Wednesday, January 25, 2012

9 Coolest Literary Siblings (guest post)

Emotions run high between siblings, be they brothers, sisters, and/or brothers and sisters. It really doesn't matter how old or what gender you are, being in the same room with a person who not only looks like you but also looks like one or both of your parents can inspire equal feelings of love and revulsion. "Mom always liked you best!" is a familiar familial complaint in spite of the fact that "Mom" loves each one of her kids equally and only wants you to stop dumping oatmeal on your sister's head. Great writers throughout the ages have had a field day with the sibling dynamic. And there are so many variations on this theme it's almost hard to know where to begin.

Franny and Zooey Glass in Franny and Zooey (1961) by J.D. Salinger Book One features Franny on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In Book Two, Franny has had the breakdown, and her brother Zooey, whose bedside manner leaves much to be desired, tries to bring her back from the abyss. He resorts to phoning Franny and pretending to be their kinder, gentler brother Buddy, which (predictably) doesn't work for long. In the end, the memory of a telling incident with a third brother, Seymour (dead by suicide), provides Franny with the lifeline she needs.

Cinderella by Charles Perrault (1729)
Cinderella's evil stepsisters may be the most realistically portrayed in literature when it comes to unchecked and cruel behavior toward gentler, and kinder members of a family. Although the Brothers Grimm retold "Cinderella" in their 1812 collection, the original tale may date back as far back as Ancient Greece. Does this mean women, disregarding for argument's sake men and Air Jordans, have always had an inexplicable obsession with shoes?


Lucy and Freddy Honeychurch in A Room With A View (1908) by E.M. Forster
Lucy seems to let her hair down only when dear brother Freddy is around. Freddy, who never warms up to Lucy's fiancé, the stuffy, stick-up-his-ass Cecil, unknowingly befriends George, a free spirit who smooched Lucy earlier in the book during a somewhat traumatic trip to Italy, and set the wheels in motion for Lucy to find true love and remain an independent spirit. Now that's being a good brother!


Sisters Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker
Walker's novel is filled with iconic characters, two of the most memorable being Celie and her sister Nettie. Celie is finally able to emerge as a strong, self-determined woman, in spite of the years of unimaginable abuse she's endured, in part through her bond with and love for her sister.


Third cousins Charlie and Paulie Moran in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1979) by Vincent Patrick
To paraphrase one of the book's characters, third cousins to Italians are like twin brothers to the Irish. Not even Italian mobsters and corrupt Irish cops can sever the sense of loyalty that Charlie and Paulie share with each other. Paulie's almost sociopathic disregard for holding down a job and settling down pushes their relationship to the brink, and yet somehow, things never go completely over the edge.


Twins Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee in Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there (1871) by Lewis Carroll
For his sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Carroll sampled this duo from an old nursery rhyme. The characters appeared in the beautiful, Disney animated film Alice in Wonderland and director Tim Burton's twisted take on Alice and Through the Looking Glass. An example of how these two are a part of our popular vernacular, Ralph Nader famously referred to George W. Bush and Al Gore as "tweedle dum and tweedle dee" with regard to each man's policies regarding corporations.


Caleb and Aaron in East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
Brothers Caleb and Aaron mirror Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis, which Steinbeck repeatedly alludes to throughout his novel. The level of cruelty that family members are capable of exacting upon one another is a major theme in what Steinbeck considered his greatest novel.


Hansel and Gretel retold by the Brothers Grimm (1812)
Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children." How can you not love two kids who, abandoned in the woods by their wimpy father and psychotic (step?) mother are nearly eaten by a cannibalistic witch living in a house made of candy? Even 21st century kids identify immediately with these two little ones and how they stick together even in the scariest of circumstances.


Charlotte, Emily, and Anne: The Brontë sisters
Okay, they're not fictional, but their accomplishments for their time (early to mid 1800's) were so unusual, they each wouldn't be out of place as a character in a novel that any of them might have written. Interestingly, considering that the Brontë sisters grew up mutually supporting each other in the shadow of an abusive father as well as sharing their earliest writing efforts each other, they are each best known for creating almost autonomous heroines, like Charlotte's orphaned Jane Eyre or Helen Lawrence Huntingdon in Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

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1 comment:

  1. What an excellent post! You pointed out so many great books. I love the Color Purple and The Brothers Grimm. Two of my favorites! Thanks for sharing.