Tobias Wolff’s The Rich Brother is an interesting story of two brothers, Donald and Pete. According to the author, one can not tell that they are brothers because they not only look physically different, but they also have different values and beliefs. The two brothers have a very contrasting lifestyle. Pete is married and rich while Donald is single and broke and therefore he is always in need of financial assistance.
Pete believes that success is measured on the amount of wealth that one has, and it’s a result of hard work and responsibility. Because of his wealth, Pete seems to suffer from a deep rooted superiority complex but he lacks the self esteem he desperately craves. Pete is a mean person who worships money and he does not believe in God. His destiny is to have a good family and to be as his parents were. Donald is portrayed as an irresponsible person who is not accountable for his own actions. He is overcome by self-pity and scapegoats Pete for all his problems. Donald is a religious man and likes ignoring his faults. He sabotages his own life and depends on Pete financially (James 12).
James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is an equally interesting story of two brothers who exhibits contrasting characters. Sonny and his elder brother are orphans and are not in good term with each other probably because of their personality differences. Sonny’s brother narrates this story and there is an unhappy mood throughout the story. The narrator does not understand Sonny and he think he is an irresponsible lad. The older brother seems to be more conservative and is determined for a good future. Sonny’s passion for music makes him impatient with everything else including education. The narrator does not understand Sonny’s dream of becoming a musician and this lead to an argument. Because of this misunderstanding, a period of estrangement follows, after which Sonny is arrested for using heroin (James 19)
In The Rich Brother story the author has demonstrated the theme of tolerance throughout the story. Donald is able to tolerate his brother’s pride and ego. Pete is also able to tolerate Donald’s irresponsible behavior while at the same time disapproving it. Similarly, this theme is also present in James Baldwin’s story Sonny’s Blues. Despite the misunderstanding between Sonny and his brother, the two are able to live together until they finally resolve their differences and tolerate each others character and attitude. Sonny’s brother finally understands that it is through music that Sonny is able to find something meaningful to do in his life.
Sibling rivalry has also been well demonstrated by the two authors in their stories. In the Rich Brother, Pete and Donald are not friendly to each other. This is evident from the way their exchange words a clear manifestation of jealousy between the two. For example, when Donald accidentally spills soda in Pete’ car, Pete responds sarcastically, “Great, just great” (Tobias Wolf, 293). In fact at one time Pete tried to kill his brother because he was jealous of him (Tobias 199)
In the Sony’s Blues story, the story starts with sad news of how Sonny has been arrested because of using heroin. Although Sonny’s brother is disturbed by this news, he is hesitant to write to his brother. In the Rich brother story, blind faith and ego are demonstrated. Pete tries to make Donald feel foolish because of his little achievements. Pete is a materialistic person who suffers from an obnoxious pride rooted in his wealth. He uses his possessions to intimidate his brother and makes him feel inferior. Donald on the other hand is a religious person who believes in blessings he has not worked for. He finds refuge in religion which he uses to judge others while ignoring his own faults (Tobias 201).
In Sonny’s Blues, the author reveals how the two brothers are not in terms with each other because of their ego. Upon receiving news that Sonny has been arrested, the elder brother does not swallow his pride to write to his brother immediately to know how he is fairing. The elder brother looks down on Sonny’s ambition of becoming a musician. He believes that Sonny should study hard (just like him) in order to secure a bright future.
In my own opinion, Tobias Wolf and James Baldwin try to emphasize on the theme of responsibility in the two stories. This is evident through out the stories; however the writers challenges the reader to find out this for themselves as it is not very direct from the two stories (James 34).
In the Rich brother story, Donald is portrayed as an irresponsible person who is unemployed. He doesn’t take life seriously and he is financially dependent on his brother. Pete doesn’t play the role of a good brother who ought to guide and nurture his brother positively. Instead he is rude to Donald and sees him like a burden. Through this illustration, the writer challenges the reader to cultivate a positive attitude and a heart that is willing to help and not to condemn. The writer also challenges the reader to be responsible and work to avoid being dependent on relatives (Tobias 22).
Similarly, James Baldwin enlightens the reader of Sonny’s Blue on accepting responsibilities. The narrator describes his father as an irresponsible drunkard who pretended to be tough. His father finally dies without leaving a legacy for his sons. Because of their father’s irresponsible behavior, Sonny and his brother are forced to endure suffering. In addition, Sonny’s dislike for school lands him in the wrong company who introduces him to drug abuse which led him to jail. Using these illustrations, the writer teaches the importance of virtues and accountability. Tobias Wolff and James Baldwin have done an exemplary job in emphasizing the theme of responsibility in the two stories. The theme is very outstanding in the stories and I support that they are about responsibility.