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The Brethren: Critical Analysis

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I. Basic Situation

The Brethren is an entertaining book with a suspenseful plot and intentionally misleading details that add to its overall feeling of tense excitement and engaging uncertainty. It has captivating details that keep the reader continually predicting what will happen next. Furthermore, The Brethren is a compelling book because of its overall story line, which involves three felons at a minimum-security federal prison and their attempts at extorting money from rich men who inadvertently fueled their corrupt scheme by responding to a personals ad in the back of a gay magazine.

The story's setting is at Trumble Federal Prison where ex-judges Joy Roy Spicer (a former Justice of Peace in Mississippi), Finn Yarber (a former Chief Justice in the California Supreme Court), and Hatlee Beech (a former federal judge in East Texas), were serving time for embezzlement of Bingo profits at a nursing home, tax evasion, and vehicular manslaughter through drunken driving, respectively. Trumble, as considered by the inmates there, was a camp of sorts because it had "no fences around the grounds, no razor wire, no watchtowers, and no guards with rifles waiting to nail escapees." The prisoners who were fortunate enough to be sent to Trumble enjoyed ample amounts of free time. As a result of this lack of excitement, Spicer, Yarber, and Beech formed the Brethren, a prison judicial system of sorts that tried and settled petty arguments between the prisoners. As time passed however, and as the desire for earning money for when the Brethren was released increased, they devised an immorally brilliant plan in which they would place a personals ad reading "SWM in 20's seeking older gentleman in 40's or 50's to pen pal with," in the back of a discreet gay magazine. About 20 innocent and unsuspecting men responded to this simple ad.

As the plot progresses, the Brethren begin to initiate romantic contact with these men, using the names of either Ricky or Percy. After the correspondence with particular men became serious enough and the soon-to-be extortionists had discovered the proper details (if they had a wife and money), the Brethren sent a letter stating their true identities and demanding $100,000 in "hush" money so that the prominent figure's hidden homosexuality would remain a secret. This scam became thoroughly successful and they continued to collect 100's of thousands of dollars in extorted money from men who would seemingly do anything to protect their unacceptable sudden interest in younger men. However, a dangerous problem arose when the con men unknowingly snared possibly the most well known figure at that time, the newest presidential candidate Aaron Lake. However, this problem is resolved as FBI agents are hired, secret agents are placed inside Trumble as transfers, and the con men are pardoned in exchange for them never releasing Lake's lapse in judgement.

The Brethren is written in third person omniscient point of view, allowing the writer to mention the thoughts and feelings of any character, and to insert editorial comments. This is proven throughout the story as the author consistently uses grammatical language including they, he, and she. Examples of third person are shown in this excerpt, "After he read the letter, he handed it to Finn Yarber, who was in the process of writing another one as poor Percy. They were working in the small conference room in the corner of the law library, their table littered with files and mail and a pretty assortment of soft pastel correspondence cards. Spicer was outside, at his table, guarding the door and studying his point spreads." Furthermore, The Brethren's genre is that of a dramatic thriller. The author used suspense and other uncertain details to characterize the story as such.

II. Complication

The complication in The Brethren is not completely revealed until the Brethren discover that Al Konyers, the alias that Lake used in his correspondence, was actually Aaron Lake, the man who had just announced his candidacy for president during the state primaries. That is the point at which the Brethren realize that this was the type of man they had created, and hatched, the extortion plan for in the first place. He had everything to lose, he was constantly in the public eye, and most importantly, he would be willing to pay anything to keep his mistake of potentially exposing his possibility of being homosexual by pen pal-ing with a young man, a secret. Because Aaron Lake was struggling with the Brethren to keep his secret from the public, and therefore the voters, this complication can be defined as person vs. person.

III. Characterization

The protagonist in The Brethren was Aaron Lake. Although he was not introduced until later in the story, he quickly became the main character as the content of the book shifted solely to the subject of his protection from the Brethren, and the political and social harm they could bring to him and his chances of becoming President. In the conflict, the Brethren were contin-ually plotting against Lake, and his efforts at keeping questions about his sexuality out of the spotlight, causing them to be labeled as the antagonists in this story. In addition, Aaron Lake was also a dynamic character in The Brethren. Before you realize that he was questionably homosexual (which he turned out not to be), Lake was portrayed as a perfect gentleman. He had never been married, and hence never divorced, he didn't drink alcohol, he didn't smoke anything, he didn't gamble, and he didn't stay up past 10 PM. However, once the reader is

informed of Lake's initial correspondence with Ricky, his persona is dramatically different. He

becomes an "unusual" of sorts, and he becomes far from the flawless man who announced his

candidacy for President just weeks earlier. Conversely, however, a static character in The Brethren, would be a member of the group after which the book is named. Joy Roy Spicer, the original mastermind and designer behind the scheme, always remained a heartless, selfish man who would prospectively do anything to make money. He was depicted as the most corrupt of the three judges who made up the Brethren, and Spicer was always the other two's leader.

IV. Theme

The theme of The Brethren is not explicitly stated, rather it is understood through a personal perception of the plot and the actions of the characters. The underlying meaning of the story, or a significant statement that it is making about society and human nature in general, can be interpreted as a warning against

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