John Wideman’s essay “Our Time” is an intriguing, emotional piece about his brother and the hardships faced while living in a rough neighborhood. Wideman writes this story through the perspective of three people; Wideman’s brother Robby, his mother, and himself as a writer and a person. Wideman tells his story by using creative writing styles to help emphasize the point he is trying to get across in telling his brother Robby’s story. In this essay, the reader will learn not only about Robby and how his life takes a toll for the worse, but also about Wideman personally, and his struggles to create this piece.
Wideman starts out this story by telling the readers about the death of Robby’s friend, Garth. This takes place when Wideman and Robby are older. Wideman discusses how Garth was said to be wrongfully misdiagnosed by the “white” doctors who didn’t care about his well being. Robby and his friends believe that Garth was looked over because he didn’t appear to need immediate care. “Have to be spitting blood to get attention. ” (Wideman pg. 689). The reality of this may have been true, but it was also Garth’s participation with drugs that helped lead him to sickness inevitably.
Garth’s death is described as a turning point for Robby to take the very hard and beaten track that ultimately leads to his imprisonment. “They had killed Garth, and his dying had killed a part of her son” (pg. 690). Wideman also describes how Robby’s behavior over Garth’s death took a large toll on their mother. “I’m the one made her tired, John. And that’s my greatest sorrow. ” (pg. 706). The next event Wideman introduces is a rewind back to when Wideman and Robby were children growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Wideman, the oldest, excelled in academics and believed in taking the right path to exceed in life. Robby on the other hand believed that he did not fit in. He wanted to rebel. Robby wanted to make a name for himself in his family and not fall by the way side. Robby’s goal to accomplish this was to be bad. Robby dreamed of fame and fortune, but wanted to receive it will little effort. Robby had high expectations placed upon him by his older sibling’s successes. Robby did not want this and rebelled to try and be different from his siblings. This lead to drugs and immoral behavior. Seemed like they just didn’t want me to have no fun. That’s when I decided I’d go on about my own business. Do it my way. Cause I wasn’t getting no slack at home. They still expected me to be like my sister and brothers. They didn’t know I thought youns was squares. Yeah. I knew I was hipper and groovier than youns ever thought of being. Streetwise, into something. Had my own territory and I was bad. I was a rebel. Wasn’t following in nobody’s footsteps but my own. And I was a hip cookie, you better believe it. Wasn’t a hipper thing out there than your brother, Rob.
I couldn’t wait for them to turn me loose in Homewood. ” (pg. 703). These words spoken by Robby is evidence of him reaching out at a young age. Robby found it hard to meet the expectations of school and hard work. He wanted to stand out in his own way and he did just that. Wideman also writes about Robby’s birth. This event is one that ultimately doomed Robby from the beginning. Robby’s birth came with death in the family. Not only was Robby’s birthday days after Christmas, but every year around Robby’s birthday for years followed death.
This led to the demise of celebration for Robby’s birth, but yet the onset of apprehension to tragedy. Growing up with such a stigma attached to Robby destined him for failure. This part of the story serves as a foreshadow to why Robby wanted so badly to be noticed. Regretfully he pursued a path that led him to imprisonment. We learn in the middle of the story that Wideman’s brother, Robby, is in prison for committing the crimes of drugs, stealing, and murder. Wideman goes to Robby in prison to get Robby’s side of the story to write this essay. During this time, Wideman expresses his struggles with writing his rothers story. Wideman finds himself conflicted on how to write a true depiction of Robby’s story. Wideman describes that he is “Listening to himself listen” (Wideman pg. 696).
Wideman discusses with the readers how he is too busy trying not to fabricate a story to make Robby’s version more interesting. Wideman wanted to write a true essay from Robby’s perspective, without exploiting him. He also finds the act of sharing with Robby difficult. He explains that his family was very private with their feelings, and sharing wasn’t a common occurrence. I was banging at the door of his privacy. I believed I’d shed some of my own” (pg. 698). Wideman portrays this task as awkward; “My double awkwardness kept getting in the way”(pg. 699). Wideman found it uncomfortable at times to hear Robby’s version of the past and how it differed from his. It is during this portion of the story where Wideman breaks off into questioning himself. This was confusing at times, but also interesting, as a reader. By doing this it makes the reader a part of the story, and feels like you are there and Wideman’s questions are your own.
Wideman raises problems throughout the essay concerning his writing, him as a brother, and as a person. His essay/storytelling style is made more creative by using different perspectives and different languages to portray the different narrators. The difference between Wideman and Robby’s language is very distinguishable. Widemans language consists of concise sentences and large words showing that he is well educated whereas Robby uses slang in his language. The language differences make the reader stay on their toes while reading.
Robby’s language style particularly challenged me because I was not familiar with the slang. This made me as a reader, go back and re-read. I also went as far as looking up some of the words to gain a better understanding of his unfamiliar language. “For the company of his cut buddies after the funeral” the term “cut buddies” stood out to me. I researched under the urban dictionary. There were two definitions, a person who you have sex with but isn’t your girlfriend, and a person who you cut profits with when you steal. Out of the two definitions I am still not sure which one applies in this part of the story.
The essay consists of fragments of stories that guide you in a unique way to learn about Robby and why he ended up in prison. This style of writing was confusing as a reader in the beginning. The reader is thrown into a story with no character set up and no choice but to read on and hope to gain understanding. This was a strategy performed by Wideman to keep the reader interested. The reader had no choice but to continue reading and uncover more pieces that would ultimately deliver a story. Wideman outstandingly writes as if he is breaking thought all the way through the essay.
It wasn’t until Wideman did this, that I understood a little what was going on with the story. He exclaims to himself how important it is for him to get Robby’s point across, but he ends up writing an essay about himself, writing a story about Robby. Wideman writes with little boundaries or structure, he freely questions himself as a writer, brother, and person, which defers away from Robby’s perspective and focuses more on Wideman’s moral development. “If I can’t be trusted with the story of my own life, how could I ask my brother to trust me with his? (pg. 697). Wideman succeeds in telling Robby’s story, but at the cost of sharing the main focus with himself and his personal journey. “Another book could be constructed about a writer who goes to prison to interview his brother but comes away with his own story. ” (pg. 697). This indeed was the type of story he was writing. Even though you do not learn Wideman’s end to the story, most of the bulk of the story is about him. His experimental writing may have helped him along the way, but I feel that it was mostly there to involve himself more into the story.
As a writer, I feel that this essay shows how to question yourself, and explore many possibilities before coming to a final product. The essays non-conventional writing style also shows that there does not have to be structure and guidelines to construct a good piece. In high school I was told that you should never put a question in a paper. It was not proper writing. Wideman breaks these rules by having whole paragraphs of questions. “I understood all that, but could I break the habit? And even if I did learn to listen, wouldn’t there be a point at which I’d have to take over the telling?
Wasn’t there something fundamental in my writing, in my capacity to function, that depended on flight, on escape? Wasn’t another person’s skin hiding place, a place to work out anxiety, to face threats too intimidating to handle in any other fashion? Wasn’t writing about people a way of exploiting them? ” (pg. 696). Along with questioning himself throughout the essay, I felt he was plainly just writing down his thoughts as if it were a journal. I would find this very hard to do because I have written so many papers that have concrete guidelines, as to where you are able to place opinions.
This writing inspires me to create a piece out of my own comfort zone. It will take more effort to write a piece like Wideman’s, but makes the story more interesting for the reader. Academically I believe this style of writing would be beneficial to broaden the writing horizons for a student. As a reader Wideman’s story is very challenging and takes effort in understanding all that he is trying to get across. This challenges the reader to go back, or look up things you may not know. It is important to always go forward with learning, because learning never ends.