Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Written in a singsong prose style heavy with repetition, My Brother chronicles without pause or respite the ebb and flow of Devon Drew’s illness and death from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Drew, the youngest of three brothers, is the half brother of the memoir’s author, Jamaica Kincaid. The two share a mother, Mrs. Drew, but they have different fathers. They also live very different lives. Drew, a man in his thirties, lives with his mother in Antigua. Kincaid, who is thirteen years older, lives in Vermont with her own children. She is an international best-selling and critically acclaimed author, while Drew has no job, dreams of being a musician, and occasionally steals from his own brothers. Even his language does not sound like her language.

In her earlier works, A Small Place (1988) and The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), Kincaid found abundant fault with both motherhood and her motherland. In My Brother, she again grapples with both, as she returns to Antigua to fulfill familial obligations. Kincaid struggles with herself, asking if she loves her brother. She struggles with her mother, a woman who loves her children not well but too much. She struggles with an Antiguan culture that isolates its AIDS patients and waits for them to waste away in lonely squalor. She struggles with her dying brother Devon, a man who rejects her values, questions her motives, and pursues his pleasures at his own...

(The entire section is 584 words.)

Historical Context

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Antigua is a small West Indian island, twelve miles long and nine miles wide. Christopher Columbus arrived in Antigua in 1493, and he named...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Literary Style

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

The diction of each family member is revealing. Kincaid’s writing is formal, almost distant, and her carefully...

(The entire section is 583 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Research how Antigua became independent from British rule and discuss the implications of that event for the modern-day Antigua of...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

My Brother was adapted into an audio book performed by Jamaica Kincaid. The audio book runs for 360 minutes and was published by...

(The entire section is 24 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

National Book Critics Circle Award winner The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997) is Anne Fadiman’s nonfiction story of a...

(The entire section is 285 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Sources ‘‘Don’t Mess with Gardener and Author Jamaica Kincaid,’’ in Boston Globe, June 20, 1996.

Garis, Leslie,...

(The entire section is 295 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brophy, Sarah. “Angels in Antigua: The Disaporic of Melancholy in Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 117, no. 2 (March, 2002): 265-277. Explores the connection between melancholia and mourning. Questions whether Kincaid is mourning the loss of her youngest brother, whom she only saw at the beginning and the ending of his life, or her sadness and grief reflect her own lost opportunities mixed with survivor’s guilt.

Kaufman, Joanne. “Jamaica Kincaid: An Author’s Unsparing Judgments Earn Her an Unwanted Reputation for Anger.” People 48, no. 24 (December 15, 1997): 109-112. Powerlessness, this article suggests, is at the heart of Kincaid’s writings. On writing about her thirty-three-year-old brother’s death, she is quoted here saying, “We were both dreamers, both lived in our heads. I thought, ’This could be me.’”

Kincaid, Jamaica. “Jamaica Kincaid Hates Happy Endings.” Interview by Marilyn Snell. Mother Jones 22, no. 5 (September/October, 1997): 28-31. Refers to Kincaid’s “continuing obsessions.” Kincaid says she is more concerned with pursuing truth than with the happiness or sadness of that truth.

McDowell, Deborah E. “Darkness Visible.” Review of My Brother, by Jamaica Kincaid. Women’s Review of Books 15, no. 4 (January, 1998): 1-3. Makes the point that all books about death are also about life—about what the living make of it and how death affects them.

Page, Kezia. “What If He Did Not Have a Sister [Who Lived in the United States]? Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother as Remittance Text.” Small Axe 21 (October, 2006): 37-53. In an argument based on the biblical line “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” the author suggests Kincaid’s writing is really a repayment: She pays with her writing for escaping her homeland and her most likely fate.

Wachman, Gay. “Dying in Antigua.” Review of My Brother, by Jamaica Kincaid. The Nation, November 3, 1997, 43-44. Refers to the death of Devon Drew, Jamaica Kincaid’s half brother, as “a memoir of a voice.”