Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most important theme of this story concerns James’s identity as an inveterate liar and the metamorphosis of this identity into that of an imaginative storyteller very like the author himself. James’s final lie, which, significantly, is uplifting rather than morbid, confirms his identity as an artist whose capacity for invention can contribute something to others. The final image of James singing something ancient and holy suggests that he has achieved an almost mystical transcendental state, beyond the fear and negativity he associates with his father.

Ironically, it is his capacity for make-believe that has allowed him to secure his true identity and destiny. As he tells his Tibetan story on the bus, he creates a community of listeners, affirming that his skill as a storyteller has a social function that serves to enhance the inner lives of others. As the bus seems to magically suggest a kind of cathedral, it is as if James enters a state of grace, a transformation that redeems him from his previous identity as a pathological liar.

As the magic of his inner life lifts him off the ordinary level of reality, the pessimism James associates with his father also seems to melt away. Although James continues to tell stories, in the end it is James’s mother who has begun to shape the stories he tells. The spiritual and life-affirming story James tells on the bus suggests that his good-hearted mother has become his inspiration and that his...

(The entire section is 441 words.)