The Crisis of "A Man's Man": Neoliberal Ideology in Continental Drift

By Livingston, Jessica | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), September 2011 | Go to article overview

The Crisis of "A Man's Man": Neoliberal Ideology in Continental Drift


Livingston, Jessica, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


In 1981 Russell Banks read a newspaper article about a tragic event off the coast of Florida involving the Coast Guard, a smuggler, and a boatload of Haitian refugees. This article inspired him to write his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel Continental Drift (1985), which climaxes with a similar incident (Maslin). Continental Drift tells two parallel stories between 1979 and 1981 that converge on a boat off the coast of Florida: Bob Dubois migrates south to look for better economic opportunities and eventually takes a job smuggling Haitian immigrants; Vanise Dorsinville flees the political and economic oppression of Haiti with her infant son and nephew Claude, and they become Bob's passengers. When the Coast Guard appears en route, all of the Haitians are tossed overboard and drown. The injustice of these senseless deaths and Bob's role in them is the most compelling part of the narrative because it exposes the structural forces reshaping the economies of both the First and Third World. Much of the novel, however, is more concerned with the diminishing power of white heterosexual men in the US.

While Continental Drift is primarily the story of Bob, it tells the stories of both Bob and Vanise in alternating chapters; the juxtaposition of their stories points to the structural forces that compel them to migrate. Reviews of the novel in 1985 often began with commenting on its grandiose narrative that takes on the current condition of the world. In comparing it to Affliction, Josh Rubins says that Continental Drift "tackled global themes in epic style," and Michiko Kakutani says that it has a "mythic dimension."1 In retrospect, these reviewers seem to be alluding to the novel's depiction of globalization - a term that had not yet entered popular discourse. One passage early in the novel makes clear that the drama in this novel is on a global scale. In the chapter introducing Haiti and Vanise's plight there, the narrator begins by comparing human migrations to elemental forces:

It's as if the creatures residing on this planet in these years, the human creatures, millions of them traveling singly and in families, in clans and tribes, traveling sometimes as entire nations, were a subsystem inside the larger system of currents and tides, of winds and weather, of drifting continents and shifting, uplifting, grinding, cracking land masses. It's as if the poor forced creatures who walk, sail and ride on donkeys and camels, in trucks, buses and trains from one spot on this earth to another were all responding to unseen natural forces, as if it were gravity and not war, famine or flood that made them move. . . (38)

The narrator pushes this analogy further, claiming that people do not notice geological change because it happens too slowly and that they do not notice historical change because it happens too rapidly.

Continental Drift is a novel about historical change during the latter half of the twentieth century, when many aspects of globalization intensified. More specifically the novel is about the shift to a neoliberal economy. Neoliberalism is the political and economic philosophy of free markets and free trade that dominated conventional wisdom in the late twentieth century. Writing as this historical change is occurring, Banks draws on both the massive scale of geological change as well as the underlying forces that motivate it to describe this historical shift. Through the novel's larger structure that pairs Bob's story with Vanise's, Continental Drift attempts to portray the larger forces of neoliberalism, but much of the novel is about how Bob understands - or rather fails to understand - neoliberal changes. Unable to see how neoliberalism increases economic disparity on a global scale, Bob only sees these changes as threatening to him as a white man. Continental Drift illustrates how neoliberalism depends upon an oppressed white male persona as compensation for economic inequality.

Neoliberalism in the US and Haiti

After more than three decades of neoliberal policy, the origins and doctrine of neoliberalism can be traced.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Crisis of "A Man's Man": Neoliberal Ideology in Continental Drift
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.