How is Eli Sisters' character affected/changed by the personal, constructed, and psychological landscapes in Patrick deWitt's novel The Sisters Brothers? 

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Patrick deWitt's western novel The Sisters Brothers is a tale of a battle between an evil and a moral nature. At the start of the story, the two brothers of the last name Sisters, Charlie Sisters and Eli Sisters, are caught up in the world of evil by working as hired assassins for the Commodore. Eli in particular is caught up in this evil world because his fierce temper makes him more savage than most men. However, as they continue witnessing evil throughout the novel, Eli grows disgusted with the evil he sees and is ready to let go of it.

Eli's vicious temper is seen in such incidents as him using his boot to crush the skull of a prospector Charlie had just shot because the prospector held Eli at gunpoint. The prospector was already dead and his skull had already been disfigured by Charlie's gunshot; however, filled with rage at having been held at gunpoint, Eli was unable to quench his desire to continue mutilating the deceased prospector. Yet, after that moment, many events happen to change Eli emotionally.

One of those events is meeting Mayfield's beautiful hotel bookkeeper, who is dying of tuberculosis, yet still has a very positive outlook. Her outlook makes him feel ashamed of his violent rages and of his job as an assassin, especially since the man they are after, Warm, may be completely innocent. Eli begins to change most when he and Charlie read Warm's diary and determine that he truly is innocent. All the men the Commodore had sent them after before had been guilty of double-crossing the Commodore, but Warm hasn't done anything of the sort; he is only guilty of devising an ingenious chemical method of discovering gold in streams, a method the Commodore is eager to get his hands on. Instead of killing Warm and Morris, another man of the Commodore's who has betrayed the him to become Warm's partner, Charlie and Eli prove their loyalty to them by defending them against bandits and becoming their partners until both Warm and Morris are killed in a chemical accident. During their partnership, Warm says something insightful that particularly influences Eli to begin thinking about change:

Most people will continue on, dissatisfied but never attempting to understand why, or how they might change things for the better, and they die with nothing in their hearts but dirt and old, thin blood--weak blood, diluted--and their memories aren't worth a goddamned thing. (p. 295)

After Warm and Morris's deaths, Eli conquers the evil he has been battling throughout the whole novel by strangling the Commodore to death. Then, they return home to their mother, promising that they are done with all the violence they have been involved in. Eli even speaks of his new vision of opening up a trading post. Yet, despite Eli conquering evil by killing the Commodore, by the end of the novel, we know that Eli's change is not a complete, miraculous change; instead, it is a very realistic change. His change is realistic because he confesses to his mother that he still has his violent urges and still tries to use his calming technique. Yet, though he still has his violent urges and probably always will, at least he has conquered evil by no longer wanting to succumb to the evil within him; instead, he wants to succumb to the desire to behave morally.

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The Sisters Brothers

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