Study Guide

I Get on the Bus

by Reginald McKnight

I Get on the Bus Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Building on some of the territory identified by the author in his first work of fiction, the prize-winning collection of stories Moustapha’s Eclipse (1988), and on his experiences as a teacher in West Africa, I Get on the Bus is a compelling meditation on the state of blackness in the closing years of the twentieth century. Given the novel’s background and the innumerable manifestations of Senegalese life, culture, language, and environment that it contains, it is tempting to regard the work in an autobiographical light. Although the work itself does not intentionally dismiss such an approach, its use of a first-person narrator paradoxically makes that approach unsustainable, since by virtue of the terms of reference of his narrative, the protagonist becomes a representative and problematic case and not a distinct, ego-centered “I.” Evan Norris is a condition rather than a person; or rather, because of the type of person he is, he becomes a condition.

That condition issues from the involvement of Evan’s perceptive and alert intelligence with a culture that is articulated in unfamiliar and unassimilable terms. Evan’s intelligence, the critical character of which has been honed by his education, speaks essentially of the individual’s autonomy. His decision to leave the United States and a complicated but potentially rewarding situation with his girlfriend, Wanda Wright, confirms his individuality and autonomy. His individuality leads Evan to reject his position with the Peace Corps. It is not clear, however, that he rejects the Peace Corps as such, since to do so would place him in an analytical mode and thus undermine the peculiar forms of impotence that color his Senegal experience.

By resigning his Peace Corps position, Evan in effect submits to a different order of experience,...

(The entire section is 749 words.)

I Get on the Bus Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brailsford, Karen. “I Get on the Bus.” The New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1990, 22. A review of the novel, giving a sense of its main features.

Giddings, Paula. “Reginald McKnight.” Essence 21 (March, 1991): 40. A profile of the author, providing relevant background information.

Larson, Charles R. “Cultures in Collision.” Washington Post Book World, June 17, 1990, 1, 11. Review of I Get on the Bus, focusing on its treatment of the identity theme.

McKnight, Reginald. Moustapha’s Eclipse. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988. The author’s prizewinning first book, a collection of stories that provide relevant introductory material to some of the themes, issues, and locales of I Get on the Bus.

Vaillant, Janet G. Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. A biography of the Senegalese poet and politician whose work raised fundamental issues relating to interconnections between race, identity, and literature. I Get on the Bus should be evaluated in the context of these interconnections.