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Writing Ethically: Essays of John Edgar Wideman and Jane Tompkins

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  1. After consulting both primary and secondary sources on the matter, Tompkins finds consistent problems.
  2. The perspective Wideman has as Robby's brother is different from his perspective as the narrator, which allows Wideman to distinguish his own version of the story from Robby's.
  3. Varying perspectives allow audiences to gather more information and come to their own conclusions.
  4. Tompkins takes a similar approach to her epistemological dilemma as Wideman takes to his.
  5. During the time Wideman spends with his brother, his opinion of the reliability of his account completely changes, and he is able to come to a conclusion about it.
  6. Neither one of these writers expected to encounter such deep or ethical concerns. They realize that finding truth will be much harder than the first suspected.

The essays ?Our Time? by John Edgar Wideman and ?Indians': Textualism, Morality and the Problem of History? by Jane Tompkins are both written by people who are telling stories about experiences that are not their own. Wideman is writing about his brother Robby and all of the difficulties he encounters, so that Robby's story will not go unheard. Tompkins is trying to uncover the real story of the interactions between American Indians and the Puritans in Colonial America, so that she will be able teach it to a class. Both of these writers find problems along the way that make it difficult for them to feel as though they are justified in their assessment of what occurred. No matter how much information is gathered, these writers are still bound by the limits of their own perspective. Writers in such cases need to consider their distance from the subject and be sure to have some level of objectivity.

[...] Wideman creates very little psychic distance when he takes on the voice of Robby's brother because it is hard for him to exclude personal judgments when the character and actions are so close to him. While Robby is speaking, Wideman writes, ?I'd listen and get angry at my brother, because I registered the effect of his escapades on the woman who'd brought us both into the world? (759). Hearing Robby's story made Wideman more aware of what had really been happening, so he feels the need to voice his feelings as Robby's brother. [...]


[...] Tompkins feels as though her knowledge is limited by the fact that all of her sources, both primary and secondary, are based on the opinion of the historian and fears that her conclusions will also represent opinions as fact. For Tompkins, it began to boil down to epistemological confidence, which she had none of. That is, confidence in the conclusions of personal research. She could not quite grasp how any of these historians could be so sure that they had found the undeniable truth. [...]

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