‘Shabine’ and ‘Blackout’ are both short stories written by West Indian writers. They share other similarities as well, such as social interaction between the two sexes and races. Social interaction between men and women are common, inevitable and they occur for different reasons.
In ‘Blackout’, a white female tourist finds herself at a lonely bus stop during a black out in a Caribbean island (possibly Jamaica). She is met by a local who is in need of a light for his unlit cigarette. As she is the only one around and has a lit cigarette, he assumes she can be of some assistance to him. This sparks a conversation on equality, race and gender. On the other hand, the man in ‘Shabine’ never speaks to Justine. Here, a young man recounts his fascination with the Shabine, the red haired woman whom society rejects. Years after he is still fascinated by her. His interaction with Justine is limited to the paradise plums he leaves on the wall for her. Despite several warnings from his grandmother, the boy, though too coward to speak to or profess his love to Justine, a girl of mixed race and frowned upon by society, uses the paradise plums to show his affection for her.
Her acceptance of the paradise plum is her acceptance of his affection towards her. And also her showing her resentment towards society and how they treat her. She sees it as him going against society, his resentment of society and how they treat her; but he is too much of a coward. He accepts the boundaries placed on him when he refuses to cross the wall. The interaction (lack of conversation) highlights the stark difference with how society sees her and how the young man sees her. At the same time, the lack of conversation cements the distance that exists between them.
We learn a lot about Justine through the boy/man’s visit to his grandmother. We learn of her love for her children when he observes her shouting profanities at the neighbourhood boys and hugging her children. We learn of her history from the narrator. And also, we learn of her finally giving in to society when the boy refuses to come rescue her; she walks back, shoulders drooping. If not for the boy, we may not have been able to see Justine as human instead of a shabine, a thing to be lusted and teased, to be shunned and secluded.
Similarly, in ‘Blackout’ we learn more about the woman than the man. The writer puts more focus on the woman’s thoughts as she seems the more complicated of the two. The man appears to speak his mind, unlike the tourist who tries to use tact unsuccessfully to hide her true thoughts. The local, however, reads her up quite easily and exposes her for what she is, prejudiced. She not only finds the man demeaning because of the colour of his skin, but also she feels, like the stories she has heard, he may want to take advantage of her sexually. The man tries to put her mind to rest, assuring her that she is not his type and tries to educate her of the culture of the place she is in. He tries to preach equality to her, to bring her out of the darkness, out of ignorance. Her refusal to look back at him from the bus suggest she is not totally changed. But the fact that she wanted to, suggests that he has placed a seed of question in her mind and had given her something to think about.
Also, in ‘Blackout’, the themes are exposed through the interaction between the two. Her hesitation at first highlights the social tension she is used to while the ease with which he requests a light from her shows how he views her as an equal. Though at first she appears to be “smart”, the dark figure turned out to offer a form of enlightenment to the woman. He addresses her thoughts about her prejudices. The writer uses simple language and sentences to highlight the fact that a simple situation is being dealt with, it’s just a man and a woman conversing. This makes the conversation more universal. Even the narrative point of view employed aides in the development of the theme as we may not have known the lady’s true intentions had we not been able to hear her views on the man. When she leaves, he bends and takes the discarded cigarette from the gutter exposing him as a lower class than her, but enlightenment comes from anywhere and the message delivers is of no less importance; which is probably why the writer does not allow her to see this act. Racism is also the theme in ‘Shabine’. The boy is prohibited from speaking to the girl because of the stigma attached to her because of her mixed race. Sleeping with the white man is her mother’s way of having Justine climb up the social ladder. She is confined to the two room adjoining the Cazabaun’s house. We never hear of her leaving the confines of the yard. Unlike the view of blacks in blackout, the blacks in ‘Shabine’ verbally and physically abuse those of the lighter complexion. The boy’s refusal to follow the instructions of his grandmother shows his refusal to conform to society’s views. Like the man in ‘Blackout’, the boy accepts her as an equal despite the colour of her skin or the class she is associated with. The paradise plum is a means of escape for them both but he is not brave enough to make a stand for his beliefs. He lives in regrets, just like her.
Through social interaction much can be discovered about the characters involved. The two stories explored share similar themes though the circumstances vary greatly. Both authors try to encourage the notion of equality, though the conflicts are not fully resolved we are left with a small spark of hope for the characters as each has resolved to accept things as they are. Justine walks back to her two room apartment, the boy walks back over to his grandmother’s, the man picks up the lady’s discarded cigarette and returns to the darkness and the lady drives off in the lit bus refusing to look back lest the passengers thinks negatively of her.
- note the introduction sets up the reader for what is to come.
- note the use of transitional phrases and sentences: similarly, also, unlike in ..., another example etc.
- each paragraph seems to flow into the next
- all points are backed up with references to the stories.
- the mandate of comparing and contrasting is maintained throughout.
- conclusions sum up the gist of the essay, and in this case explores another point that stems from the points discussed previously.