The Other Wes Moore

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Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Luck vs. Choice Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Inclusion vs. Exclusion Theme Icon
Race, Inequality, and Injustice Theme Icon
Discipline and Violence  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Other Wes Moore, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood Theme Icon

The book is not only a portrayal of the two Wes Moores; it is also a depiction of their families. Moore emphasizes the extent to which our families shape who we are, and stresses that without family support, most people have little chance of achieving success. Moore begins the narrative with a discussion of how he and Wes each had to cope with having an absent fathers, before moving on to describe his own father and recalling the few memories he has of life before his father’s death. Although Moore’s father Westley dies when Moore is very young, he remains a significant figure in the narrative and continues to exert a positive influence on Moore even after death. Moore reflects that the experience of researching and writing the book is, to some extent, a tribute to his father, who was a radio journalist. Thus Moore suggests that even though his father is not physically present in his life, he still shaped the man who Moore becomes. Similarly, although Wes barely knows his father, he ends up repeating his father’s destiny by not being present to raise his own children. The experience of the two Wes Moores suggests that often we cannot help but be defined by our parents’ legacies.

At the same time, families’ deliberate attempts to control their children’s destinies often backfire. When Joy enrolls Moore at Riverdale, she imagines that this will expand his “horizons” and help him to create a better life. However, she underestimates the impact that the social alienation of attending a “white school” will have on her son. Moore’s rejection of Riverdale and poor academic performance there puts a significant strain on his relationship with his mother. Meanwhile, Wes’s family are even less successful in controlling his destiny. Mary reacts harshly when she finds out that Wes is dealing drugs, vengefully flushing thousands of dollars of drugs that Wes intends to sell down the toilet. Similarly, Tony is determined that his younger brother does not follow his example of being a drug dealer, but rather stays in school and out of “the game.” However, Tony and Mary’s efforts fail to deter Wes from the drug trade. Rather than following Tony’s advice, Wes prefers to emulate his older brother, and the two men eventually end up being sent to life in prison for the same crime. Again, this suggests that it is the examples set by our families—rather than the deliberate attempts they make to influence our fates—that has the bigger impact.

Moore also works to show the way in which a larger network of relationships is crucial in shaping young people as they grow up. Moore’s friendships with Justin, Captain Hill, Mayor Kurt Schmoke, and Zinzi all push him to improve himself and make him feel supported as he moves through life. Meanwhile, Wes’s non-familial relationships pull him in opposing directions; while Woody and Levy support Wes in making responsible decisions, his relationships with Cheryl and his drug crew have more of a destructive impact. Cheryl steals from him in order to support her heroin addiction, and his crew help escalate the situation that leads to the shooting of Ray. Throughout the book, Wes is shown to lack people who will guide him away from harmful decisions and toward better ones. While his relationships with friends and family are important, they sometimes exacerbate his existing destructive tendencies. In this sense, Moore suggests that the people we choose to surround ourselves with tend to reflect our own self-image, and in turn propel our destiny in a good or bad direction depending on how we view ourselves.

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Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood appears in each Chapter of The Other Wes Moore. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood Quotes in The Other Wes Moore

Below you will find the important quotes in The Other Wes Moore related to the theme of Friendship, Family, and Brotherhood.
Chapter 2 Quotes

'Wes searched around his room for his football jersey. He played defensive end for the Northwood Rams, one of the best rec football teams in the nation. Wes loved football, and his athletic frame made him a natural. Even if he was just going out to play in the streets with Woody and some other friends, he wore that jersey like a badge of honor. The crimson "Northwood" that blazed across his white jersey gave him a sense of pride, a sense of belonging.”

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), The Other Wes Moore (Wes)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Mary and Wes have moved to Northwood, a safer neighborhood populated by members of the black professional class. Mary is thrilled about the move, and in this passage Moore describes Wes’s increased feelings of belonging as a result of playing football for the Northwood Rams. Thanks to his innate talent, Wes is able to secure a place on the team; however, the prestige of the team means less to him than the simple fact of feeling like he belongs to a community. This moment of hope becomes tragic in light of Wes’s broader trajectory. What would have happened if he had had more opportunities to develop his skills and feel like a valued member of a team?


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We were all enclosed by the same fence, bumping into one another, fighting, celebrating. Showing one another our best and worst, revealing ourselves––even our cruelty and crimes––as if that fence had created a circle of trust. A brotherhood.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

For the first time, Moore has joined a basketball game in his new neighborhood in the Bronx. He has described the diverse range of characters brought together on the court, from drug dealers to straight-A students. He notes that within the court’s chain-link fence, the boys put aside their differences and embrace one another in “a circle of trust.” His comments recall the sense of belonging that Wes feels when donning his Northwood Rams jersey. While the neighborhoods in which both boys live are often driven apart by petty disputes and dangerous conflict, in this moment the feeling of belonging is powerful. By referring to the group of boys as a “brotherhood,” Moore emphasizes the importance of feeling supported by a family group, whether one created by blood or by chance.

Chapter 3 Quotes

My mother saw Riverdale as a haven, a place where I could escape my neighborhood and open my horizons. But for me, it was where I got lost.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), Joy
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Moore has explained that his mother was nervous about the prospect of sending him to public school in the Bronx, and thus opted to enroll him at the prestigious Riverdale County Day School, an institution with a “lush” college-like campus and a decidedly affluent student population. However, in this passage Moore indicates that his mother was mistaken in her excitement about the opportunities Riverdale presented. Moore finds himself “lost” at the school because he feels alienated from the other students—who are almost all wealthy and white. It is impossible to reconcile the “horizons” presented by Riverdale and the reality of his life in the Bronx. Without feeling like he is a welcome and valuable member of the Riverdale community, Moore is unable to take advantage of the potential opportunities presented to him there.

I was becoming too "rich" for the kids from the neighborhood and too "poor" for the kids at school. I had forgotten how to act naturally, thinking way too much in each situation and getting tangled in the contradictions between my two worlds. My confidence took a hit. Unlike Justin, whose maturity helped him handle this transition much better than I did, I began to let my grades slip.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), Justin
Page Number: 53-54
Explanation and Analysis:

Moore has been struggling to hide his family’s lack of wealth from the kids at Riverdale; meanwhile, the neighborhood boys in the Bronx tease him about attending a “white school.” Increasingly caught between these two worlds, Moore struggles to cope. This passage illustrates the ways in which Moore’s academic performance is inherently tied to his social status and confidence. While Moore’s concerns might seem childish and frivolous (especially compared to the more driven and mature Justin), they are in fact caused by the very serious issues of racism and inequality. It is easy to dismiss Moore’s neglect of his schoolwork as irresponsible; yet the reason why Moore and many children like him fail to succeed is because they are suffering from the effects of social inequality and exclusion.

Chapter 4 Quotes

I found in hip-hop the sound of my generation talking to itself, working through the fears and anxieties and inchoate dreams—of wealth or power or revolution or success—we all shared. It broadcast an exaggerated version of our complicated interior lives to the world, made us feel less alone in the madness of the era, less marginal. Of course, all that didn't matter to my mother. All she knew was that I could effortlessly recite hip-hop lyrics while struggling with my English class.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), Joy
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Moore has been performing badly in school, a fact that is causing Joy to be increasingly concerned. One day while Moore and Joy are in the car together, a hip hop song comes on the radio and Moore starts rapping along enthusiastically. Joy is furious; while Moore’s teachers at Riverdale have suggested he might have a learning disability, Moore’s mastery of the lyrics indicates to Joy that he has simply been focusing his energies in the wrong direction. In this passage, Moore explains that—rather than being a frivolous diversion—hip hope gives him a sense of meaning and community, particularly in the context of the pressures he experiences as a young boy growing up in the crack epidemic-era Bronx.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Wes, you are not going anywhere until you give this place a try. I am so proud of you, and your father is proud of you, and we just want you to give this a shot. Too many people have sacrificed in order for you to be there.

Related Characters: Joy (speaker), Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) , Westley
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

After four attempts to run away from Valley Forge, Moore is brought to the office of Colonel Battagliogli, who allows him to make a five-minute phone call. When Joy answers the phone, Moore immediately begins begging to be allowed to come home; however, Joy cuts him off and tells him that he has no choice but to stay. This passage demonstrates Joy’s particular mix of strictness and support, the combination of which ultimately enables her son to flourish. Although Moore is miserable at military school, it is clear that he needs the discipline and boundaries of the institution in order to make a positive change in his life. Joy’s mention of the sacrifices made to facilitate Moore’s attendance then emphasizes the fact that Moore’s journey is not being taken alone, but rather with a whole community supporting him.

In Baltimore in 1991, 11.7 percent of girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen had given birth. More than one out of ten. He also didn't feel burdened by the thought that early parenthood would wreck his future plans––because he didn't really have any future plans. And he wasn’t overly stressed about the responsibilities of fatherhood––he didn’t even know what that meant. But in some unspoken way, he did sense that he was crossing a point of no return, that things were about to get complicated in a way he was unequipped to handle.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), The Other Wes Moore (Wes)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Wes has discovered that Alicia is pregnant and that he is about to become a teenage father. Wes’s first reaction to the news is shock; he cannot bring himself to believe that Alicia is really having a baby. But after this initial disbelief subsides, Wes treats the pregnancy with a kind of numbed apathy. At the same time, Moore mentions that this does signal a turning point for Wes, a comment that relates back to their conversation in the interlude in which they discuss being responsible for others. While Moore describes the onset of this responsibility as a positive thing—the moment at which he becomes “a man”—Wes is more ambivalent. He is neither happy nor sad about Alicia’s pregnancy; he has no emotional investment in his future.

In the Afterword, Moore mentions that some readers believed the major cause of Wes’s downfall is his “indifference to contraception.” Although this is perhaps a rather crude understanding, Wes’s attitude toward his life is undeniably characterized by profound indifference. However, rather than placing blame entirely on Wes for this fact, it is important to view this indifference in the larger context of the resources and opportunities available to Wes. Given the environment in which he lives, how could he have much hope of a brighter future?

Chapter 6 Quotes

I had to let this one go. I had to look at the bigger picture. My assailant was unknown, unnamed, and in a car. This was not a fair fight, and the best-case scenario was nowhere near as probable as the worst-case scenario. If I was successful, who knew how the fight would've ended? If I failed, who knew how the fight would've ended? I thought about my mother and how she would feel if this escalated any further. I thought about my father and the name he chose for me.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), Joy, Westley, Colonel Bose’s Son
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

During a trip to town with his fellow cadet Dalio, Moore is attacked by a group of drunk teenagers, one of whom identifies himself as Colonel Bose’s son. As the teenagers’ aggression escalates, one of them shouts a racist slur at Moore and throws something hard at his face. Although Moore is tempted to retaliate, he reasons that this is too great a risk. The kind of reasoning Moore displays in this passage is a direct contrast to Wes’s reaction to the conflicts with the young boy during the football game and with Ray. In these cases, Wes leaves no time for rational reflection, but simply recalls Tony’s advice to “send a message” and grabs a weapon.

Moore’s words in this passage emphasize the extent to which he is able to make rational, responsible decisions because of the love and support of his family. Rather than fixating on his own pride, Moore’s thoughts immediately jump to the impact his injury or death would have on his family. This moment thus reveals a turning point in Moore’s maturity, in which he has left behind the desire to prove himself and is more focused on the responsibility he has toward others.

Part III Interlude Quotes

"I think so, or maybe products of our expectations."
"Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?"
"l mean others' expectations that you take on as your own."
I realized then how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.
"We will do what others expect of us," Wes said. "If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. lf they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too. At some point you lose control."

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker), The Other Wes Moore (Wes) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Prison
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

During one of his visits to prison, Moore has asked Wes whether he thinks that people’s fates are determined by their external circumstances. Wes replies that he does, and that he thinks people internalize others’ expectations. Once again, Wes reveals a notably sophisticated understanding of the way in which people are influenced by external circumstances. While some may argue that Wes shifts the blame too far away from personal responsibility, his words are also supported by much of the evidence in the book. Although both men make mistakes when they are young, Moore is consistently surrounded by people who hope and expect him to achieve great things. Meanwhile, no one seriously expects Wes to achieve much at all.

Chapter 7 Quotes

As I started to think seriously about how I could become the person I wanted to be, I looked around at some of the people who'd had the biggest impact on my life. Aside from family and friends, the men I most trusted all had something in common: they all wore the uniform of the United States of America.

Related Characters: Wes Moore (Moore/The Author) (speaker)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Moore has explained that over the course of the time he has spent at military school, he has begun to excel at academic work and genuinely enjoy reading. One of the books he most enjoys is Colin Powell’s My American Journey, which describes Powell’s relationship to the United States and to the military. This book particularly resonates with Moore because of his own experiences as a cadet at Valley Forge. Military school has given him a new sense of perspective and direction, and inspired him to devote his life to the kind of disciplined public service encouraged by his teachers and mentors there.

Moore’s words also highlight the importance of the sense of belonging provided by the military. His comment about the “uniform of the United States of America” emphasizes that the military creates a feeling of united community as much as it does an individual sense of purpose and responsibility. It is Moore’s membership in this community that ultimately facilitates his success in life, both within and beyond the Army itself.