Brothers and Keepers

by John Edgar Wideman

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What arguments does John Edgar Wideman make in Brothers and Keepers?

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The argument that Wideman makes in Brothers and Keepers is that brothers who shared similar upbringings can go very different ways in life but that the bond between brothers is ultimately unbreakable.

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It would appear that Wideman's novel argues a few points. The first one that comes to mind is how two brothers, who had the same upbringing and similar experiences while growing up, can wind up making vastly different choices. It would seem that Wideman is taking the side of "nature" in the age-old nature-versus-nurture debate. In spite of everything that happened, however, Wideman makes the point that the bond between the two brothers proves unbreakable.

We are told that right from school days, Robbie teased his brothers for taking education seriously. Rather than get an education, Robbie was interested in getting drugs—and the money that came with drugs. In a scheme that goes horribly wrong, Robert and his friends wind up killing a man. Despite not being the one to pull the trigger, Robert gets a life sentence. This is in stark contrast to John, who seemingly never got into any trouble.

The other argument that John makes is that the conditions in the USA's prisons are unacceptable. Hostile guards pose threats, and violence is threatened by other inmates. This creates an environment in which transformation and personal improvement is extremely difficult. In spite of this, Robert manages to overcome the odds and complete an associate degree while behind bars.

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