Continental Drift

by Russell Banks

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In order to decide what quotes are important in the book, it is first necessary to discuss what the book is about and what the author wanted to convey. Continental Drift is the story of thirty-year-old Bob DuBois, an ordinary man with a wife and a couple of children. The blessing and curse of Bob is his ordinariness, Banks suggests. He spends all of his life in a small town in New Hampshire and works as a technician for an oil company. He lives in a working-class home, does his job well, and like everyone in his community, owes more than $20,000 in loans he has used to pay for his modest life.

Within his seemingly good life, however, Bob feels trapped in his small-time New Hampshire town, where “there is never enough money” and where “nothing seems improved over yesterday.” Against this backdrop, the main character decides to relocate to Florida for an opportunity to realize his aspirations for himself and his family. Moving south, however, is not in any way a cure for Bob’s expectations. By leaving the town that he thinks is at the center of his plight, he leaves everything that gives his life meaning, including his job and his house.

At the center of this story, in the words of a February 1985 New York Times book review, is the fear of being unable to hold on to our dreams, and protect the people we love, given our susceptibility to failure and the rapid changes the country experienced at the time during which the novel is set.

Having talked about the main themes and narrative line of the text, we can now dive into the quotes:

In the second half of the first chapter, Bob says, referring to the American dream, that “everyone in America seems to believe in it.” This quote is significant because it is the first part of the book in which Bob realizes that success as represented by the media is a delusion, a notion that foreshadows the ending of the book and its main theme.

In the second chapter, Banks remarks that ”it is us who live for the dead and not the dead who live for us.” This fatalistic realization is one of the clearest expositions of the book’s second main theme, that we are victims of circumstances outside of our control of which we are largely unaware.

If you would like to know more about the differing interpretations of Banks's novel, which was a Pulitzer finalist, I suggest reading Russell Banks: In Search of Freedom, chapter 7, by Kevin T. McEneaney.

The author himself also discusses Continental Drift at length in a number of interviews compiled in collections like Conversations with Russell Banks by David Roche.

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