Bus Stop is an expanded version of William Inge’s one-act play People in the Wind (pb. 1962), which enjoyed both popular and critical success, having more Broadway performances than any of his other plays. Critics praised his abilities to accurately capture the flavor of the American Midwest in his diction and multidimensional characters, who ache with loneliness, without sentimentality.
In interviews, Inge stated that he viewed the play as an experiment in which he could examine different kinds of love, from innocence to depravity, and thought of Bus Stop as a comedy. Bo’s undisciplined, yet well-intended behavior creates most of the humor in the play, and this combination of homespun wit with the pathos of the characters likely accounts for the play’s continuing popularity over time.
Like his earlier works, Inge examines themes of loneliness along with the connection between love and sex. Overt references to sexual activity include Carl and Grace’s casual affair during the course of the play, Bo’s reference to being “familiar” with Cherie, and the undercurrent of immorality in Dr. Lyman’s advances toward Elma. With the sexually repressed climate of the 1950’s, many critics of the time objected to the play’s preoccupation with sex, most of which is omitted from the film version (for which Inge did not write the screenplay). Biographer R. Baird Shuman argues that Inge’s use of sex in the play is not crass, however, but rather an effective way to reveal the alienation humans experience in the search for genuine love and acceptance. Inge succeeds in underscoring his dialogue with a profound sense of loneliness and longing for love.
This search for love and authentic human connection constitutes the main theme of the play. All the characters, with the exception of Will, refer in some way to their own sense of isolation. Grace tells Elma in the first few moments of the play that without the restaurant, she would go crazy with loneliness, and despite his bravado, Bo confesses to Virgil that “in the last few months, I been so lonesome, I . . . I jest didn’t know what t’do with m’self.” Although the other characters do not make explicit reference to being alone, it is suggested in their situations. Cherie, separated from most of her family by a flood, wants to appear strong and independent, but her revelations to Elma about her future prospects show Cherie to be a lonely young woman looking for a man to truly love her and not use her as a sexual object. Elma suggests that if Cherie only loved Bo, it would not be so bad to go with him to Montana, but adds “If you don’t love him, it’d be awfully lonely.” Lyman, too selfish to submit himself to true love, has three failed marriages and an unsuccessful teaching career. Knowing his attraction to girls is inappropriate, he lives a forlorn existence, traveling from one place to another in an attempt to escape the authorities. He chooses to remain in a drunken state, unable to bear the pain of his own depravity but incapable or unwilling to make any changes in his character.
The dialogue never clearly establishes whether or not Carl is married, but driving a bus is certainly a solitary profession. Inge hints in the play that other bus drivers have told Carl that Grace may be “agreeable” and that he is taking advantage of her loneliness. In the play’s final act, Grace seems happy to have an occasional fling with Carl without the burden of commitment. This echoes Grace’s earlier line to Elma about the loneliness she felt in her marriage when she says “makin’ love is one thing, and bein’ lonesome is another.” When Will makes it clear that Carl and Grace have spent some time upstairs together, however, Grace is embarrassed, fearing Elma might think worse of her. Grace justifies her actions by explaining that she is restless and has to have a man occasionally, “just to keep m’self from gettin’ grouchy.” Even Elma—young, smart, and...
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