How can two brothers lead such different lives? "Brothers and Keepers", a novel by John Edgar Wideman, explores the dissimilar paths that he and his younger brother of ten years, Robby, take that has led them to drastically different places in this world. John Edgar Wideman was a middle-class college professor at the University of Wyoming with a wife and kids and his brother Robby ended up serving a life sentence for murder at Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. John Wideman feels a great void in his relationship with is brother and tries to begin a new relationship with him now that he is in jail. He visits Robby in prison and listens to his stories, about why and how he ended up where he is. The novel entails the story of how Robby ended up in prison, but also explores Wideman's own struggle with himself, his relationship with is brother, and his relationship with his past. .
John Edgar Wideman felt detached from his brother Robby. Wideman was ashamed that his family lived in the ghetto and after he left that ghetto, he separated himself from it. "Youall were back home in the ghetto to remind me how lucky I was"(26). He used his home as a measure of his success, which in the future led him to feelings of guilt. Along with guilt, he also mentions feelings of fear. "Fear of acknowledging in myself any traces of poverty, ignorance, and danger I"d find surrounding me when I returned to Pittsburgh(27).I was running from Pittsburgh, from poverty, from blackness"(26-27). The way that Wideman separated himself from Pittsburgh constructed a wall between him and Robby. "The problem was that in order to be the person I though I wanted to be, I believed I had to seal myself from you, construct a wall between us" (27).
The distance that Wideman created between himself and his brother fashioned the relationship that they had when Robby went to prison. Wideman expresses how he really didn"t know his brother at all.