Themes and Meanings
Continental Drift, with its sweeping narrative movement, explores the themes of good and evil, success and failure, and racism and poverty, among others, in contemporary American society. In the depiction of the fragmenting lives of Bob DuBois and Vanise Dorsinville, Banks comments upon the moral ambiguities afflicting ordinary lives, of people whose uncertain “drifting” toward the future reflects the cyclical, undetectable, and often unpredictable shifts or changes in the larger natural world surrounding them. This naturalistic motif is presented as a motivating factor for the migration of the book’s two protagonists: for Bob, to escape the confines of his meager life in small-town New Hampshire; for Vanise, to flee natural disaster and the poverty endemic to rural Haiti.
A further theme that the novel explores is the myth of the American Dream. Both Bob and Vanise, though coming from very different social and cultural backgrounds, see Florida as the promised land, a place where they can make a new start for themselves and their families and achieve the kind of economic stability their homes cannot offer them. What they find in south Florida, again in quite contrasting ways, more closely approximates an American Nightmare full of selfishness, corruption, and greed. Their tragedy, Banks implies, derives from believing in that dream in the first place, since it is the ugly reality of contemporary American life that they discover and by which they are ultimately defeated.