Themes and Meanings
The Narrows is a complex work of literature that touches on several crucial issues in the lives of black people in a small New England city. The reader sees the deterioration of a neighborhood: The area in Monmouth where Abbie and Link live was once a mixed neighborhood of Irish, Italians, Finns, and Poles. Now it is a black ghetto called the Narrows, Eye of the Needle, the Bottom, Little Harlem, Dark Town, and Niggertown. Racism has taken its toll on the black people who live here: Abbie is ashamed of being black; Link is confused about his racial identity and learns to take pride in his heritage only through painful experiences; the black butler at the Treadway mansion, Malcolm Powther, becomes a Judas by pointing Link out to his master. The interracial love affair between Link and Camilla brings out the worst in people in Monmouth. Mrs. Treadway refuses to say Link’s name but refers to him as “the Nigger”; she and Captain Sheffield have to kill Link to clear their names and save Camilla’s reputation; the black population is more interested in Camilla’s involvement in the scandal than in Link’s fate; Bill Hod, upon Link’s death, is ready to take the law into his own hands and kill Camilla in revenge. Miss Doris—a character in the novel—says that Link’s death is everybody’s fault. In a sense she is correct, but racism comes closer to being the primary cause of the evil. The novel makes clear that racism poisons people’s thinking, prohibiting toleration and understanding of any deviation from established norms. As a result, Link is murdered for breaking the taboo against interracial love. Nevertheless, the author is not content merely to present this particular racial conflict. She goes a step further, making it clear that societal violence has to be stopped before a society can progress. It is symbolic that Abbie is chosen to break through this cycle. Her decision to protect Camilla shows that forgiveness is stronger than hatred. Her willingness to take care of J. C.—a little black boy who has been largely neglected by his parents—reveals that Abbie has come to terms with Link’s death and her own neglect of him at the age of eight: She is not going to abandon this son and lose him to a racist world.