Compare/Contrast Essay: Brother Dear and The Charmer
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The Canadian short stories “Brother Dear” by Bernice Friesen and “The Charmer” written by Budge Wilson focus on the struggles and common conflicts between parents and their children during adolescence. Both stories are told in the younger sister’s point of view and show how everyone matures and gains independence throughout and at the end of the story. Friesen and Wilson’s short stories over all focus mainly on the theme of dysfunctional families; which can be represented through the characters, symbolism, and conflict in the stories.
Both parts of the family: the parents and the children, play a part in what is considered a ‘dysfunctional family’. In the story “Brother Dear” the son Greg is expected to stay and be successful in school so he can become successful and wealthy like his father wants. This is not what Greg wants to do with his life. Greg rather do something with the environment, like travel with Greenpeace and work at a job that requires him to go “tree planting” (Viewpoints 31). When Greg returns home to tell his parents that he didn’t make it into his final exam, his parents are very frustrated and don’t see Greg’s point of view, which causes Greg to leave and go out on his own in the free world to do what he wants. In the story “The Charmer”, the son Zack uses his ‘charm’ to get whatever he wants from his family. His parents always give into him when he puts on a dramatic act that causes them to feel guilty and feel sorry for him. Everyone bowed down to all of Zack’s commands. “He was athletic, won races, amassed trophies. He got lead parts in school plays.
He won class elections. And he was beautiful. His face was rugged and laughing; his body was muscular and golden, even in January. He moved with the grave of a tiger. He Dazzled. He shone” (Viewpoints 104) which is why no one could resist giving into Zack’s desires. When Zack’s sister Lizzie was in the hospital with leukemia, he only attempted to go and see her once. He didn’t make an effort to go any other time because he was busy playing poker and drinking, and working at jobs he couldn’t keep. But his “mom forgave him everything” (Viewpoints 104). Although, the day did come when his family couldn’t put up with the nonsense anymore. Whereas Greg from the story “Brother Dear” left on his own, Zack’s father had given him two choices; either he stay and be a slave for the family like the family had been for him all these years, or, he could just clear out. Zack went with the second option and “rode the rails out west” (Viewpoints 107) “trying this job and that, playing poker, drinking cheap wine, always moving on” (Viewpoints 107). In the story “Brother Dear”, the sister Sharlene is expected to go to the University of Alberta like the rest of her siblings to be successful and wealthy in the future.
Meanwhile Sharlene has “dreams of running off to Europe and for a couple of years, being a nanny and learning a language or two” (Viewpoints 26). She doesn’t want to tell her father that this is what she desires because he would get mad at her and be disappointed that she isn’t doing what he wants her to do. Whereas in the story “The Charmer” the author Budge Wilson doesn’t mention much of parent’s expectations for the sister Winnifred in the story. Although, she does grow to be a married woman with three children. One of her children attempt to use charm like her brother used to do to get his way, but Winnifred laid down the law to her daughter before it was too late. In “Brother Dear” the father has very high expectations for his children. He doesn’t give them the option to be what they want to be or do what they want to do.
He wants his kids to do what he wants them to do because his own father made him do this, even though he isn’t happy today. The dad doesn’t see his children’s point of view and is very judgmental when it comes to his children not going to school or not attempting what he wants them to pursue. Just because Greg rather go on doing what he wants, he states that Greg “is ruining his life” (Viewpoints 31). “The Charmer” didn’t mention much about the father having high expectations for his children. Considering how lenient the father was with Zack and allowing him to get away with so much and forgiving him all the time, even if he had expectations for Zack that he didn’t go through with, he probably would’ve used his charm to get out of the situation.
The short stories “Brother Dear” and “The Charmer” contain symbolism that represents the theme of dysfunctional families. In “Brother Dear”, when Greg returns home he has garbage bags of laundry with him. The garbage bags could symbolize the fact that Greg has returned home to tell his parents that he didn’t make it to the final exam and he isn’t continuing his schooling, which could be referred to as his garbage that he is dumping off or emptying at his house. In “The Charmer” Zack’s mother calls him a “real devil” (Viewpoints 103). “Devils are considered fallen angels, and can often fool you for a very long time” (Viewpoints 103). So Zack is considered a devil because of how he wrongfully fools his family all of the time to get what he wants, and because he has addictions to gambling and drinking. When Greg in “Brother Dear” is caught flaring his nostrils when Sharlene asks him if he has a girlfriend, Sharlene stays that he is “hiding something” (Viewpoints 28) when he flares his nostrils. This could symbolize the fact that not only is he hiding something about his relationship status, but he is hiding the truth about how he didn’t make it into the final exam and how he isn’t continuing with his schooling. This truth is later on revealed in the story, as is the truth about his relationship status. The chocolate cake that Zack’s mom makes can symbolize Zack in “The Charmer”.
The cake is described as sweet, layered, and irresistible. Zack seemingly has some of these attributes as well. He comes off as a sweet innocent guy who is irresistible to deny what he desires. He has many layers to his personality. He acts as a sweet and charming young man but is actually a selfish manipulative young man who does whatever he can to get what he wants and struggles with his own personal problems and addictions such as the ability to have responsibility for your actions, gambling, and drinking. The image of a university in the story “Brother Dear” symbolizes the high expectations that the father had for his children, even though none of his remaining children will be attending the university if they both go on with doing what they desire instead of what he wants. In “The Charmer” Winnifred refers to “The Prodigal Son”, which is a biblical allusion referring to the story of a son who takes his inheritance and leaves the family, and when he returns he is embraced by his father. This can relate to Zack because before he was given the option to stay and be a slave or leave he would be able to go out and do whatever he wanted; living knowing he wasn’t responsible for his actions because he would’ve managed to be easily forgiven using his manipulative ways.
The conflict in both of the short stories helps represent the theme of dysfunctional families. In “Brother Dear” there is conflict between Greg and his father. Greg doesn’t fulfil his father’s high expectations so his father gets very mad and disappointed, causing Greg to leave the family to pursue what he desires. The conflict between Zack and his father in “The Charmer” isn’t mentioned until near the end of the story. This is when Zack has reached his father’s limit and his father is no longer willing to accept his son’s nonsense, so he gives him the option to turn the tables and be a slave for everyone he has made a slave all this time, or he could leave the family and live his life on his own. Zack isn’t able to suffer the consequences of his actions so he just leaves the family to continue his life. Sharlene and her father have the same conflict even though the father’s point of view isn’t touched in the story.
Sharlene wants to leave for Europe and be a nanny after high school, meanwhile her father expects her to go to the University of Alberta like her other siblings have done. Her father doesn’t see Sharlene’s point of view because Sharlene doesn’t have enough courage to tell her father what she actually desires until the end of the story. Zack in “The Charmer” faces his own personal conflict. He uses his charm and manipulates people because he is not capable of suffering the consequences of his own actions. He has a gambling and drinking addiction that he has not attempted to cease. “He started smoking at thirteen, and was into the liquor cabinet by fourteen. At sixteen, he smashed up the car one night after a poker party. Once he dumped Dad’s red tool box, tools and all, in the river, during one of his rages” (Viewpoints 103). I don’t think that Zack has yet realized that he has a problem. Greg and Sharlene both have personal conflicts with themselves in the story “Brother Dear”. They struggle with finding enough courage to admit to their parents that what they expect them to do isn’t what they really want to do. Greg is first to tell his parents what he really intends on doing with his life.
This bravery that Sharlene witnesses from his mature brother inspires her to tell her parents about what she wants to do with her life after high school. So eventually this conflict that the children have with themselves is resolved with bravery and the will to stand for what you want and what you think is right. Zack is in conflict with his family in general in “The Charmer.” Everyone in the family is affected in some way by his manipulative ways. Everyone works so hard, more than what they should, to please Zack because it’s what they were made to believe what he deserved. Eventually the family is affected to the limit when their sibling Lizzie passes and they are very emotional hurt by him and his actions. The conflict is resolved by Zack leaving the family and living life on his own out west.
Parents always have certain levels of expectations for their children. Some too high, some not enough to make the child have something to fight for. When a parent doesn’t see the child’s point of view and aren’t open to the possibility of their child just doing what they would be happy doing in life, that is bound to cause conflict and problems in the family. Manipulation and deceit from a person can have a major effect on people’s lives, and can cause a lot of conflict and problems as well. The short stories “Brother Dear” by Bernice Friesen and “The Charmer” by Budge Wilson focus on these types of conflict and problems, which makes the theme of the stories to be about dysfunctional families; which can be represented by the characters, symbolism, and conflicts in the stories.