Wideman's assertion about the author's view and presentation of the world as he or she sees it is certainly important. Indeed, it is the work of every author to create for readers an authentic presentation of the world as he or she sees it. This is particularly so of authors who take as important a position in history as the writers of the African-American resistance to oppression. Both John Edgar Wideman and Jamaica Kincaid present their intensely personal experiences in such a way that it provides to readers and authentic view of what reality is for these writers. Both intensely intellectual, their respective works Brothers and Keepers and My Brother, create for readers worlds that present the reality not only as a perceived black oppression, but also the wide diversity that exist among African-American people in terms of social and professional position. Both works therefore show that these worlds cannot be seen as a one-dimensional sphere of suffering and oppression. While these are certainly realities, there are also personal realities that are intensely human. As such, these realities present multiple dimensions of the African-American experience, which is also a human experience and one of family relationships that is more often than not problematic and painful.
Kincaid's novel, My Brother, concerns her rather distant relationship with her family, having left her home in Antigua at 16 and returning only after an absence of 20 years. When her brother Devon is diagnosed with AIDS, she takes a supply of an expensive drug home to help him. This is done on the basis of a love she did not realize that she had for him.
The author sketches two basic realities here: one that focuses on the main character's relationship with her family and the other within a larger context, where the drug she takes home is too expensive to be made available in a third-world country like Antigua. There is therefore an interplay between personal tragedy and the politics of oppression. By integrating the two, Kincaid creates a reality that provides a human context to political suffering. Rather than collectively branding a whole nation as an impersonal, suffering collective, Kincaid creates for them a human context. They are people with families, and they are people who experience love, sorrow, and despair like any other human being from any other nation on earth. Hence it is both an expansion and minimization of context. Kincaid's very personal story creates a wider sense of identification for readers. It personalizes the story to such an extent that any reader, as human being, can understand the feelings behind the story, even while understanding the limitations of the political context.
What is important in this sense is that Kincaid creates a context of identification by creating a world in which the nation of Antigua is seen not as a poverty-stricken collective, although that reality is certainly part of the story line. They are also portrayed as a nation that is human, like any other nation. In this, a new context of communication possibilities is created. When reading the story, the reader is moved by the emotions and the plight of the family to such an extent that the fact of their race and skin color becomes secondarily important to the fact that they suffer as human beings.
Another interesting contextual factor that Kincaid creates is that she focuses not only on her nation as poverty stricken, but also on certain individuals, such as herself, who are able to free themselves from perpetual poverty. She leaves her home at a very young age. Twenty years later, she has the means to buy expensive drugs for her brother. By sharp contrast, she finds her brother in the poorest hospital in a town where no hospital is affluent enough to have drugs on hand.
Because of her family connection with her brother, and her associated love for him, the narrator does all she can for him. She seeks the best authority on HIV / AIDS in the area and attends seminars to learn all she can about her brother's condition. This goes beyond the reality of poverty towards a sense of commitment that is based on love. Kincaid makes no grand gestures for her people as a whole. Her first commitment is very tightly focused on a single person in the form of her sick brother. This reality is far more complex than the rather simplistic story of the black person who does grand things for his or her whole nation in face of oppression, poverty, or any of the myriad challenges faced by oppressed nations. Kincaid is concerned primarily for her family, and in this uses all the resources she gained throughout her life to commit herself to her brother.
It is also, however, a story of extreme segregation within the nation itself. Kincaid made something of herself by moving to the United States and becoming a writer. Her brother remains in Antigua and is all but poisoned by the culture within which he grows up and lives as an adult. It is as if being in the environment of such abject poverty and a culture of sexual promiscuity infuses the inhabitants of Antigua with perpetual poverty and a general inability to be productive members of their society.
Kincaid herself is somewhat unable to bring her brother into her own affluent world, despite the fact that she is committed to his health to the extent of nursing him back to health and attempting to encourage him to make a better life for himself. When it is suggested that she does so, she does not want to bring him to her home in the United States. She does not want to bring his world to her world, where she has escaped the culture and the poverty of her own world.
At the end, Kincaid is unable to save her brother. He remains within his self-destructive world and lifestyle, and inevitably dies. The whole reality of this is of some inevitability. Kincaid's escape is portrayed as not impossible, but rather unusual. Had it not been for her mother's somewhat harsh attitude towards her, Kincaid might not have escaped a life in which she would have married and had children in a household as oppressed by poverty as the others in her home country. She would have been as unable to make "something" of herself as her brother. Even faced with death, Devon remains unable and even unwilling to make any changes that would prolong his existence.
Kincaid's novel is therefore a highly integrated and complex reality, where there is no single paradigm of poverty, racism, or escape. She portrays a world in which individuals make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. The influence of culture and home are portrayed for what they are, without seeking excuses in political unfairness or oppression, although these are certainly also seen for what they are. Kincaid sketches a world in which individuals are able to escape poverty and oppression, but where they can also make choices to commit to saving those they love, even if this is a hopeless endeavor. Most importantly, it is a reality of sufficient complexity that all readers can find something to identify with. It is not a novel by a person of color for people of color. It is a novel about humanity. This is the new reality that Kincaid portrays: all people, regardless of color, origin, or affluence, are primarily human and experience emotion in response to the challenges of life.
The same can be said for John Edgar Wideman's Brothers and Keepers, which also concerns a problematic relationship between siblings. As in Kincaid's novel, Wideman also creates a reality that is based not so much upon the segregation of races as it is upon the segregation within the African-American nation itself. The narrator's brother Robert is in prison for murder, while he is himself a professor of English at the University of Wyoming. The author sketches the widely divergent paths that lead to this separation in lifestyle between the brothers.
Unlike Kincaid's novel, this reality is even further removed from the sense of environmental oppression. The difference between the brothers does not lie in their country of origin. Whereas Kincaid escaped by physically moving away from her country, there is no such need for the narrator to move. Instead, his movement is intellectual and mental. His ability to rise above the circumstances that led to his brother's downfall is internal rather than externally driven, as it was at least initially for Kincaid.
Another interesting feature of the realities created by Wideman is in his use of language to perpetuate these realities. The English professor and his style of speech and thought differ completely from the rough candor of his criminal brother. This adds to the realities created in the novel.
Like Kincaid and her brother, the brothers John and Robert Wideman are born to the same family. Also similarly, this is the only common…