Masterplots II: African American Literature Brothers and Keepers Analysis - Essay

John Edgar Wideman

Masterplots II: African American Literature Brothers and Keepers Analysis

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Addressing his brother, John Edgar Wideman states, “The usual notion of time, of one thing happening first and opening the way for another and another, becomes useless pretty quickly when I try to isolate the shape of your life from the rest of us, when I try to retrace your steps and discover precisely where and when you started to go bad.” While the older Wideman may not be able to pinpoint the beginning of Robby’s demise, Brothers and Keepers does illuminate the underlying causes, personal and social, that led to his incarceration. Above all else, the book illustrates that the reasons for the vast difference in the fates of the two brothers are anything but simple. Wideman never excuses his brother of personal responsibility for his actions, but he nevertheless emphasizes the key role played by historical and social factors far beyond his brother’s control.

Prison serves as a metaphor in Brothers and Keepers for the conditions under which inhabitants of the African American ghetto live. According to his brother, the course of Robby’s life was largely predetermined by societal forces that subverted his opportunity for success. Wideman writes that “Robby’s chance for a normal life was as illusory as most citizens’ chances to be elected to office or run a corporation.” Time spent in the prison system further corrupts the individual, he argues, as inmates receive an education in crime rather than the skills necessary to...

(The entire section is 565 words.)