Setting

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 265

Most action in The Crossing occurs along the border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Beneath the Santa Fe Bridge, in the muddy shallows of the dammed Rio Grande, Manny and other homeless children beg for coins from American tourists. At the back door of the Two-by-Four Bar and Cafe, Manny entreats Old Maria, the cook, for a handout. Across the river, at Fort Bliss, the barracks are orderly and antiseptic, a place from which American soldiers seek escape and excitement in the clubs of Juarez. Near Club Congo Tiki—the preferred destination of Sergeant Robert S. Locke —Manny sleeps in the alley, waiting on the chance that a drunk serviceman might appear, ripe for pocket-picking.

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The Rio Brava Hotel, the market and the plaza de toros—the bullring—also make cameo appearances in this novel. It is the border proper, however—the bridge that unites and the river that divides—which serves as both obstacle and opportunity for Manny and Robert.

More borders than one are crossed in the course of this story, and the three episodes, or meetings, are recorded sequentially. While the passage of time is difficult to judge precisely here, the important markings are sunrise and sunset, for these dictate the rhythms of Manny's days. A few days elapse between Manny and Robert's first and second meetings; a week elapses between the second and the third. At any given moment, it is the pace that matters more to these characters than the clock or calendar. Manny must move fast and stay alert always; for Robert, "time off duty" seems interminable.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362

The Crossing evinces a blunt, spare writing style. Paulsen's prose cadence is clearly reminiscent of Hemingway's, a debt he acknowledges freely. Some critics find fault with this obvious indebtedness, though, suggesting it leads readers to feel the narrative voice is contrived. One distinctive trait of this written voice is the use of coordinating conjunctions, which has the effect of "leveling" presentation. Every idea is, then, as important as the next; little dynamic development occurs thanks to subordination in sentence structure. For example:

What a thing it was then, he thought. What a thing to see it must have been. All the horses coming in abreast and the men firing and Pancho in front with his large sombrero and the silver pistol, and it was said he also had a silver saddle and a large mustache and the strength of five men.

Paulsen skillfully achieves dynamic development in this novel with rhythm, tempo, and rising action, which make for sustained suspense. The audience is hooked early on and propelled through to the climactic conclusion.

Naturalism is the name often used for the literary tradition in fiction whereby nature is flatly indifferent to the trials and triumphs of mankind. As such, The Crossing can be considered a naturalistic text, with the characters' fate determined by heredity plus environment plus chance. Although free will is noted and preserved in naturalistic narratives, free will or choice alone does not produce desired outcomes. It is by chance that Manny and Robert meet and by chance that they part, suggesting that their union is neither predestined nor governed primarily by desire.

There are, perhaps, veiled biblical allusions also in The Crossing ; the sergeant's death is that of a martyr, and provides "salvation," of sorts, for Manny. Moreover, the nature of Manny's relationship to Robert and the timing of their three meetings recalls the three betrayals, or denials, of Christ by Simon Peter. Robert's final act—handing Manny his wallet and urging him to run—echoes Christ's exhortation of his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22). Christ intercedes with Satan on Simon's behalf, to...

(The entire section contains 1235 words.)

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