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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

The protagonist of Russell Banks's 1984 novel is Bob DuBois, a 30-year-old oil burner repairman from New England who is discontented with the constraints of his life. His wife is Elaine DuBois, and she is pregnant with their third child. The couple have two daughters, Ruthie and Emma ...

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The protagonist of Russell Banks's 1984 novel is Bob DuBois, a 30-year-old oil burner repairman from New England who is discontented with the constraints of his life. His wife is Elaine DuBois, and she is pregnant with their third child. The couple have two daughters, Ruthie and Emma. Bob is unfaithful to Elaine and has an affair with a local woman named Doris Cleeve.

Bob has a brother named Eddie Dubois who lives in Florida, and unlike Bob, Eddie has found financial success; he claims to be making a more than comfortable living as the owner of liquor stores. Bob uproots his family from New Hampshire, and they take up residence in a Florida trailer park where Bob takes a job running one of Eddie's stores. Once again, Bob embarks on an affair; the woman in this case is Marguerite Dill, the daughter of one of Bob's co-workers at the liquor store. In the course of a robbery at the liquor store that Bob is running for Eddie, Bob shoots and kills a man. Shortly thereafter, Eddie's wife leaves him and Eddie finds himself over his head with the mob and opts to kill himself. Bob moves on and takes a job as the captain of a fishing trawler owned by a childhood friend, Avery Boone. The job quickly morphs into running drugs through the Florida Keys and then escalates to moving Haitian immigrants through the Bahamas to Miami, Florida. Tyrone is Bob's first mate on the boat he co-owns with Avery.

The scenes involving Bob become intercut with the tragic life of Vanise Dorsinville, a young woman from Haiti who is desperate to get to America in search of safety and financial security for herself and her son, Charles, and nephew, Claude. Vanise is exploited by a number of men as she endeavors to get to America. Victor is a man who owns a boat who takes money from Vanise to get her to Florida.

The lives of Vanise Dorsinville and Bob DuBois ultimately intersect, with tragic consequences for both.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

The characters in Continental Drift are depicted by Banks as the products of their socially realistic environments. Bob DuBois, for example, is a rather ordinary blue-collar New Englander whose sense of entrapment by the natural and economic restrictions of his life motivates his desire to “drift” (a pervasive metaphor in the book) south in search of a new start. Banks, too, occasionally plumbs Bob’s psychological state, as when he thinks he has two separate selves, one a “dutiful, prudent, custodial, faithful and even-tempered” husband and father, and another, secret self that is “reckless, irresponsible, faithless and irrational.” These two versions of Bob finally collide in south Florida. Instead of gaining the bright future he had envisioned, Bob discovers that he has lost his past and the things that used to give his life a semblance of order and meaning.

Vanise Dorsinville, the young Haitian mother who risks everything to get to Miami, is also presented by Banks as the victim of an oppressive socioeconomic environment. While her inner state is not as demarcated as that of Bob’s, Vanise nevertheless serves as a metaphor for the untainted immigrant dream. Instead of finding freedom in the promised land, however, she is left to survive bereft of her family and her sanity in a Miami ghetto.

Avery Boone, who grew up with Bob in New Hampshire but made the move to south Florida several years before his friend, is depicted as a “me-first” individualist trying to get rich by smuggling drugs in the Florida Keys. Unlike Bob, whose tenuous nature keeps him away from illegal activities for some time, Avery plays fast and loose with other people’s lives; ironically, however, he does not have enough money to make bail when he is arrested on drug charges shortly after Bob’s trauma at sea.

Elaine DuBois is in some ways presented as the stereotypical long-suffering wife, as she must endure Bob’s whims (including some extramarital affairs), care for the children, and maintain a modicum of order for a family spinning out of control. She knows and accepts that her desires and needs are always secondary, though she begins to exert her own authority in the book’s final chapters, when she starts to realize she can no longer depend on her husband for support of any kind, financial or otherwise.

Eddie DuBois, Bob’s older brother, is another transplanted Florida entrepreneur whose involvement in shady business schemes and even shadier associates eventually drives him to suicide. “Slick Eddie” holds out to Bob the promise of economic prosperity in Oleander Park, Florida, where Bob moves to work in his brother’s liquor store. With Eddie’s death, however, Bob begins to see what a false dream he was offered.

Claude Dorsinville, the adolescent nephew of Vanise, is again presented by Banks as a symbol of the immigrant’s unvanquished quest for the American Dream. Claude eventually becomes his aunt’s protector and educator during their arduous trips, helping Vanise and her child to survive against horrendous odds. Pitifully, though, Claude is one of those who drowns after being tossed over the side of Bob’s boat.

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