Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 212

The Other Side of the River, by Alex Kotlowitz, revolves around the curious death of a black teenage boy and the racial tensions that escalate in the wake of the incident. Because Kotlowitz makes these tensions the focus of the story, the novel revolves around the idea that people’s actions are influenced by their environment. The theme of environmental influence is at the heart of the novel, as Kotlowitz contrasts the white, affluent community of St. Joseph with the impoverished black community of Benton Harbor. The environments of these communities are characterized by race, behavior, attitude, and socioeconomic status, all of which contribute to the conflict in the story.

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The theme of segregation and its relation to prejudice dominates the story as well, as Kotlowitz distinguishes the two communities largely by their opinions and beliefs. The contrast in their opinions and beliefs is revealed as the cause of the racial tension. Kotlowitz appears to be saying that segregation exists in society, and it encourages intolerance and hate. It has the power to ignite racial tensions in the blink of an eye. In the story, the fiery accusations on both sides are based solely on preconceived notions that are rooted in U.S. history and that have hindered the fight for equality.

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Characters