ENC1102 - Summer 2014
May 23, 2014
Contrasting Characters: “The Rich Brother”
Tobias Wolff’s “The Rich Brother” showcases the complex bonds of family while portraying a relationship between two brothers who are the polar opposite of each other. Pete, the older brother, enjoys an affluent lifestyle and focuses much of his time and attention on acquiring more material wealth. He is a shrewd businessman who works hard for his money and places emphasis on financial prosperity. By contrast, Donald, the younger brother, has not achieved any financial success or independence but concerns himself more with spirituality and kindness to others. He lives a simple and rather ...view middle of the document...
In one instance, when Pete is picking Donald up in his new car, Donald is trying to understand why Pete needed a new car. Pete doesn’t feel the need to justify his purchase and simply tells Donald “‘There wasn’t anything wrong with it,’ (…) ‘I just happened to like this one better’” (Wolff, 312). Pete’s strained relationship with his brother Donald manifests in his condescending attitude over Donald’s lack of financial prosperity. In contrast to Pete, Donald “lived alone, painted houses when he found the work, and got deeper into debt to Pete when he didn’t” (Wolff, 309). Pete was often bailing Donald out of financial hardship and dire situations. Donald had very little to his name and lived in pursuit of spiritual enrichment as opposed to material gain. At one point in the story, Donald finds himself stranded and in need of Pete’s help, and “when Pete asked him where he intended to go, Donald admitted that he had no plan. His car had been repossessed just before he left the city, and he was flat broke” (Wolff, 310). In terms of financial well-being, it is clear to the reader that “Pete prospered and Donald did not prosper” (Wolff, 309).
If the reader were to interpret the title of the story in a less literal way, one could argue that Donald was the “rich brother,” at least in the spiritual sense. From the onset of the story, Donald’s spiritual purpose in conveyed as part of his fundamental being. Donald is described as “bony, grave, and obsessed with the fate of his soul” (Wolff, 309). Donald transitions through...