Continental Drift

by Russell Banks

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Continental Drift is a novel by American author and poet Russell Banks. The book was published in 1985 and the story itself is set in the eighties. The structure of the novel consists of two separate but intertwined plots. In the story, Banks examines the interconnections of people in the modern world. In particular, Banks explores the effects of globalization during the late 20th century. The last quarter of the 20th century saw the extinction of old empires and political establishments, the most notable being the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The era also saw an increase in the geographical movement of people and products that was not possible before.

The title of the novel refers to Banks's comparison of globalization to the continental drift, a theory in geology positing that continents have moved over time. Globalization and capitalism are inherently entwined both in the book's narrative and in actuality. The desire to make money is the reason why the protagonist, Bob DuBois, a blue-collar man from New England, decides to move to Florida. In the second plot, Vanise Dorsinville, a Haitian woman, decides to move to Florida from Haiti to seek economic opportunities. The two different protagonists don't know each other, but they both represent the illusions and realities of what could be called the American Dream.

Banks's novel provides a gritty and realistic portrayal of social class systems in America, and how people can easily be victimized by the economic structure of the country. Another aspect of the novel is the idea that the characters, if seen as the metaphorical continents, drifted not only physically from their respective homes—New Hampshire and Haiti—but also figuratively from who they once were. The two main characters, especially Bob DuBois, come across multiple moral dilemmas throughout the story, and their decisions are portrayed realistically by Banks. The two protagonists are stuck in a cycle of poverty and self-destruction as the world around them changes at a fast pace, threatening to leave them both behind, taking the American dream along with it.

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