Character: Unborn Child
Source Text: Banks, Russell. “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat.” Trailerpark. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. 84-92. Print.
Entry Author: Jonah Beukman
Russell Banks ends his short story “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat” with the line “it was very hot, and no one said anything” (92), emphasizing silence and omission as the dominant tropes in the story. The author hides the main plot point – the act of abortion – to the extent that it is made unclear and the titular characters fade into the background. Banks begins his story by setting the scene on the beach in the trailer park, emphasizing the barrenness of the setting and the mundane nature of the day. The main plot point of the story is never explicitly said, yet the reader must uncover what the two characters are speaking about by way of what is omitted. The unborn child is central to the plot in that the child puts into question the status quo of the trailer park and the lives of the two main characters in ways that are obscured by the story itself.
If the unborn child had been born, the status quo – represented in the silent, repressed, and racist lives that those in the trailer park lead – would change forever. Silence would have been impossible given the mixed-race child; one can even conjecture how the characters that Banks mentions at the beginning of the story could break free from repression and come alive to talk at length about the presence of the mixed race child. In Betsy Erkkila’s “Blood, Sex, and Other American Crosses”, the author writes the following about blood, saying that it was “a national fetish, a means of affirming political community, kinship, citizenship, and union at the same time that it became the grounds for exclusion, expulsion, negation, and extermination” (7). Though Erkkila is describing the fetishization of blood in the period of time following the Revolutionary War, the fact that mixed blood could be exclusionary and exterminatory is applicable to the period of time in which “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat” is set, particularly in an insular community like the trailer park. The “mixed blood” of the child and the presence thereof would likely negate the silence and omission of what came before the child’s inception and lead to the physical expulsion of the two main characters from the park.
The lives of the two main characters are deeply affected by their decision to abort the unborn child, and abortion is suggested and represented in the short story in several ways. The reader is unsure what to pay attention to in the story—Banks comments on the color of the sky, the various murkiness and depth of the water, the act of fishing, and the color of the rowboat to suggest the act of abortion. Abortion is further suggested by the color of the rowboat—dark green—which conjures up images of vomit, excrement, sickness, and illness. Further, miscegenation is seen as a punishable act in the story as depicted in the fishing expedition, which serves as a metaphor for the sexual act. The black man is hurt when he attempts to plug up the tackle box, yet the white woman remains unscathed. The two characters and the trailer park as a whole repress their emotions and refuse to acknowledge the situation or their racist biases or attitudes (for example, the white woman’s father was said to “[hate] niggers” (88)). In refusing to acknowledge the act of abortion and the blood of the mixed race child, Banks offers a meditation on the presence and consequence of silence.
Erkkila, Betsy. “Blood Sex and Other American Crosses.” Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2005. 1-36. Print.