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The Third Bank of the River

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The Third Bank of the River

    Confusion, embarrassment, and guilt can all be found throughout João Guimarães Rosa's short story "The Third Bank of the River." Rosa forces the reader to analyze his words and delve deeply into the hidden meanings behind them. Upon first glance, a story unfolds of a father who seemingly abandons his family and chooses to live out the remainder of his life rowing a small boat back and forth along a river. There are circumstances leading up to this behavior, which new insight to the author's psychological meaning.


The story develops through the narration of one of the children in the family. His recollection of the days which lead to his father's absence brings a clear image of the family structure he knew when he was a child. The narrator describes his father as "dutiful, orderly," and "straightforward"(200). He is quick to point out, however, who has the final say in the household: "It was mother, not father, who ruled the house" (200). When the father decides to order a boat, made specifically for him, the mother "carriedon plenty about it" (200). When the boat arrives, the father says goodbye to all, and the children expect their mother to carry on about this, but her reaction is mixed. The effectiveness of her orders to her husband, "If you go away, stay away. Don't ever come back," is weakened as she bites her lip and turns very pale. Her authority is reduced further when her son follows his father to the river, feeling "bold and exhilarated" because he risks the wrath of his mother and wins (200). The child feels so vindicated by his rebellious actions that he asks to accompany his father in the boat. However, his father gestures to him to return, and r...

... middle of paper ...

...the son, the father is nothing, and without the father, the son is nothing.


A riverbank can be found where two worlds, earth and water, connect. Any river will have two banks, one on either side of the water. Rosa has created a character who has found a "third bank on the river," a third way to separate land from the sea. This bank belongs to an entirely different world. Rosa has found a way for the father to exist, yet not exist, within the family. He is connected to his family and weighs heavily upon their minds even though he is a part of an entirely different world. He has discovered this link by establishing a "third bank of the river."


Work Cited

Rosa, João Gumarães. "The Third Bank of the River." Trans. William Grossman. Angles of Vision. Ed. Arthur W. Biddle and Toby Fulwiler.  New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992. 200-203.

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