Blackout by Roger Mais
In Blackout by Roger Mais we have the theme of conflict, race, equality, connection, fear, class and pride. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Mais may be exploring the theme of conflict. The woman at the bus stop is hesitant to give the man a light from her cigarette. It is as though she feels that the man is infringing on her personal space. It also doesn’t help that the woman has an opinion with regard to the colour of the man’s skin. This may be important as Mais may be highlighting the inequalities that existed at the time the story was written with black people being considered inferior to white people. The fact that the man tells the woman that there is only two types of people (men and women) might also be significant as it suggests that any inferiority that the woman may be suggesting with regards to the man’s skin colour does not necessarily affect the man. If anything the man unlike the woman is colour blind with his skin colour being considered an irrelevancy. Something that is far different to the woman’s personal view on skin colour.
It may also be possible that Mais is exploring the theme of connection. The woman as she leaves to get on the bus is intrigued by the man. However she makes a point of not turning back to look at him. This too could be important as the woman may be concerned about what others on the bus might think about a white woman turning around to look at a black man. If anything the woman may fear being seen to be engaging with the man. Which may suggest that the social barriers that existed at the time the story was written with regards to black and white people engaging with one another has a strong hold on the woman’s consciousness. Though the woman is intrigued with her encounter with the man she is also fully aware of how any engagement with the man might be interpreted by others. Which may suggest that the woman is not allowing herself to step outside the preconceived and acceptable norms of the time. The fact that the man is able to challenge the woman is also interesting as rather than being intimidating he is actually asking the woman to look at her own values. Which may be the point that Mais is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that society in general needs to look at itself and to question its moral standards.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The cigarette that the woman throws away could symbolise wealth or class especially if it is compared to the half cigarette that the man is smoking. Also the woman may feel as though the cigarette has been tainted in some way because she allowed the man to light his cigarette from it. Which may suggest to some readers that the woman is racist. That she does not consider the man to be her equal. Through his skin colour the woman may believe there is a fault. Something that would have been widely believed among white people at the time the story was written. The fact that the story is set during the war (WWII) might also be symbolically significant as Mais could be using the setting as foreshadowing to the conflict that develops between the man and woman. The fact that the man also touches the woman’s hands when he is lighting his cigarette could also be important as by doing so he is breaking down many socially accepted barriers of the time. That being a black man touching a white woman.
It is also possible that the woman is too proud to admit to herself and to the man that what he has said to her is correct. That she is not above others based on skin colour, gender or class. Something that might be difficult for the woman to understand considering the environment that existed at the time. The fact that the man picks up the woman’s cigarette is also interesting as despite what he has said to the woman the reality is that there are differences between social classes. The man is poor in comparison to the woman and as such feels the need to pick up the woman’s cigarette. It might also be a case that the man is not too proud to admit that he is poor. Something which would be in contrast to the woman. If anything the woman feels as though she is privileged based solely on her skin colour and her class. Whereas the only difference between the man and woman may be their circumstances. With one individual being considered to be more fortunate than the other.