(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The theme of “Goodbye, My Brother,” a story based on Cheever’s relationship with his older brother, Fred, is one that preoccupied Cheever over the course of his entire career, from the early story “The Brothers” (1937) to the late novel Falconer. The story takes place on Laud’s Head, on the New England coast, where the geographically distant but “close in spirit” Pommeroy clan (a widowed mother, one recently divorced daughter, and three brothers with wives and children) gathers at the family’s summer house, built in the 1920’s. The unnamed narrator, one of the brothers, is thirty-eight, a schoolteacher resigned to a future without much promise who, like the rest of his family (other than the youngest brother), believes that while the Pommeroys may not be distinguished, they are unique.

The late arrival of Lawrence, the youngest child and a lawyer, is the return of the prodigal son, only in reverse. Known variously as Tifty (from the sound his slippers made when he was a child), Croaker, and Little Jesus, he has no enthusiasm—indeed, much contempt—for the activities in which the rest of the family take so much pleasure: drinking, talking, dancing, playing games, and above all, swimming, which during Lawrence’s visit they seem to do more as a way to cleanse themselves of his doleful presence than as a form of physical exercise.

“He could make a grievance out of everything,” the narrator complains about a...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Goodbye, My Brother Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator begins the story by announcing that he is a Pommeroy, that his father drowned when he was quite young, and that his mother told her children that their family relationships had a kind of permanence they would not likely find in life again. The Pommeroys enjoy the illusion that they are unique. The narrator then introduces the four children, their places of residence, and their spouses. The narrator relates that, as a family, the Pommeroys used to spend summers on Laud’s Head, an island off the Massachusetts coast, where, during the 1920’s, their father replaced the family cottage with a big house. It is the narrator’s favorite place in the world.

One afternoon late in the summer, all the family members have assembled on Laud’s Head, except Lawrence and his wife and children, who finally cross over from the mainland on the four o’clock boat. Although brother Chaddy and the narrator welcome Lawrence, the narrator remarks that family dislikes are deeply ingrained, and he remembers that twenty-five years before he hit Lawrence on the head with a rock. During the cocktail time after the new arrivals have settled in, it becomes obvious that Lawrence is not like the others, as he is critical of his sister, indifferent to what he drinks, and quarrelsome about being called “Tifty,” a nickname dating from his youth when his slippers used to make a “tifty, tifty” sound as he walked. His father coined the name. Lawrence has something of the Puritan cleric in his makeup, the narrator remarks, a nature reminiscent of the family’s precolonial ancestry. After dinner, the mother becomes drunk and quarrels with Lawrence about the repairs to the old house, which he insists is sliding slowly into the sea and is a waste of money to maintain. The narrator recalls the time when Lawrence, away at boarding school, decided to separate himself from his mother by not returning home for the Christmas holidays. The mother remarks, as she goes off to bed, that in her afterlife she is going to have a very different kind of family, one with “fabulously rich, witty, and enchanting children.”

The next morning, the narrator awakes to the sound of someone working on the tennis court. He meets Lawrence’s simpering children downstairs and asks Lawrence for a game but is turned down. Later in the morning, he finds his brother examining the house’s shingles; Lawrence observes that, though the house is relatively new, their father installed the two-hundred-year-old shingles to make it look venerable. The narrator remembers how in the past Lawrence upbraided the family for their refusal to join the modern world and for their retreat into what they supposed was a calmer and happier time, implying that such an attitude was a measure of an irremediable failure. The appearance of Mrs. Pommeroy, their mother, demonstrates to the narrator that there is little hope of any rapport between the matriarch and the changeling: Their mother suggests...

(The entire section is 1207 words.)