Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Brothers” is a poem of conventional meter, iambic pentameter, and conventional form, question and answer. The subject matter, however, is disturbing. A man to be lynched is asked why he has acted like a beast. He responds that his beastlike shape slumbers in all of those quiet African Americans who have for years taken abuse and discrimination while acting as loyal servants. After his body is burned, those who lynched him ponder his last “muttered” words: “’Brothers in spirits, brothers in deed are we.” The explanation they seek is in the title of the poem: They have committed a crime against him as he has committed a crime against them. Ironically, however, the man who is lynched committed one crime; the men who lynched him committed the crime of killing him and collectively creating the beast he had become.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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