Study Guide

Autobiography of My Dead Brother Ambition

By Walter Dean Myers

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Chapter 1
C.J. Europe

"We were just talking about that the other day," C.J. said. "He was saying that if he got into a good high school, he was going to bust his chops so he could go on to college." (1.21)

Bobby Green, whose funeral we attend in Chapter 1, had set a lot of goals for himself. Sadly, death has a way of thwarting one's ambition. Ugh.

Chapter 3

"You know, there was a time when I sang the blues," C.J.'s mother put her head to one side. […]

"But then I got a regular job in the post office and gave up singing because it wasn't paying any money." (3.19 and 3.21)

What happens to a dream deferred? It ends up working at the post office, evidently. When you can't get ahead financially, it can be hard to spend time doing much more than working.

Chapter 4

"Say somebody hears us and we sound good. Then we get a record deal and it's getover time." (4.8)

C.J.'s not the only one who aspires to be a musician. Sounds like Benny is dreaming about a record deal… even though his band hasn't even played together once. Hey, go big or go home, right?

Chapter 7

"I ain't got nothing to lose, man. […] I don't care about a thing. Life doesn't mean nothing to me." (7.30)

A total lack of ambition can be a dangerous thing, as Mason illustrates here. When life is meaningless, people can get pretty reckless with it (Mason certainly does).

Chapter 8

"One day I seen me standing in the cloud by the side of the track waiting for my train to come. All I was getting was colder and colder and my train never did come. What I'm thinking now is that I need to get out of the cold." (8.53)

How are Rise's ambitions different from Jesse's and C.J.'s? And is this his fault? Or does it stem from differences in his life? For instance, Jesse has two parents at home, whereas Rise has a gaping hole where his father should be.

Chapter 9

"She's got her heart on me going to college, but that's two years away. I think she hopes that I give up the music." (9.22)

C.J.'s mother's dream for him is exactly the opposite of his own—and this is something he worries about quite a bit. Will he be able to pursue a career in music?

Chapter 11

"Connie was always talking about how she was going to be a doctor. Now she says she's probably going to be working right here next to her mama. That's the way it goes, man." (11.67)

It seems like real life often gets in the way of the hopes and dreams of the characters in the novel. What barriers to realizing their dreams can you identify?

Chapter 16

"He's just trying to bring you down to his level. […] There's people like that in the world. They can't do nothing themselves, so they try to bring everybody else down to their can't-do-nothing level." (16.33)

Little Man is like Mason—he has no real ambitions in life. Ultimately, that ends up landing him in jail, and it sends Rise six feet under. Without investment in his own life, he doesn't hold the lives of others in high regard, either.

Chapter 20

Some of the hustle was hardworking folks chasing their behind-closed-doors dreams. Others were the people who had blown their dreams and were just chasing whatever life they could get at. (20.1)

Here Jesse describes two kinds of people. Can you name a character in the novel that fits each type? We can, but we're not telling.

Chapter 23

"I told her if I was studying music like I wanted, I probably wouldn't have time for gangs and stuff." (23.14)

Having a goal to focus on is a good way to stay out of trouble. If C.J.'s mom shares this sentiment, perhaps she will let him pursue his ambitions, after all. Fingers crossed.

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