Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Brother” appears among the “Seven Exemplary Fictions” section of Robert Coover’s first collection, Pricksongs & Descants (1969). Dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, the author of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha, 1612-1620; better known as Don Quixote de la Mancha), Coover’s gathering of early works resembles in effect—although not necessarily in original intention—Cervantes’s own Novelas ejemplares (1613). Written as exercises in various narrative styles, the latter’s “exemplary fictions” do more than entertain the reader and enable the writer to become adept in various narrative forms and styles. As Coover explains in his own “Prologue,” they “struggle against the unconscious mythic residue in human life” in order to expose “adolescent thought modes and exhausted art forms.” Just as Cervantes struggled against outmoded medieval ways of thinking and writing, Coover, no less comically and self-consciously, struggles against the “mythic residue” of that more modern age that Cervantes himself helped usher in. More specifically, Coover “struggles against” two of the most powerful modern “myths.” One involves the primacy of rational thinking, the other the primacy of the individual artist and the prizing of his or her originality (the modern equivalent of the divine...

(The entire section is 532 words.)