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McMahand 12 November 2004 Gap-Toothed and Heavy: Perspectives Of Exclusion In “Sarah Cole: A Type Of Love Story” Appearance and class are two primary indicators of success and, as such, are also the determinants of social superiority and the qualifiers for acceptance into the illusive mainstream. In his “Sarah Cole: A Type Of Love Story,” Russell Banks develops a singular example of inequality among individuals from opposite ends of their social and economic spectrums. Of these two characters, Ron is unquestionable more successful and Sarah less fortunate. Accordingly, Ron has the upper hand in the relationship from the beginning and Sarah follows a step behind. However, this interpretation, obvious as it may seem, is written nowhere in the text. Banks instead makes it apparent to the reader by playing with our perception. It is his method of shifting the story’s point of view that creates our awareness of the exclusion in Ron and Sarah’s relationship. When Sarah and Ron first meet, the author’s use of the third person omniscient perspective allows Ron to describe the disparity in their appearances with some objectivity. According to the description, “Ron is effortlessly attractive, a genetic wonder, tall, slender, symmetrical and clean,” and even Ron’s flaws, “only contribute to his beauty” (150). Bank’s words come across merely as a physical characterization; however, were it instead Ron speaking directly of his attributes, the reader might be less inclined to the believe him. Similarly, the narrator lists Sarah’s features: “pocked complexion, bulbous nose, loose mouth, twisted and gapped teeth, and heavy, but receding chin,” and summarizes the description with a general picture of her as, “a woman homelier than any he has ever seen or imagined before” (152). Since these words come from a
besides mere looks. implying that under normal circumstances she would not have considered talking to such a man. However. and consequently more powerful participant. of course. and staring at a “silvery gray twenty-one-speed bicycle. grasping it wholly. This information allows the reader to arrange the characters subconsciously by their physical appeal and thus to establish the initial power structure of the relationship within his or her mind. not necessarily exorbitant but certainly above Sarah’s means. Following the introductory physical descriptions. as if its beginning did not grow . single-bedroom on the Heights near downtown Concord. Therefore. a first person account of the developing relationship more accurately captures Ron’s feelings and inappropriate intentions. Describing his specific drive in pursuit of Sarah. Sarah is completely out of her element—anxious. As the wealthier. Ron lives in a modern.” that’s leaning against the wall. was merely with the moment. We learn all of this. Banks prevents the interpretation that Ron is only exaggerating the freakish unattractiveness of this woman. More than just feeling awkward in someone else’s home. unsure where to place her hat.” seemingly possessing more confidence than she (159). “slender as a thoroughbred racehorse. he decides what details we learn. how we see Sarah and what we will feel about each of them in the end. the reader can more easily accept the characters’ substantial dissimilarities.Downing 2 removed speaker. when I was first becoming involved with Sarah. Sarah informs Ron that she only approached him on a dare. peering in. more attractive. Ron says: My concern then. from Ron’s words since the control that he possesses in his relationship with Sarah extends even further in its retelling. Moreover. Ron is in control (158).” and from the second she steps inside. His apartment exudes a superiority that Sarah senses when she “stands nervously at the door. holding on to it. social class also determines control in the relationship. and so Banks’ use of the third person during Sarah’s first visit to Ron’s apartment is no coincidence. Everything about his living space is classy.
etc. The credibility he achieves in doing so is crucial . He even prefaces the change in narration with “picture this. you just go ahead and do it. Ron is well aware of the panoptic gaze when he describes. Although he’s seemingly not bothered by the onlookers. both he and Sarah are interested in the inappropriateness of their relationship—Sarah as a rare opportunity to date someone out of her league and Ron as a fetish for her grotesque appearance. (155) Ron is not attracted to Sarah. Similarly. I grinned back and got into my car” (157). Although the entire scene preceding Sarah and Ron’s kiss—Ron meeting Sarah. on the contrary. Banks again utilizes the third person point of view to add veracity to two situations that we might otherwise expect Ron to alter in the telling: their first kiss and first sexual encounter. This is why he relates in first person his pursuit of “the moment” during his conversations with Sarah: an obsession direct from the mouth of the obsessed (155). When you have never done a thing before and that thing is not simply and clearly right or wrong. you frequently do not know if it is a cruel thing. seeing the picture of her kids.Downing 3 out of some other prior moment in her life and my life separately.I did not know how cruel this was. Banks briefly switches to third person for less than a page to describe the specific moment when Sarah embraces Ron. going into her apartment. and I knew them slightly. They were grinning at me. In this manner Ron ably describes both the second-hand furnishings in the apartment and the way Sarah rolls her torso against his with the same unaffected objectivity. and at the same time did not lead into future moments in our separate lives….” allowing the reader advanced knowledge that he will be relating a complex and vital scene as a removed observer (163). he is fascinated by the novelty of her appearance. He aims not to connect with her emotionally but only to prolong this instance of experiencing such an oddity. “They were lawyers. and he reveals this to the reader directly in the first person.—is told in the first person. Ron’s preoccupation with Sarah is wholly fueled by their opinion.
this passage reinforces the dominant themes of . However. and then Banks switches to third person before the actual intimate episode. “we were both standing naked. The duration of this shift in the point of view is shorter than the previous. Ron remembers the weather that Sunday morning. as with the characters’ initial portrayals. Ron’s perfect physical presence contrasts and overpowers Sarah whose unattractive features seem to sense their own inferiority.” to. This antithesis. Although Banks returns to first person only six lines after the switch to third.Downing 4 in understanding the dynamic of Ron and Sarah’s relationship because within the same passage Banks again emphasizes the disparity in their social standings and appearances. is only valid in the reader’s mind under the context of an onlooker’s description. At this point it makes no difference whether it’s actually Ron and Sarah in the story. it serves the same function as the previous switch by directing the reader toward an appropriate interpretation of Ron and Sarah’s relationship. not only does it displace Ron himself from the action. Moreover. a male and female” (166). and Banks doesn’t alert the reader to it in advance. the silence in the room while they undressed themselves. He changes within the same sentence from. parallels the former in design. though. Sarah’s demeanor as she hands him his shirts. “two naked members of the same species. Banks leads into the shift in narration using the first person. Ron and Sarah’s first sexual encounter. her tasteless clothing and stained linoleum make Sarah unworthy of Ron even while in her own home. moreover. The latter situation. impartiality is essential. The situation would still serve the author’s purpose with any two people involved—as long as one is more attractive and economically successful—just as at the beginning of the story when Ron informed us that the events could have taken place anywhere at any time: “it doesn’t matter” (149). but the use of the generic terms “male” and “female” removes the specific identities of both characters from the situation. following a break in the text.
as well as Ron’s obsession with Sarah’s ravaged legs and yard sale furnishings and her insecurities about all these flaws. the final change to third person is the most significant in the story. Ten years later. Ron. the inherent exclusion.Downing 5 appearance and class in the story and allows the reader insight into the author’s particular interpretation of Ron and Sarah’s relationship. has melted away for the two are equal in Ron’s newfound love. looking back. The fact that Ron’s actions are in the third person (i.” their time at El Rancho only drives Ron further away (168). He tells Sarah it’s over. In the end it is Ron who has the final word. Banks returns to the third person perspective to finish the story and portray the ultimate example of inequality in Ron and Sarah’s relationship. “you owe me. During the interchange Ron realizes that he actually does love Sarah Cole—regardless of the fact that he has to imagine her being dead to do so. including flat out refusing to leave.e. and in his mind. can change his decision. Ron speaks with one of Sarah’s ex-coworkers in a first person conversation that takes place years after his relationship with Sarah. . he has removed himself from them) tells the reader exactly how to interpret the situation: Sarah is helpless and poor with no control over her life. immediately following Ron’s fanciful digression. standing in his upscale apartment amidst lavish furnishings with a hand on his bicycle’s chrome-plated handlebars. Although Sarah has temporarily deluded herself into believing that her opinion matters and even demanding. Ron kills her. This above all exemplifies the power structure that exists in their relationship—one of mercilessness and autocracy. he can’t even bear to narrate the events as if he were in any way involved with them. Then. At this point the dynamic of power that had existed in their relationship. The break up lays to rest any questions about who ultimately is in control. While the initial third person passages provide believable descriptions of the characters and their lifestyles and the first person more accurately presents Ron’s motivations. Immediately preceding the last switch in narration. and nothing she does.
ugly bitch” (175). He accomplishes this by shifting the story’s point of view.Downing 6 Ron says he loves Sarah. But might not there be another reason for his telling of Ron and of Sarah? It seems that Banks was insistent also upon defying the paradigm of physiognomy. Russell Banks seems indeed to be questioning the validity of those qualifications that merit acceptance into the mainstream as well as our perception of the exclusion that follows.” she also returns to a husband who beats her (168). It’s not difficult to see Russell Banks’ intention in his “Sarah Cole: A Type Of Love Story. Even Chaucer’s 14th century characterizations portrayed people as we do today—they who look good are good—and yet Ron is a beautiful man of deplorable action and Sarah a homely woman undoubtedly more deserving of Ron’s beauty. thus forcing the reader to recognize the separation in Ron and Sarah’s relationship. he also calls her a “disgusting. .” He has created a biting representation of exclusion dependent upon the social qualifiers of inequality: class and appearance. Sarah comes to believe that she deserves “friendship and respect.
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