Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

A story of such open-endedness, in which characters have no names and nothing is explained, is naturally one that invites a great variety of interpretations. The story’s lack of specificity is complicated by its title, which calls for the reader to identify a third bank, a process that would require an evaluation of the extant two to determine which is the first and which the second.

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The easiest procedure for approaching the third bank phenomenon is to consider the story in the context of the volume in which it was published, which in the original Portuguese was entitled Primeiras estorias (first stories), although it was João Guimarães Rosa’s fourth book. Although nothing more than authorial perversity may be the reason, it is true that ordering, numbering, and ranking are rational procedures that depend on a grasp of the external configuration of things, a perception of the real. However, the author is demanding a perception of essence, not subject to ordering, numbering, or ranking, because it cannot be seen with the eyes alone. The stories in this volume are all about human beings who are disconnected or alienated from the mainstream of social machinery; thus, their perceptions are not received community perceptions, which tend to be linear and symmetrical, but rather eccentric and individualistic, ranging from childhood wonder to second sight and across to the third bank.

When the father leaves in his canoe, he is doing so in response to some imperative that remains a mystery to the community. The only one who approaches an understanding of that imperative is the narrator, who never explains, at least not in any ranked or ordered fashion, his understanding of it. The narrator’s perception...

(The entire section contains 462 words.)

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