For this essay, the author will compare two short stories: “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” by Russell Banks and “Once More to the Lake” by E. B. White. The first story details the oppression of African Americans in its implicit forms, with even people who were not overtly racist seeing them as inferior and not considering them in decision-making. The second is the author’s reflection on himself and on time as he returns with his son to the lake where he once went with his father as a child. Both authors deliver their messages implicitly, without outright stating their positions. They convey the understanding of the topic to the reader through rhetorical devices. Where Banks relies on conversations and elaborate descriptions to guide the reader toward the message of his work, White produces a more powerful effect by combining introspection with telling stories of both past and present.
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Banks’ story is a realistic fiction work that was first published in 1981 in Mississippi Review and discussed America at that time. In it, a black man and a woman living in a trailer park go out on a boat to discuss her recent pregnancy, only for her to reveal that she does not believe that she can raise a child with him and will be getting an abortion. The work targets Americans who refuse to acknowledge their implicit racism and are content so long as it is not over regardless of the damage this behavior does to minorities. “Once More to the Lake” is an autobiographic work that was first published in 1941 in Harper’s Magazine. In it, the author revisits a lake, but now in the role of the father rather than the son. As he asserts that it has stayed the same while listing the changes, he reflects on the passage of time and, ultimately, death. As it is philosophical in nature, the work applies to any audience, though it may be targeted to older people more so than the young.
While White does not use dysphemisms in his essay, their application by Banks still warrants consideration. His work discusses racism in a nation that has only recently adopted civil rights legislation, with many people still overtly racist and many minorities having memory of active oppression and segregation. When the female protagonist tells her lover she has informed her mother about the pregnancy, the man gets bitter. When she tries to explain that the result was not as bad as she had expected, she mentions her late father, who, in the man’s words, “hated n****rs” (Banks 46). The phrase is unexpected and striking due to its taboo nature, as is the intent of many dysphemisms. Its usage lets one understand the makeup of the woman’s family quickly, concisely, and decisively.
Through the mention of the word, the male protagonist asserts that this is how his lover’s father thought of him. The man would presumably openly use slurs against African Americans and think of them extremely negatively. Moreover, the man proceeds to state that the woman’s mother “loves ’em” (Banks 46), which implies that she thinks of the minority in the same way, though without the negativity. Either way, the family is stated to be racist, and it is made clear that it evokes strong negative emotion in the unnamed male. Having learned that his lover has discussed the matter with her mother under these circumstances, he expects to hear bad news. Shortly after, his worries are proven accurate as the heroine confesses in a roundabout way that she has decided to get an abortion without considering his wishes.
Throughout his work, Banks repeatedly stresses that the weather on the day when the events took place was extremely hot. The work ends with the words, “It was very hot, and no one said anything” (Banks 49), which can be interpreted in different ways. The heat is also a plot point, as multiple characters mention how fishing in such high heat is a futile endeavor. As such, the author hints to the reader that the true purpose of the outing is different at the very beginning. Meanwhile, White emphasizes the sameness of the lake compared to the time he visited it in his childhood. The repetition is emphasized in this sentence: “the small waves were the same, […], and the boat was the same boat, the same color green and the ribs broken in the same places, and under the floor-boards the same freshwater leavings and debris” (White). Given the central message of the work, the emphasis on this sameness is ironic.
White ultimately uses amplification more effectively than Banks, as its contrast with his discussion of things that have changed drives the reader to reflect. This insistence creates logos, driving the reader to reflect on the reason why he would try to deceive himself. Eventually, they realize that White is trying to avoid thinking about change and death, pretending that life is simple and static and can continue that way forever. However, seeing himself as his father drives him to reflect on how the world has changed and how he is now approaching death. For Banks, on the other hand, the symbolism of the weather is less apparent and requires considerable deliberation. The author believes that the heat, which demoralizes people from doing anything and against which one cannot fight back, represents the oppression African Americans experienced in contemporary American society.
Both Banks and White use antiphrasis to underline the points that they were making. In the former’s work, the man ends the fishing trip by saying, “The whole point is catching fish, right?” (Banks 47). While the outward idea is that he has failed to catch fish, at this point in the story, it is clear that fishing was not the purpose of the boat ride. White, on the other hand, avoids sarcasm and continues reflecting on the nature of time. At one point, he becomes literal with his overlapping of the two times “There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one–the one that was part of memory” (White). Objectively, the sentence is obviously false, but it reflects the author’s inner state and thoughts.
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Banks’ usage of antiphrasis is small, but it highlights the broader trend in his work of the two protagonists skirting around topics and being indirect. Almost none of the work’s main points, including the heroine’s pregnancy and abortion, are mentioned directly. Even in private, the protagonists are not comfortable talking about them, which adds to the overall atmosphere of inescapable hopelessness. For White, on the other hand, the antiphrasis reinforces his insistence on equating the present and the past. He is not merely experiencing nostalgia over his trip to the camp many years ago; he is trying to force the two to merge. In his failure to do so and recognition of the inevitable passage of time, he learns a valuable lesson.
Overall, this essay’s author prefers White’s style over that of Banks. Neither author uses rhetorical devices extensively, as they are not trying to convince others but rather to provide an illustration of their points that readers can accept or ignore. However, due to White’s more direct approach to his point, the tools he does employ are more effective and leave a more significant impression. Conversely, Banks is roundabout in his exposure of the point, which hurts it given how relatively banal it is compared to the other author’s. White’s point is more philosophical and universally applicable, and the essay expresses it in a way that is both personal and detached.
The two authors both express significantly different points and take varying approaches to express them. Banks is indirect and relies on the conversation between the protagonists against an oppressive background of a trailer park on a hot day. White instead discusses the point explicitly and does not feature any conversation in the essay, focusing on introspection. As a result, he is able to use literary devices more effectively, other than Banks’s usage of the racial slur that stems from the work’s topic and would not be applicable elsewhere. With that said, neither author relies on rhetorical devices extensively, as their purpose is not to convince the reader so much as it is to illustrate a particular point and let the reader decide.
Banks, Russell. “Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat.” Mississippi Review, vol. 10, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 42–49. JSTOR, Web.
White, E.B. “E. B. White – Once More to the Lake.” Genius, Web.