In the short story The Rich Brother, Tobias Wolff vividly portrays a conflict between rich and poor brothers, their family relations and social position affected their life style. Out of the only role to have given his life purpose, Donald lacks a sense of who he is or how he relates to others. Pete, rich brother, lack spiritual values but a realist who achieves social position and stable income.
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The main conflict between brothers is based on spiritual differences. Pete personifies a wave of optimism. The rivalry between Pete and Donald continues to be a source of tension as life proceeds. “Do you ever dream about us? – Donald asks Pete”. (Wolff 256).
Dreams, and the occupations or life-styles they lead to, can also be a source of vulnerability when threats to their existence endanger the person’s self-identity. Wolff does not portray happy life stories, but more the kind of stories that recognize the rough and the smooth in the readers’ worlds, and offer the reassurance of compromised outcomes such as those readers may encounter in their own lives. “Their parents managed to be decent people without making fools of themselves, and Pete had the same ambition” (Wolff 257). In contrast, Donald’s dream is not an uncommon one among young men, that painting will lend him its sophistication and take him from being and awkward to suave and debonair
Pete and Donald belong to different social classes and have different level of income. Economic conflict heated their spiritual and philosophical differences and leads to envy and the disagreements between two brothers regarding the career choices and way of living. “And it came to him that it would be just like this unfair life for Donald to come out ahead in the end.” (Wolff 268) The emphasis is on private property which has led to a strict class-oriented society in which the relatively rich grow increasingly prosperous through the labors of the impoverished masses. “There was something wrong with me, and you were helping out. Taking care of me” (Wolff 263). In particular, Wolff suggests that social problems result primarily not from the flaws in any particular social system but in the philosophy and attitude towards life.
Philosophical conflict is evident in the style of life and attitude towards life shared by Pete and Donald. It is possible to say that the life and views of Donald are doomed by the darkness and weak personal values. Pete says to his brother: “You don’t know! How could you know? You get money by holding out your hand. Don’t kid yourself brother” (Wolff 267). All his life, Pete has supported and helped Donald to overcome difficult life situations and avoid troubles.
In contrast to Donald, Pete has stable work and family: a wife and two daughters. Donald has neither stable and income nor friendly family suffered from poverty, hunger and low self-esteem. Donald’s life is meaningless. Donald recollects: “Mom was in a state every time you burped” (Wolff 262). The undercurrent is of a world where relationships are not always happy, dreams collide or fail, and success by society’s standards may come at personal cost.
In sum, three conflicts between the brothers unveil deep personal relations and differences affected their lives. It is evident that three conflicts are interrelated and take their roots in childhood. These various circumstances would presumably make that relationship a particularly preoccupying one in their life.
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Wolff, T. The Rich Brother in Back in the World: Stories. Vintage, 1996., pp. 262-270.