Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 6 | Words: 1544
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Tobias Wolff is a well-known American writer, who is famous for his novels and short stories. One of the most popular is the work The Rich Brother. This story discusses the life and feelings of two siblings, whose names are Peter and Donald.  The author starts the novel with describing Peter travelling to rescue his brother. During a long trip to this character’s home, Wolff reveals the inner traits of brothers, their past and feelings. From the very beginning, it becomes understandable that they are completely different. They have different appearances, ways of life, and particularly viewpoints. Peter is a rich and worldly-wised Californian realtor, who has a family and material wealth. On the contrary, Donald may be called a lost soul. He is too kind, careless, and too naive for the earthly cruel life. The detailed analysis of the work reveals that naivety is Donald’s dominant trait.


It should be pointed out that from the first lines of the story Donald is perceived by readers as an angel, who has accidentally fallen on this sinful earth. He is naive spiritually, being often compared with Abel. Like the latter, the former is a pristine soul. His heart is open to all people and their troubles. Choosing Donald as the main character for investigation is a serious decision. The point is that while researching his naivety, readers simultaneously start thinking about the human perception of such pristine and sinless souls. Unfortunately, nowadays, people search for material self-satisfaction only and forget about spiritual values. Today, naivety is considered to be foolishness. People do not understand that wealth is not eternal, and that they should take care about their souls. Researching Donald’s naivety is useful, as it gives readers an opportunity to look at themselves, their deeds, greed, and desire for material well-being from the side. It is possible due to the talent of Tobias Wolff to show Donald’s naivety to readers in a number of ways. The work contains various situations that reveal this human feature. Donald’s naivety may be investigated from different angles: as the one displayed in daily life, in social life, a particular trait in his childhood and in relationships with the brother.

Naivety in Daily Life

Donald is naive and incompetent in daily life. He is too kind and trustful to become successful. Besides, he is not greedy and can easily share with others. Donald is not proactive, and for that reason, he will not survive even in a Christian commune. Daily issues like shopping or making money are too difficult for him. It is evident in the following episode, where Donald states:

Well, like the groceries. Whenever it was my turn to get the groceries I’d blow it somehow. I’d bring the groceries home and half of them would be missing, or I’d have all the wrong things, the wrong kind of flour or the wrong kind of chocolate or whatever.

Donald thinks about such high spiritual things as faith in God, helping other people, fair deals, and others, but forgets about reality. The quotation confirms that he lives in the spiritual world, and forgets about the material one.

Naivety in Social Life

It has been already mentioned that Donald is a pristine soul. He behaves like a small child, trusting all people, and can easily give them everything that they want. He is maddingly naive. Donald tries to help every individual having troubles. On the one hand, it is great. However, while helping others, he forgets about himself and his needs. He blindly believes in all stories and does not think whether they are true. One must remember the situation, when he gave 100 dollars to a stranger. He believed that his daughter was ill and did not hesitate to help that man. One should take into account that he was expelled from the Christian community, because he gave all food to poor people. Donald explains it in the following way: “Just some people I picked up on the way home. Some fieldworkers. They had about eight kids with them and they didn’t even speak English – just nodded their heads. Still, I shouldn’t have given away the groceries. Not all of them, anyway”.

A realistic person will think several times before giving all products to strangers. When a person just nodes his head, it does not necessarily mean that he or she cannot speak. It may be a robber or a criminal, who wants to use the chance and take everything from a naive fool. However, Donald was too kind to think about fraud in that situation. When he saw poverty, he tried to make everything possible to assist.

Naivety of Childhood

Naivety was Donald’s dominant trait even in childhood. All kids are naïve. However, in this case, the situation is different. One must remember when Peter and Donald started discussing their childhood. The latter told the former that he always wanted to kill him. From the plot, it becomes understandable that Donald has outlived very difficult operation. His parents always troubled about his health and paid him more attention. Peter was jealous, and for that reason, he kicked Donald in order to get rid of him. At first sight, it is a banal childish story, but the most interesting thing is that Donald is too naive to show Peter that he knows everything:

Like when the folks went out at night and left you to baby-sit. I’d hear them say good night, and then I’d hear the car start up, and when they were gone. I’d lie there and listen. After a while I would close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. There were nights when you would stand outside the door, just stand there, and then go away again. But most nights you’d open the door, just stand there, and then go away again. But most nights you’d open the door, and I would hear you in the room with me, breathing. You’d come over and sit next to me on the bed – you remember, Pete, you have to – you’d sit next to me on the bed and pull the sheets back. If I was on my stomach you’d roll me over. Then you would lift up my pajama shirt and start hitting me on my stitches. You’d hit me as hard as you could, over and over. I was afraid that you’d get mad if you knew I was awake. Is that strange or what? I was afraid that you’d get mad if you found out that I knew you were trying to kill me.

The quotation confirms that Donald is too naive to stop his brother. He did not think about telling parents or even telling Peter the truth. He just suffered tortures every time, when they remained at home alone.

Naivety and Brother

At first, it should be pointed out that Peter considers himself a successful and rich person. Moreover, he thinks that he deserves that material wealth, which he owes, buying expensive cars, having a sailboat, and engaging in fashionable and expensive hobbies. Peter considers that he knows everything and does not need foolish pieces of advice from his brother. Donald treats the former with naivety. He tries to explain Peter his faith in God, telling about the rightful way of life and making remarks. He naively believes that Peter needs all the things mentioned above. Donald understands that his brother is down-to-earth materialist, but still worries about his soul:

Trouble was that Donald couldn’t content himself with worrying about his own soul. He had to about everyone else’s, and especially Pete’s. He handed down his judgments in ways he thought subtle: through significant silence, innuendo, looks of mild despair that said, Brother, what have you come to? What Pete had come to, as far as he could tell, was prosperity.

In this passage, the author managed to show the degree of Donald’s naivety and the difference between the two brothers. Being a pristine soul, Donald thought about Peter’s moral values. It might be suggested that he worried that his brother’s sinful way of life could result in a spiritual decay. He understood that material well-being was not eternal and tried to help Peter.


In conclusion, it should be pointed out that such trait as naivety is not popular today. With the help of his work The Rich Brother, Tobias Wolff tries to emphasize that modern people consider this feature foolish. However, in most cases, it presupposes that a naive person has a pristine soul. Donald is maddingly naive. He is unable to live an ordinary life due to being too kind and careless. From the early childhood, Donald has been innocent and harmless. He has always suffered from the tortures of his older brother, but is too naive and frightened to stop them. Starting from that time naivety has been his dominant trait. For the whole life, he has behaved like a child.  He believed people, even when they lied. He tried to persuade his brother to stop his sinful way of life. He sincerely loved God and wanted to make people happier.

With the help of this work, the author showed readers their attitude to such people. Unfortunately, today, humans cannot understand such individuals as Donald. They have become too materialistic, search for wealth and pleasures only, and naivety for them is a synonym to stupidity.

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