Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The importance of memory is the main theme of Born Brothers. Events themselves are less important than what Charles remembers about them and what connections he makes among them. Through this process, he discerns a pattern, an emotional framework that enables him to function and gives him the will to go on living.

Some memories evoke feelings of grief, loss, or guilt; others create a sense of being connected to family members who care. Often, the two types are juxtaposed. Immediately after Charles remembers his mother’s funeral, there is a radio script in which he tells about the birth of his son. The last section, called “Last Light,” ends with his suicide attempt, but it begins with Charles walking over the farm in North Dakota to which he and his family have moved, thinking about the ways in which he has changed, changes that will allow him to survive.

At the worst of times, Charles seeks death as a release from his painful memories. Once, when remembering his suicide attempt, Charles says that the death of his mother left him so unattached to life that he could sever that cord. The memories of his family forge ties, however; Charles, through this process of remembering, maintains and reinforces those ties.

The relationship between Jerome and Charles is the most important one. They are like yin and yang, two parts of a whole. Charles wants to be a doctor but ends up in speech and theater. Jerome wants to study speech and theater but studies...

(The entire section is 614 words.)