Thomas pays such close attention to the setting of ‘‘Amigo Brothers’’ that it becomes a prominent part of the story. He is specific in letting the reader know—in the very first paragraph—that this story takes place in a particular area of New York City. He goes so far as to tell the reader in which tenement building Antonio and Felix live. The address of the Boys Club is given, as are the locations for two other gyms. These are the places the main characters frequent to exercise and practice boxing. Even when the boys go running, Thomas lets the reader know that they are running along East River Drive, and that the edge of the river is dirty. When they stop to talk, Felix leans on a railing and looks across at Brooklyn. In a poignant moment on the night before the fight, Antonio is on a rooftop. Thomas describes the sights and sounds around Antonio. Even the neighborhood toughs and the throngs of boxing fans are described, so that the setting is more than the buildings and features, but it is characterized by the people who live in it.
Thomas’s attention to the setting of the story accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gives the story depth and realism. The story seems much more realistic and believable when it is placed in such a real setting. The voice of the narrator and the backgrounds of the characters have more authenticity. Second, the details of the setting speak directly to the people who live in that area. Thomas knew Spanish Harlem and New York City, and his writing was about them. To the people who know the same neighborhoods, Thomas’s story has more credibility and relevance.
Known for his unusual use of language and dialect in his autobiography Down the Mean Streets (1967), Thomas is skilled at using these elements to bring his stories to life and stay true to his own experience. He does the same thing in ‘‘Amigo Brothers’’ by incorporating slang and Spanish words. Antonio calls Felix panı´n, which is a word for a pal or a buddy. Felix says that he and Antonio are cheverote fighters, meaning that they are really cool. The word hermano means ‘‘brother,’’ and ¿sabes? means ‘‘understand?’’ During the fight, Antonio and Felix are described as fighting with mucho corazo´n, meaning that they fought ‘‘with a lot of heart.’’
In addition to Spanish vocabulary, some of which is specific to American Spanish speakers, Thomas incorporates some of the slang of the time. When he says that the boys rapped positive, he means that they talked about positive things. The term ‘‘slapped skin’’ is what today is called ‘‘high fived.’’ Thomas’s use of Spanish and street language makes his story and characters more interesting and realistic.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Piri Thomas – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.