Listen and You Shall Hear: an Analysis of Our Time, a Selection from Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman

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The past, of course, can never change, but our understanding of the past changes constantly. In “Our Time” John Edgar Wideman tells the story of his brother Robby as a product of his own evolved perspective of the past, artfully weaving the voices of his mother and Robby alongside his own, reconstructing their shared histories into one.

John struggles with himself throughout the essay -- contemplating his conflicted roles as the writer, examining the difficulty of representing his brother wholly and impartially. In an attempt to acknowledge the factors limiting him from a better understanding of the story, John abstains from traditional chronological plot development and narrates using differing voices, long interior monologue, and abrupt shifts in time, diction and point of view. The overall, collective impression of Robby is structured through these varying perspectives.

Sitting in the darkness of the prison Behavioral Adjustment Unit, catching up on lost time, Robby details to John the cruel and lonely circumstances of his incarceration. He wants to express to John how time in the “hole” has changed his perception of his own story. He tells John, When you in prison you got plenty of time to think, that’s for damned sure. Too much time. I’ve gone over and over my life. I lay down in my bed and watch it happening over and over. Like a movie. I get it all broke down in pieces then I break up the pieces then I take the pieces of the pieces through my hands so I remember every word a person said to me or what I said to them and I weigh the words till I think I know what each and every one meant. Then I try to put it back together. Try to understand where I been. Why I did what I did… Going over and over things sometimes you can make sense. (229)

Indeed, this is the very way in which John makes sense of his brother’s story. Through fragmented bits of personal and collective memories pieced together to illustrate the broader story, we are given the...
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