Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The reiterated references to loss, disorientation, lack of understanding, self-deception, disruption, and dislocation that stitch together the comparatively limited narrative material of I Get on the Bus seem to suggest that its themes are plainly stated and their meanings somewhat obvious. As suggested by the novel’s title and the present tense in which the narrative is told, there is no denying the protagonist’s unsettled and transitional state. The novel’s themes are not necessarily so straightforward, and its meanings not quite so forthcoming. Given the character of the novel’s grounding in the cultural anthropology of Senegal, its obvious interest in the status of folk religion as a complex map of the fears, longings, ambitions, and inhibitions to which everybody is susceptible, it is not surprising that readers may share some of Evan Norris’s perceptual uncertainty.

At certain points in I Get on the Bus, such as when Evan imagines himself to be a woman, there is no doubt as to the hallucinatory character of the action. For the most part, however, such certainty is difficult to substantiate. Early in the novel, Evan thinks that he kills a crippled beggar. It is not until much later that he learns that his having done so is all but impossible. When, in introducing himself to readers, Evan says that he believes he is coming down with something, something that without a doubt is malaria, since he has not been taking his quinine tablets, there are no grounds to disbelieve him....

(The entire section is 621 words.)