The socioeconomic extremes of Montgomery, Alabama, between 1918 and 1929 are represented in Southern Discomfort by such women as Banana Mae, Blue Rhonda, and Hortensia Banastre. Blue Rhonda and Banana Mae rent their bodies, in exchange for financial security, as independent entrepreneurs; Hortensia barters her sexual favors as Mrs. Carwyn Banastre. The difference is perhaps only one of degree, but on such subtle distinctions entire social systems are created.
Banana Mae and Blue Rhonda are prostitutes, and thus beneath contempt. They nevertheless lead lives based on honesty and loyalty, but Hortensia must regularly depend on duplicity and hypocrisy. Banana Mae and Blue Rhonda may be purchased for a time by all and sundry. Hortensia is another piece of property to be publicly exhibited alongside Carwyn Banastre’s sons and his matched chestnut horses.
The Banastre marriage is a polite fiction that owes its continuation to habit and the need to preserve appearances. Their union stands in contrast to that of Placide and Ada Jinks. Hortensia and Carwyn Banastre symbolize the process of marital decay; Placide and Ada exemplify the more sublime aspects of the matrimonial continuum. Placide and Ada are respectful of themselves and each other. Hortensia and Carwyn pursue parallel disinterested lives. The Banastres are admired because they are rich and white, but the Jinks are simply prosperous and African American.
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