“I-80 Nebraska M.490-M.205” has a number of themes, and its central meaning may be found in a combination of several of them. On the simplest level, the story is a celebration of workers seldom noticed before in literature: blue-collar truck drivers, doing their difficult and dangerous jobs with a casual style and with pungent, colorful language. This story was first anthologized in On the Job: Fiction About Work by Contemporary American Writers (1977), edited by William O’Rourke. Like John Steinbeck, Nelson Algren, Charles Bukowski, and other important twentieth century American writers, Sayles celebrates the world of real work and real workers.
The character of Ryder P. Moses, however, elevates the story into something beyond a simple celebration of working men and women. Moses can be called a mythic figure—a larger-than-life character who takes on the aura of myth and legend. None of the truckers has ever seen him, and yet they talk about him incessantly, discussing his exploits and speculating about him. In this sense, Moses partakes of the tall-tale tradition in American literature (he himself mentions Paul Bunyan), and he even resembles a Christ figure in the truckers’ rumors of his earlier death. He is superhuman, if not supernatural, for he has no physical presence in the story except as a voice over the radio.
What is the purpose of this comparison? Toward what end does the mythic buildup drive? On one level, the...
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