How do you tell a story of a boy who was raised right but turned out wrong? Do you focus on key events during the course of his life, or do you examine his life in sequence from birth? In his compelling essay Our Time, John Edgar Wideman has the responsibility of telling the story of the boy who turned out wrong.. The boy is Widman s younger brother and black sheep of the family Robby. Wideman uses three voices and three events to tell his brother Robby s story. The three voices that Wideman brings into his essay to help his readers understand why his brother went bad are the voices of his brother Robby, his mother, and himself.
The three events that Wideman mingles into his essay to help himself come to an understanding of his brother and the troubles that plagued him are the tragic death of Robby s best friend Garth, the family s move to Shadyshide, (A predominant white neighborhood) and the time of Robby s birth. Why does Wideman present the three events the way he does? Is he trying to single out the event that caused Robby s downfall? Each event has an effect on Robby; an effect that would steer him towards drugs, crime, and involvement in a murder that would mean a life sentence in prison.
Did Robby have bad luck? Imagine rolling the dice and seeing snake eyes come up or landing on the chance spot on the Monopoly board and picking up that little orange card and reading, Do not pass Go Do not collect two hundred dollars Go Straight to Jail. No, it wasn t bad luck; it started with Garth s death. During a visit to the prison Robby reassembles Garth s death to his brother, Something had crawled inside Garth s belly. The man said it wasn t nothing. Sold him some aspirins and said he d be all right in no time. The man killed Garth (656).
Garth died of a mysterious disease in the summer of 1975. The tragedy of his best riend hit Robby like a heavyweight slap in the face. It stung him and pissed him off. Robby believed he lost Garth because the doctors mistreated and misdiagnosed him. As Widman listens to his brother venting his anger over Garth s death he recalls a conversation he had with his mother six years ago about Garth: Garth had been down to the clinic two or three times but they sent him home. You know how they are down there. Have to be spitting blood to get attention.
Then all they give you is a Band-Aid (660). As the author begins to piece the puzzle of Garth s death together he sees the change in attitude from his mother and brother. Robby justified his anger and bitterness over his friend s death by lashing out at society. Robby figured he was doomed to die on the streets so why bother caring anymore. Man, how could they let him die? Garth was the gang s dreamer; he had a special gift and was well liked in the neighborhood and streets of Homewood. He could make you feel good when you were down with his kind words and smiling grin.
That s what tore at Robby s soul the most. Just because you re poor and black doesn t mean you re not important, or as important as everyone else in the world is. Robby cursed and blamed society for Garth s death. As he cursed society with his middle finger waving in the air he hugged the streets tighter, embracing the life that would spiral him downward: his gang, drugs, and crime. Homewood was the place that Robby was introduced to the streets, the parties, the dope, and the crime. It started up on Garfield Hill, partying with the homey s of Homewood.
Robby was sheltered from the streets for most of his life because his family lived in an all-white neighborhood like Shadyshide, so when Robby discovered Homewood he began getting curious about the streets and the black culture. Robby s family tried to shield him from the angers of the streets but Robby would not be denied. Started to wondering what was so different about a black neighborhood. I was just a little kid and I was curious. Didn t care if it was bad or good or dangerous or what, I had to find out (673). Robby was curious and wild.
He needed to fit in somewhere. He needed to find a place that was his own. Robby felt stuck in the middle living in white suburbia: Seems like I should start the story back in Shadyshide. Nothing but white kids around. Them little white kids had everything, too. It made me kinda shy around them. There was them white kids with everything and there was the black world Mommy was holding back from me. I guess you could say I was stuck in the middle (678). This feeling of being in the middle for Robby may have influenced his downfall.
Robby didn t feel comfortable or as good as the white kids in his neighborhood of Shadyshide so he turned to Homewood, his heaven where he could drink with the fellows, and always a party to go to. This is where Robby s rebellion begins. The third event or beginning that Wideman writes about is the time of Robby s birth. Robby was born on December 29th. The month of December was a dark month for the Wideman family because both of Robby s randfathers and his maternal grandmother had passed away right around Robby s birthday.
The holidays would become a time of mourning and loss especially after Wideman s sister had a miscarriage in early January. The family started believing the holiday season was jinxed. To Robby December were his lowest times. The year before the robbery and killing in 1970 was the year that Robby got hooked on heroin. It was also the time when Robby stole the TV and set the house up to look like a burglary. This was a bottom for Robby. Stealing from your family is usually the last sign that a junkie has lost all their morals and values. Happy Birthday Robby! Don t you wish you could do it all over again?
Writing about the three events and going over them again and again helped Wideman and this reader understand a key point. The key to making sense of something and in this case the something being why Robby went bad is to go over it and over it and piece it together from different angles and break it down so you can figure it out for yourself. What did Wideman want to figure out? Was he just going over things like a good writer does trying to piece together a puzzle that is mind boggling? I tend to think he was writing a tribute of guilt. Guilt for not being there for his brother.
Where was I, Wideman would ask himself? How did I miss so much? In his essay you can hear Wideman saying I m sorry to Robby for not being there for you. So, he writes a great piece of literature about a boy growing up on the right side of the track who ends up being a junkie, thief, and convicted murderer. Does this cleanse the guilt he has for not being there for his brother? Does it make up for it? No, I don t think it does, because it shouldn t take a tragedy to bring a family closer together. Wideman writes a great essay about his brother, but as a brother he was not great.