Themes and Meanings
Although the title seems to indicate that the story will be a sociological dramatization of the lives of a certain segment of society, “Greyhound People” is really a psychological study, a “rite of passage” in which the narrator learns to engage the world as a mature adult.
Although an adult in age at the beginning of the story, in many other ways the narrator is a child. Her fear of riding the bus, of associating with strangers is more childish than cautious. Like a child, she requires approval from a more knowledgeable adult before she feels right about siding with the black woman in her dispute with the mother of the retarded boy. Ironically, it is the retarded boy whom the narrator most resembles early in the story. He, too, is trying to understand the world around him—hence his irritating questions. Like the retarded boy, the narrator lives in “sheer dependency” with a mother figure, Hortense, who worries over and scolds the narrator for her late arrival.
The narrator’s childishness and dependency, despite her adult age, are explained by a fact given little emphasis until late in the story: her recent divorce. The reader can conjecture that she moved from being dependent on her parents to being dependent on her husband to being dependent on her parent substitute, Hortense.
Thus, her growing camaraderie with the “Greyhound people”—the independent, functioning adults of the working world—and her estrangement from Hortense occur simultaneously. At the end, she can fearlessly exchange greetings with a black man, can look yearningly at a male other than her husband, and can buy a bus ticket that will allow her to go anywhere that her will and maturity take her.