Blackout by Roger Mais

Blackout - Roger MaisIn 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.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Blackout by Roger Mais." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 9 Jun. 2018. Web.


  • In which way race class and gender affect the balance of power between the two people in this story blackout

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      One character is black and one is white so there is a perceived battle of power. The woman is also perceived to be of a better class than the man. So there is discrimination there too. One character is a man, one is a woman so there is an issue of gender. A battle of the sexes.

  • I think this is good

  • How can I justify the title ‘Blackout’?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Several ways. The only light that can be seen is from the moon. Also the woman is racist and may believe that black people should be ‘out’ or not part of the community.

  • who’ the characters?
    Where is the story occurring?
    what is the conflict?
    what are the themes?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Two main characters. A black man and a white woman.

      At a bus stop.

      Woman disliking the man due to his skin colour.

      You’ll find a list of the themes at the start of the post.

  • What is the irony brought out in blackout

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Perhaps the fact that the woman can only see the negative in the man when he is being helpful.

    • That the white woman isn’t afraid of the darkness because an American woman doesn’t scare easily but she’s afraid of the Black man because she is racist and thinks lowly of him

    • The irony also come from the very end of the story where the man picks up the cigarette that the woman flicked away.
      This is because throughout the story the man was perceived as respectful to the woman, since he did not shame her for her words nor her actions towards his race hence having a polite conversation, disregarding all stereotypical rumors towards race and class. It seems as if the man would not ‘step-down’ to her level of discrimination, due to the fact he happened to reply to ever thought she had. She may have been expecting the man to pick it up due to his background (race and class). However he did not pick it up right away, he only picked up the cigarette after she went onto the bus. Hence it is ironic because he ‘stooped’ to the level that the woman was attempting to bring him to. Since she thought of herself superior to the man.

  • What effect did Roger Mais give to the readers by giving us access to the consciousness of the man but not the woman

  • Does this story have a writing style?

  • What kind of sequel could this go on with ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s difficult to say. It would depend on how you would want the relationship between both characters to develop.

  • What is a theme that is portrayed in this story “Blackout” by Roger Mais ?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The main theme would be race. With sub-themes of conflict, equality, connection, fear, class and pride.

  • can the short story berry be compared with this because of the similar themes??

  • How do the reference to cigarettes function to the structure of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      They may represent sharing or connection. However the woman ends up throwing her cigarette away. As though she is discarding the man.

      The man asks the woman for a light to light his cigarette. They woman ends up giving the man her cigarette to light his. It is only after when the woman discards the cigarette (and assumed not to have smoked the rest of it) that the reader realises that the woman feels as though there is something wrong with the cigarette/man.

  • What effect does the writer achieve by narrating the story from the woman’s point of view?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The story is narrated in the third person. Though we do get insight into the woman’s point of view.Which is cold and selfish.

  • why is the young man initially amused by her reaction and what causes his amusement to the change to ‘cold speculation and contept’?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The man may think the woman amusing because he is flirting with her. However he soon realises that the woman is cold and selfish (and racist) when she only offers her cigarette for a light. Rather than hand the man a box of matches or her lighter.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It might also be important to remember that the woman flicks her cigarette away (as though it is contaminated) after giving the man a light.

  • Is poverty a theme?

  • How is poverty is portrayed in the story? How is the conflict solved?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      As for poverty. It is the war so things are rationed. With regard to conflict resolution. There is none. The woman walks away from the man feeling as antagonistic about him as she did when she first met him.

  • This is very helpful to also gives me a better understanding of the story

  • I have English literature cxc tomorrow and I didn’t fully understand this story and after reading this summary and the comments I now feel i will completely dominate any questions about “blackout” on the cxc paper thanks sooo much

  • the man considers himself just as good as the woman. What incidents suggest this?

  • what is an incident which demonstrates prejudice in this story?

  • what is the issue of the story and what is the story saying about it ?

    and how are the characters affected by the issue

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      1. Racism and that it still exists.

      2. The black man is fully conscious that the white woman is being racist.

  • Poverty is indeed portrayed in the story was where the woman saw then that he was smoking half of a cigarette that was saved for future consumption and also where he picked up the woman’s thrown away cigarette from the gutter, which concludes that the man doesn’t have enough money to even buy a new cigarette

  • what’s the climax of the story?

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