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"Brothers" Characters Analysis

By Bernice Rubens

fiction | 656 pages | Published in NaN

A bestseller in China, recently short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and a winner of France’s Prix Courrier International, Brothers is an epic and wildly unhinged black comedy of modern Chinese society running amok.Here is China as we’ve never seen it, in a sweeping, Rabelaisian panorama of forty years of rough-and-rumble Chinese history that has already scandalized millions of readers in the author’s homeland. Yu Hua, award-winning author of To Live, gives us a surreal tale of two brothers riding the dizzying roller coaster of life in a newly capitalist world. As comically mismatched teenagers, Baldy Li, a sex-obsessed ne’er-do-well, and Song Gang, his bookish, sensitive stepbrother, vow that they will always be brothers--a bond they will struggle to maintain over the years as they weather the ups and downs of rivalry in love and making and losing millions in the new China. Their tribulations play out across a richly populated backdrop that is every bit as vibrant: the rapidly-changing village of Liu Town, full of such lively characters as the self-important Poet Zhao, the craven dentist Yanker Yu, the virginal town beauty (turned madam) Lin Hong, and the simpering vendor Popsicle Wang.With sly and biting humor, combined with an insightful and compassionate eye for the lives of ordinary people, Yu Hua shows how the madness of the Cultural Revolution has transformed into the equally rabid madness of extreme materialism. Both tragic and absurd by turns, Brothers is a monumental spectacle and a fascinating vision of an extraordinary place and time.


Estimated read time: 8 min read

Table of Contents

  1. List of Characters

List of Characters

Character NameRole
RebeccaLove Interest
JacobSupporting Character
SarahSupporting Character

Role Identification

In the novel "Brothers" by Bernice Rubens, the characters play various roles that contribute to the development of the story. The protagonist, Nathan, is the central character around whom the narrative revolves. Benjamin, his brother, serves as the primary antagonist, creating conflict and tension throughout the novel. Rebecca, the love interest, plays a significant role in Nathan's life, bringing both joy and challenges. Jacob and Sarah, as supporting characters, provide additional depth and insight into the protagonist's journey.

Character Descriptions

Nathan: Nathan is a complex character who undergoes significant personal growth throughout the novel. He is depicted as a sensitive and introspective individual, burdened by the weight of his family's expectations. Nathan is intelligent and empathetic, often finding solace in books and contemplation. His physical appearance is described as unremarkable, with a thin frame and unkempt hair.

Benjamin: Benjamin, Nathan's older brother, is portrayed as the polar opposite of Nathan. He is physically imposing and domineering, with a menacing presence. Benjamin's appearance is rugged, with a strong build and rough features. He is driven by ambition and a thirst for power, often resorting to manipulation and cruelty to achieve his goals.

Rebecca: Rebecca is a vibrant and enigmatic character who captures Nathan's heart. She is described as ethereal, with flowing auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. Rebecca possesses a sense of adventure and spontaneity, contrasting with Nathan's introspective nature. She serves as a catalyst for Nathan's personal growth and challenges him to break free from his self-imposed limitations.

Jacob: Jacob, Nathan's childhood friend, is a loyal and supportive character. He is described as jovial and easygoing, providing a stark contrast to the intensity of Nathan's family dynamics. Jacob's physical appearance is described as stout, with a hearty laugh and a warm smile. He acts as a confidant and sounding board for Nathan throughout the novel.

Sarah: Sarah is Nathan's younger sister, who is portrayed as innocent and vulnerable. She is physically frail and delicate, often requiring Nathan's protection. Sarah's appearance is described as angelic, with fair skin and delicate features. Despite her fragile nature, Sarah possesses a quiet strength and resilience that shines through during challenging moments.

Character Traits

Nathan: Nathan is characterized by his sensitivity, intelligence, and introspection. He is empathetic, capable of understanding and relating to the emotions of others. Nathan is also introverted, often preferring solitude and contemplation. Throughout the novel, he exhibits resilience and a willingness to confront his inner demons, leading to personal growth and self-discovery.

Benjamin: Benjamin embodies traits such as ambition, ruthlessness, and manipulation. He is driven by a need for power and control, often at the expense of others. Benjamin is cunning and calculating, using his intelligence to exploit weaknesses and manipulate situations to his advantage. His volatile nature and propensity for violence contribute to the tension and conflict within the story.

Rebecca: Rebecca is characterized by her spontaneity, free-spiritedness, and emotional depth. She is adventurous and impulsive, unafraid to challenge societal norms. Rebecca possesses a strong sense of individuality and independence, which both attracts and challenges Nathan. Her emotional complexities and mysterious nature add depth to the narrative.

Jacob: Jacob is characterized by his loyalty, humor, and easygoing nature. He serves as a steadfast friend and confidant to Nathan, providing support and levity during difficult times. Jacob's jovial personality and ability to find humor in challenging situations offer a contrast to the intensity of Nathan's family dynamics.

Sarah: Sarah is characterized by her innocence, vulnerability, and resilience. Despite her delicate physical appearance, she demonstrates inner strength and perseverance. Sarah's loving nature and unwavering trust in Nathan create a sense of responsibility within him, motivating him to protect and care for her.

Character Background

Nathan: Nathan comes from a middle-class family, burdened by the weight of their expectations. His parents prioritize academic achievements and success, placing immense pressure on Nathan to excel. This background instills in him a sense of duty and obligation, which he grapples with throughout the novel.

Benjamin: Benjamin shares the same family background as Nathan but embraces a more ruthless and power-driven approach. His ambitious nature is rooted in a desire to surpass the expectations set by their parents and assert his dominance within the family dynamic.

Rebecca: Rebecca's background remains mysterious throughout much of the novel. She is depicted as an enigmatic individual, with a past that is only partially revealed. Her unconventional upbringing and experiences contribute to her free-spirited nature and non-conformist outlook on life.

Jacob: Jacob grew up in the same neighborhood as Nathan and has been his friend since childhood. His background is similar to Nathan's, but he possesses a more carefree and optimistic outlook on life.

Sarah: Sarah's background is intertwined with Nathan's family dynamics. As the youngest sibling, she has experienced the same pressures and expectations imposed by their parents. However, her delicate health condition adds an additional layer of vulnerability to her character.

Character Arcs

Nathan: Nathan undergoes a significant character arc throughout the novel. Initially burdened by the weight of his family's expectations, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and liberation. Nathan confronts his fears, challenges his own limitations, and ultimately finds the strength to forge his own path.

Benjamin: Benjamin's character arc revolves around his pursuit of power and control. As the novel progresses, his actions become increasingly desperate and destructive, leading to the unraveling of his carefully constructed facade. Benjamin's arc ultimately culminates in a confrontation with Nathan, where his true nature is exposed.

Rebecca: Rebecca's character arc is intertwined with her relationship with Nathan. Initially serving as a catalyst for Nathan's personal growth, Rebecca also experiences her own transformative journey. She confronts her past and learns to embrace vulnerability, allowing her to form a deeper connection with Nathan.

Jacob: While Jacob's character arc is not as pronounced as the others, he provides a stable presence and unwavering support for Nathan. His friendship and loyalty act as a catalyst for Nathan's growth, and he serves as a reminder of the importance of genuine human connection.

Sarah: Sarah's character arc is one of resilience and inner strength. Despite her fragile physical condition, she demonstrates emotional fortitude and serves as a source of inspiration for Nathan. Through her interactions with Nathan, Sarah learns to assert her own voice and stand up for herself.


The relationships between the characters in "Brothers" play a crucial role in shaping the narrative and character development.

Nathan and Benjamin's relationship is characterized by rivalry, jealousy, and a power struggle. Nathan's desire for independence clashes with Benjamin's need for control, leading to intense conflicts and strained familial ties.

Nathan's relationship with Rebecca is one of passion, love, and personal growth. Rebecca challenges Nathan's beliefs and encourages him to break free from the constraints imposed by his family. Their relationship serves as a catalyst for Nathan's journey of self-discovery.

Jacob's friendship with Nathan provides a safe haven and a sense of belonging. Jacob's unwavering support and humor help Nathan navigate the challenges he faces, acting as a counterbalance to the family dynamics.

Sarah's relationship with Nathan is one of trust, love, and protection. Nathan feels a deep sense of responsibility for Sarah's well-being, and their bond serves as a grounding force for him throughout the novel.

In conclusion, "Brothers" by Bernice Rubens presents a rich tapestry of characters, each contributing to the narrative's depth and complexity. Through their varied traits, backgrounds, and relationships, the characters undergo personal growth, confront their inner demons, and navigate the complexities of familial ties. Rubens skillfully crafts a character-driven story that explores themes of identity, power, and the transformative power of love and friendship.