The Line Becomes a River Summary & Study Guide

Francisco Cantú
This Study Guide consists of approximately 68 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Line Becomes a River.
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The Line Becomes a River Summary & Study Guide Description

The Line Becomes a River Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Cantu, Francisco. The Line Becomes A River. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. New York, NY. 2018. International Edition. Each section of the book’s three parts consists, for the most part, of a series of word snapshots, what might be described as the author’s “postcard stories” of his experiences as a border patrol officer, as an intelligence officer, and as an ally of an illegal migrant struggling to stay in America.

In a prologue, the author describes a trip he took with his mother, a woman of Mexican heritage whom, he says, was determined to make sure he felt a connection with that same heritage. He describes how, on a visit to Mexico and after a very minor accident, they were treated as though they were at home.

Part 1 of the narrative as a whole focuses on the author’s training and on-the-ground experience as a field officer with the U.S. border patrol. He concisely narrates a variety of encounters with migrants whose circumstances are different, but whose ambitions are essentially the same – to make a new life for themselves away from the violence and corruption associated with life in Mexico, circumstances defined by the extensive, ruthless power of the various drug cartels operating there.

Part 2 of the narrative focuses on the author’s experiences when he moves from field duty into intelligence duty, monitoring activity on the border and creating reports on that activity as opposed to actually engaging in it. Part 3 focuses on the author’s experiences when he has left the border patrol completely, has returned to college to complete a graduate degree, and has befriended a migrant named Jose, whom he (the author) tries to help when he is caught and deported back to Mexico.

All three parts of the narrative contain thematically significant references to other aspects of the author’s life. Among the most significant of these are stories of his relationship with his mother – how she served as a confidante for him, and how she challenged his beliefs about himself and his work. This evocation of the book’s thematic interest in family also parallels the several other stories of migrants and their family relationships, most significantly the story that is the focus of the narrative in Part 3 – that of Jose and his desire to do right by his family.

Another important motif that recurs throughout the narrative is that relating to the author’s experiences of dreams. On several occasions in each of the book’s three parts, the author’s present-tense narration of his dreams considers and defines parallels between his outward experiences and his inner, often-subconscious reactions to those experiences. A third important motif is repeated within those dreams – specifically, the author’s dream-relationship with wolves. This relationship metaphorically develops several key elements of the author’s experiences and identity – his connection with nature, his identification with Saint Francis of Assisi (who, according to legend, tamed a wolf), and his consideration of the more animalistic (i.e. violent, destructive, power-driven) side of his responsibilities.

The novel concludes with an epilogue in which the author describes his experience moving back and forth across the border at a point where it is unguarded, where individuals living in communities on either side of the Rio Grande (which defines part of the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico) can cross freely and without fear of violence.

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