truth of his father’s abandonment by telling him stories that celebrate his father as an extraordinary man.

When Obama is ten, Obama Sr. comes to Hawaii for an extended visit. During the visit, Obama sees firsthand the impact that Obama Sr.’s charisma has on people around him, and he has the chance to dance with his father and go to a jazz concert. The visit is tense at times when Obama Sr. attempts to exercise his authority as a parent. Obama Sr. ends his visit, the last time his son sees him alive. Obama learns years later from his sister Auma that the visit was Obama Sr.’s failed attempt to reconcile with Ann.

Ann goes to college to become an anthropologist. When she goes to Indonesia to complete fieldwork, Obama opts to stay with his grandparents. During his high school years, Obama struggles to claim a racial identity as he becomes increasingly aware of his unusual family and the power that race and racism exercise over the lives of African Americans. Obama experiments with drugs during this time but also makes friendships with other African Americans. He also gains an identity as an athlete when he plays for his high-school basketball team.

In Part Two, Obama moves to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College outside of Los Angeles. While at Occidental, Obama has the novel experience of living among a sizeable cohort of African Americans and becomes involved in the South African divestment movement. Obama still feel aimless and uncertain about his racial identity, however. He reaches a turning point during his sophomore year and transfers to Columbia University in New York, promising himself that he will dedicate his life to serving the African-American community. When Obama is 21, his father dies in a car accident in Kenya. After completing college, Obama goes to work in Chicago as a community organizer following a brief stint in corporate America.

Obama’s time in Chicago proves to be pivotal. He is mentored in community activism and politics by Marty Kaufman and learns to operate in a city that has elected its first African-American mayor. Obama visits with his sister Auma and learns about the painful last days of his father, who fell from grace because of disagreements with the ruling party in Kenya and his alcoholism. Obama also commits to Christianity during these years when he attends Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Convinced that the only way to bring about lasting change is to learn about the law, Obama applies to and is accepted to law school at Harvard.

In Part Three, Obama decides to take a trip to Kenya to reconnect with his father’s family. While in Kenya, Obama comes to understand how flawed and complicated a man his father was, learns about his family’s history from the time of Kenyan colonization, and makes peace with his father’s memory. Obama closes the memoir with scenes from his multicultural wedding to Michelle Robinson.

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Chapters 1-3