(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In April, 1992, Rodney King, an African American, was arrested by Los Angeles police after a high-speed automobile chase. His severe beating at the hands of four policemen, captured on videotape by an amateur photographer, outraged the African American community. When the policemen were exonerated by an all-white jury, Los Angeles erupted in a series of civil disturbances during which fifty-three people were killed and over one billion dollars in property was destroyed. Bebe Moore Campbell’s novel Brothers and Sisters is set in the aftermath of these historical events.

The novel is a frank exploration of the complexities of race, gender, and social class, represented through the viewpoints of a large cast of characters. Esther Jackson and Mallory Post are professional employees of the downtown regional headquarters of the fictional Angel City National Bank. Esther, on the surface self-possessed and under control, seethes with inner rage at her treatment as a token African American woman. Mallory seeks Esther’s friendship but is puzzled by her seemingly incomprehensible anger. Esther, in turn, is blind to Mallory’s well-intentioned, if naïve, attitude. Each woman tries to understand the other, as they struggle with ethical issues raised by their jobs and the gender discrimination suffered by women of both races.

Mallory, blond and elegant, is a highly paid commercial loan officer. Esther, whose striking good looks attract much attention, is manager of the tellers. She applies for a higher-paying position as a loan officer, a job for which she is qualified, but is denied promotion by the white manager. The issues of race, class, and gender that dominate the story...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brown, Deneen L. “A Book that Binds: Novel Project Fosters Racial Understanding.” The Washington Post, November 13, 1997, p. A.01. Discusses Mary Brown, an African American English professor at Prince Georges Community College who has generated a successful series of interracial seminars in the community, using Brothers and Sisters as a springboard for discussion.

Chambers, Veronica. “Which Counts More, Gender or Race?” The New York Times Magazine, December 25, 1994, p. 16-19. In this author interview, Campbell says that she wants to explore interracial friendships in her fiction and that African American women are more oppressed by color than by gender.

Fox, Margalit. “Bebe Moore Campbell, Novelist of Black Lives, Dies at 56.” The New York Times, November 28, 2006. Summary of Campbell’s writing career that notes that, although critics found her characters to be two-dimensional, she was successful in reaching both African American and white readers.

Gleick, Elizabeth. Review of Brothers and Sisters, by Bebe Moore Campbell. The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1994, p. 18. Argues that Campbell’s attempt to reveal the complexities of racial issues achieves mixed success and lacks subtlety.

Lamb, Yvonne Shinhoster. “Bebe Moore Campbell: Writer Explored Race, Mental Health Themes.” The Washington Post, November 28, 2006, p. BO6. Credits Campbell with “keen insight into the human condition.”

Winter, Karl J. “Brothers and Sisters.” African American Review 31, no. 2 (Summer, 1997): 369-371. Aruges that Campbell attempts to avoid clichés in Brothers and Sisters, but creates shallow characters who are not always convincing and depends upon stereotypes of physical appearance.