Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)
In many ways, Brothers and Keepers is unique among autobiographical statements by black leaders, political figures, and writers since the beginning of the 1960’s. It is similar to other autobiographical statements by black writers in its indictment of the racist system that works to destroy the lives of black people, in this case the life of Wideman’s brother Robby, who live in bleak, crime-ridden neighborhoods. It is different from these works, however, in clearly showing that black individuals, in this case Wideman himself, can leave the community and achieve success in what is supposed to be the American Way. On one hand, the system looks closed and oppressive, but on the other, it seems to hold the promise of success to those blacks who focus themselves and venture out of their ethnic enclaves into the larger white world. Like many other works by black writers, Brothers and Keepers charges the white American system, but its main target is not really the system.
What distinguishes Brothers and Keepers is its insistence that talented, successful black people act responsibly toward family and community after they have achieved success. Unlike other such works of the mid-twentieth century, it does not put its greatest emphasis on the ravages of black poverty and white racism. It is a candid account of the thoughts of a black person who overcame poverty and racism and succeeded brilliantly in a white world. Brothers and...
(The entire section is 501 words.)