The Third Bank of the River
Confusion, embarrassment, and guilt can all be found throughout João Guimarães Rosa's short story "The Third Bank of the River." Rosa forces the reader to analyze his words and delve deeply into the hidden meanings behind them. Upon first glance, a story unfolds of a father who seemingly abandons his family and chooses to live out the remainder of his life rowing a small boat back and forth along a river. There are circumstances leading up to this behavior, which new insight to the author's psychological meaning.
The story develops through the narration of one of the children in the family. His recollection of the days which lead to his father's absence brings a clear image of the family structure he knew when he was a child. The narrator describes his father as "dutiful, orderly," and "straightforward"(200). He is quick to point out, however, who has the final say in the household: "It was mother, not father, who ruled the house" (200). When the father decides to order a boat, made specifically for him, the mother "carriedon plenty about it" (200). When the boat arrives, the father says goodbye to all, and the children expect their mother to carry on about this, but her reaction is mixed. The effectiveness of her orders to her husband, "If you go away, stay away. Don't ever come back," is weakened as she bites her lip and turns very pale. Her authority is reduced further when her son follows his father to the river, feeling "bold and exhilarated" because he risks the wrath of his mother and wins (200). The child feels so vindicated by his rebellious actions that he asks to accompany his father in the boat. However, his father gestures to him to return, and rows away, alone.
While the father remains adrift, conflict occurs within the family. Although not setting foot on land, the father does not disappear. He continually rows his small boat back and forth along the expanse of the river. At times, he is not within view, but he appears eventually. Never does he cease to exist; only his contact with the family does. This causes much commotion among the family and neighbors, and in turn, "mother was ashamed," proclaimes the narrator (200). Although the father is not in direct contact with his family, he has found a way to weaken his wife's authority. Her steadfast rule and dominance over her family are now in question.
It is possible that Rosa meant to place the father in a position by which he could regain power over his wife. When the father resides at home, the family regards him simply as another member, and they know he is susceptible to his wife's wrath. He holds a lowly position. When he rows onto the water, he is able to change his position within the family. The river is a source of renewal for him. His actions are so abrupt that he is able to control his family without contact. The son acknowledges his never-ending presence, "My...