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John Edgar Wideman Essay Essay Research

John Edgar Wideman Essay Essay, Research Paper

How do you tell a story of a boy who was raised right but

turned out wrong? Do you focus on key events during the course of his

life, or do you examine his life in sequence from birth? In his

compelling essay Our Time , John Edgar Wideman has the

responsibility of telling the story of the boy who turned out wrong. .

The boy is Widman s younger brother and black sheep of the family

Robby. Wideman uses three voices and three events to tell his brother

Robby s story. The three voices that Wideman brings into his essay to

help his readers understand why his brother went bad are the voices

of his brother Robby, his mother, and himself. The three events that

Wideman mingles into his essay to help himself come to an

understanding of his brother and the troubles that plagued him are

the tragic death of Robby s best friend Garth, the family s move to

Shadyshide, (A predominant white neighborhood) and the time of

Robby s birth. Why does Wideman present the three events the way he

does? Is he trying to single out the event that caused Robby s

downfall? Each event has an effect on Robby; an effect that would

steer him towards drugs, crime, and involvement in a murder that

would mean a life sentence in prison. Did Robby have bad luck?

Imagine rolling the dice and seeing snake eyes come up or landing on

the chance spot on the Monopoly board and picking up that little

orange card and reading, Do not pass Go Do not collect two hundred

dollars Go Straight to Jail. No, it wasn t bad luck; it started with

Garth s death.

During a visit to the prison Robby reassembles Garth s death to

his brother, Something had crawled inside Garth s belly. The man

said it wasn t nothing. Sold him some aspirins and said he d be all

right in no time. The man killed Garth (656). Garth died of a

mysterious disease in the summer of 1975. The tragedy of his best

friend hit Robby like a heavyweight slap in the face. It stung him

and pissed him off. Robby believed he lost Garth because the doctors

mistreated and misdiagnosed him. As Widman listens to his brother

venting his anger over Garth s death he recalls a conversation he had

with his mother six years ago about Garth: Garth had been down to

the clinic two or three times but they sent him home. You know how

they are down there. Have to be spitting blood to get attention. Then

all they give you is a Band-Aid (660). As the author begins to piece

the puzzle of Garth s death together he sees the change in attitude

from his mother and brother. Robby justified his anger and bitterness

over his friend s death by lashing out at society. Robby figured he

was doomed to die on the streets so why bother caring anymore. Man,

how could they let him die? Garth was the gang s dreamer; he had a

special gift and was well liked in the neighborhood and streets of

Homewood. He could make you feel good when you were down with his

kind words and smiling grin. That s what tore at Robby s soul the

most. Just because you re poor and black doesn t mean you re not

important, or as important as everyone else in the world is. Robby

cursed and blamed society for Garth s death. As he cursed society

with his middle finger waving in the air he hugged the streets

tighter, embracing the life that would spiral him downward: his gang,

drugs, and crime.

Homewood was the place that Robby was introduced to the

streets, the parties, the dope, and the crime. It started up on

Garfield Hill, partying with the homey s of Homewood. Robby was

sheltered from the streets for most of his life because his family

lived in an all-white neighborhood like Shadyshide, so when Robby

discovered Homewood he began getting curious about the streets and

the black culture. Robby s family tried to shield him from the

dangers of the streets but Robby would not be denied. Started to

wondering what was so different about a black neighborhood. I was

just a little kid and I was curious. Didn t care if it was bad or

good or dangerous or what, I had to find out (673). Robby was curious

and wild. He needed to fit in somewhere. He needed to find a place

that was his own. Robby felt stuck in the middle living in white


Seems like I should start the story back in Shadyshide.

Nothing but white kids around. Them little white kids had

everything, too. It made me kinda shy around them. There was

them white kids with everything and there was the black world

Mommy was holding back from me. I guess you could say I was

stuck in the middle (678).

This feeling of being in the middle for Robby may have influenced his

downfall. Robby didn t feel comfortable or as good as the white kids

in his neighborhood of Shadyshide so he turned to Homewood, his

heaven where he could drink with the fellows, and always a party to

go to. This is where Robby s rebellion begins.

The third event or beginning that Wideman writes about is the time of

Robby s birth. Robby was born on December 29th. The month of December

was a dark month for the Wideman family because both of Robby s

grandfathers and his maternal grandmother had passed away right

around Robby s birthday. The holidays would become a time of mourning

and loss especially after Wideman s sister had a miscarriage in early

January. The family started believing the holiday season was jinxed.

To Robby December were his lowest times. The year before the robbery

and killing in 1970 was the year that Robby got hooked on heroin. It

was also the time when Robby stole the TV and set the house up to

look like a burglary. This was a bottom for Robby. Stealing from your

family is usually the last sign that a junkie has lost all their

morals and values. Happy Birthday Robby! Don t you wish you could do

it all over again?

Writing about the three events and going over them again and again

helped Wideman and this reader understand a key point. The key to

making sense of something and in this case the something being why

Robby went bad is to go over it and over it and piece it together

from different angles and break it down so you can figure it out for

yourself. What did Wideman want to figure out? Was he just going over

things like a good writer does trying to piece together a puzzle that

is mind boggling? I tend to think he was writing a tribute of guilt.

Guilt for not being there for his brother. Where was I, Wideman would

ask himself? How did I miss so much? In his essay you can hear

Wideman saying I m sorry to Robby for not being there for you. So, he

writes a great piece of literature about a boy growing up on the

right side of the track who ends up being a junkie, thief, and

convicted murderer. Does this cleanse the guilt he has for not being

there for his brother? Does it make up for it? No, I don t think it

does, because it shouldn t take a tragedy to bring a family closer

together. Wideman writes a great essay about his brother, but as a

brother he was not great.

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