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Minor Criminals

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  • November 2009
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John Edgar Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers chronicles the contrary lives of two brothers. John is an acclaimed writer. Robby sits in Pennsylvania’s Western State Penitentiary serving a life sentence. John conducts a series of interviews with Robby. Together, they are able to paint a picture showing why their destinies unfolded in such a way. The novel raises the key question; what caused Robby to commit crime? A common explanation is that Robby is a “product of his environment”. This cliché is somewhat accurate, but fails to account for John’s lack of criminality. Why did not John become criminal? Both brothers grew up in nearly identical settings and circumstances. Both brothers had the steep disadvantage of being black males in a racially unequal society. Both brothers resented the established system, one they did not choose to live in. Throughout the book, they express their distain towards society and the status it assigns them. Judging from situation alone, John could have just as easily gone the same route as Robby. Why did John succeed while Robby failed? Social structure was a chief factor in both of their lives, but the separation was in how each brother adapted to their situations. The Theory of Delinquent Subcultures explains this result. By examining Brothers and Keepers with this theory in mind, the contrast between John and Robby becomes clear. Before investigating the brothers, one must have a lucid understanding of the theory. The theory of delinquent subcultures is a specific premise within the realm of social structure theories. A major school of thought in criminology, social structure theories attempt to explain the high occurrence of crime among lower class citizens. Siegel states they “maintain that the social and economic forces operating in deteriorated lower-class areas are the key determinants of criminal behavior patterns” (pg. 179). Disparities in criminal trends pertaining to income, race, location, and poverty all...

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