The Burgess Boys Summary & Study Guide

Elizabeth Strout
This Study Guide consists of approximately 32 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Burgess Boys.
This section contains 644 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Burgess Boys Summary & Study Guide Description

The Burgess Boys Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.

The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Stroutt, follows a year in the life of Bob and Jim Burgess, who have escaped their small hometown in Maine for New York. As they return to Shirley Falls to help their sister Susan and her son, who is being charged with a hate crime, the truth comes out about a tragic accident that has defined their family and the Burgess boys must reevaluate their relationship and their lives.

Bob, Jim, and Susan Burgess grew up in tiny Shirley Falls, a town in Maine that is in decline but has recently seen an influx of immigrants from Somalia. The Somalis assimilation into the community has not been easy, as their customs are different and the language barrier often leads to misunderstandings and miscommunication. Things come to a head when nineteen-year-old Zach Olson, Susan's son, throws a pig's head into the local mosque during the holy time of Ramadan, leading to his arrest and the threat of a federal hate crime charge.

Zach's problems lead Susan to call her brothers, both of whom are attorneys in New York, although they have traveled different paths. Jim rocketed to fame when he won the acquittal of a man accused of murder. Now he represents white collar defendants for a large law firm and lives well with his wealthy wife, having raised three children together. Bob, divorced and childless, works for Legal Aid and continues to be troubled by the fact that at age four, he released the clutch of a car that ran over and killed his father. The family never speaks of the accident, but is always hovers over their lives.

Jim and his wife, Helen, are on vacation when Susan calls, so Bob goes to Maine to help. However, he ends up making things worse, thus proving what everyone already knows -- the Jim is the competent one in the family. The situation escalates as news reports of the pigs head incident spread, and local clergy plan a tolerance rally to diffuse the situation, although a white supremacist group plans a counter protest. Jim and Bob return to Maine for the rally, where Jim gives a heartfelt, rousing speech and the problem seems to be on the way to becoming resolved. However, he soon learns that his arrogant attitude has angered local and state politicians, who now plan to charge Zach with a federal hate crime, causing the terrified young man to run away.

The brothers return to Maine again to sort out Zach's disappearance, which at first appears to be a potential suicide. Eventually they learn that he has gone to his father's home in Sweden, but in the meantime, Jim gets drunk and tells Bob that it was he who let off the clutch and caused the accident that killed their father. Jim was eight years old at the time and moved Bob to the driver's seat before anyone arrived, and although he felt guilty, he never told anyone and allowed Bob to shoulder the blame and guilt.

While Bob's life begins to turn around for the positive, Jim's unravels when an affair with his paralegal leads to a sexual harassment charge, his dismissal from the firm and Helen kicking him out. Eventually all the charges against Zach are dropped and he returns home, but by this time Jim has taken a teaching job at a small upstate college ad is living in near squalor. Bob finds him there and takes him back to Shirley Falls, then he and Susan put him on a bus to New York where he hopes to reconcile with Helen. In a final act of redemption, Bob returns to his hometown to start a new life with Margaret Estaver, the Unitarian minister who has taken an interest in Zach's case, but his ties to his brother clearly remain strong.

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This section contains 644 words
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