The Third Bank of the River

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The Third Bank of the River

Beginning shortly before the turn of the last century, there was a noticeable trend towards the ambiguous in modern Brazilian literature. Writers such as Machado de Assis and Jorge Amado have both explored the use of the unstated and the forced compromise between extremes that have grown to be so crucial to the modernist movement. No Brazilian author, however, has mastered the compromise quite like João Guimarães Rosa, a man who was once described as not only leading, but preceding the reader "to a place where there is discord and cacophony under which there is a strange harmony…the third bank of the river…the land every soul craves for." In his collection of short stories, Primeiras Estórias (1962), Rosa pays particularly close attention to ambiguity as a main theme in Brazilian backland writing. First translated to English in 1968 under the title First Stories, Primeiras Estórias, and in particular, "The Third Bank of the River," is in many ways the defining work of the Brazilian short story.

Carl Jung once said "the confrontation of the two positions [of opposites] generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third thing."1 In "The Third Bank of the River," João Guimarães Rosa does just that by first exploring these separate, symbolic opposites in the lives of members of the narrator’s family. He then crafts, out of the conflict, a third position which can be, at best, described as a compromise between the two extremes. Often times, these extremes are the very definitions of characterization we come to expect in a short story, and, by blurring these lines, Rosa is able to also blur "The Third Bank of the River" into a work of ambiguous and allegorical nature. By never exactly defining the third essence that is created, the author is able to explore this clearly important topic in greater depth. The importance of the crossing is that, in every case the author presents, it represents the journey from one position to its opposite, continuing until the characters reach their final destination: the third, intermediate situation. It is in this way that father’s crossing has a profound effect on the family (most notably the narrator) and the way they conduct the rest of their lives.

The important thing to recognize immediately about "The Third Bank of the River" is that it can either be read as a literal retelling of the events or as a metaphor concerning the death of a loved one.
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