Sibling Rivalry in Literature: Background information when reading My Sister, the Serial Killer

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite X
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 240 pages

    Jul 2019, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Sibling Rivalry in Literature

This article relates to My Sister, the Serial Killer

Print Review

Three Sisters of King LearIn My Sister, the Serial Killer, the narrator Korede protects her younger sister Ayoola at great cost, despite her feelings of bitterness that Ayoola has always been favored by their mother and admired everywhere for her beauty. Sibling rivalry has long been a source of inspiration for conflict in great literature.

Here are a few popular titles about sibling conflict (but be forewarned, there may be some plot spoilers):

Shakespeare explored this subject in King Lear, a tragedy about a mad king who demands his daughters compete to show him love in order to win a heftier share of the kingdom when he dies. His youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to flatter her father with exaggerated declarations of affection and is consequently banished. In the secondary plot of the play, the Earl of Gloucester's bastard son Edmund hatches a plan to kill his brother Edgar so he can take his title and inheritance. Even for a tragedy, King Lear is a bloodbath; of all of these characters, only Edgar survives.

The Russian literary masterpiece The Brothers Karamzov by Fyodor Dostoevsky centers around three brothers – Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha – and the events that occur just before and after the murder of their father, Fyodor Pavlovich, a crime for which Dmitri is arrested and tried. Both Dmitri and Ivan envy Alyosha for his placidity and unwavering faith in God, and Ivan is plagued by his romantic feelings for Dmitri's fiancee, Katerina Ivanova. The brothers (and Katerina) pull together to save Dmitri in the end, putting aside their differences, and as Dmitri flees to America, Ivan and Katerina end up together.

In John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden, Charles Trask resents his brother Adam for what Charles perceives as their father's preferential treatment of Adam before his death. Charles sleeps with Adam's wife Cathy, and shortly thereafter, Adam and Cathy move to California, where Cathy gives birth to twin sons, Aron and Cal. Cal believes he has inherited his mother's "evil" ways, as she attempted to murder Adam shortly after the twins were born, and struggles against his nature. In a misguided attempt to do a kindness for his brother, Cal swindles some local farmers out of a large sum of money, but Adam is appalled by Cal's duplicity and demands he give the money back. Cal, angry because he can never do right in his father's eyes, takes Aron to the brothel where Cathy now works, and Aron is devastated by his mother's situation. He joins the army and dies fighting in World War I. The rivalries between Charles and Adam, and Aron and Cal are based on the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory is a novel of historical fiction based on the relationship between King Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, and her sister Mary. In Gregory's version of the story, Mary becomes romantically involved with the king before Anne does, though she is compelled into this relationship by her social-climbing family. When Mary becomes pregnant and goes into confinement, Anne swoops in and romances Henry herself, and, as in real life, ultimately loses her head for it. The novel is the second book in a trilogy, the first being The Constant Princess and the last The Boleyn Inheritance.

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series features several sibling rivalries, including the bloody feud between Stannis and Renly Baratheon, who each believe they should rule the realm after the death of their brother, King Robert. The war between the Baratheon brothers' followers (and the followers of others who believed they are entitled to the throne) is the central conflict in the series' first volume, A Game of Thrones.

Three Daughters of King Lear by Gustav Pope

Filed under Reading Lists

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to My Sister, the Serial Killer. It originally ran in January 2019 and has been updated for the July 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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