Inge's Romanticism

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In 1955, Americans were watching I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Davy Crockett. In these programs, life was easy; jobs were plentiful, and the American Dream appeared as a tangible reality. It was an idealized image of an America that only existed on television—and on the stage.

In Bus Stop, William Inge attempts to create a story that is, according to him, ‘‘a composite picture of varying kinds of love, ranging from the innocent to the depraved.’’ This was his intent, as stated in the forward to Four Plays, published in 1958. This very sentiment recalls a time in American social history when love and sexuality could be neatly defined and classified. Inge’s play was meant for an America defined by picket fences, perfect families, and romantic infatuations that could be resolved in thirty minutes.

It is now clear that the world was not so perfect. The Cold War raged, women were marginalized, and the fight for civil rights was escalating; but for two hours audiences could escape and find solace in a small Midwestern town—even if it was not real. Inge features three romantic situations in Bus Stop—Bo and Cherie, Grace and Carl, and Elma and Lyman. While Inge may have hoped that the audience would find each couple equally interesting, it is clear that Bo and Cherie take center stage. And although they are obviously unsuited for one another, the romantic ideal is that love conquers all.

In the 1950s, television audiences knew that all the differences, problems, and conflicts would be neatly resolved before the last commercial aired. Strong parents, mostly fathers, could set any problem straight. Viewers rarely questioned this formula, and indeed, there was something comforting about its very predictability. Critics who reviewed Bus Stop noted that whether Bo and Cherie ended up together was never a question. What held the audience’s interest was how the couple would reach the end goal.

In this respect, romantic comedy, whether it appeared on television, film, or theater, provided the same comforting resolution. As Gerald Weales notes, ‘‘it is proper that Cherie and Bo exit together for a Montana ranch where, according to the conventions of the theater, they will live happily ever after.’’ This is the ultimate goal of the writer whose plot embraces romantic love.

If, as Inge states, he wanted to portray varying kinds of love, how can Cherie and Bo’s romance be classified? Consider that Bo’s sole goal in finding a wife is to assuage his loneliness. He barely knows Cherie, never ask if she loves him, and indeed, does not seem to want the answer to that question. Her choice to leave with him appears to be based as much on opportunity and lack of choice, as it is on genuine affection, if in fact, she actually loves him. For most of the play she does not even like him.

Thus, their union at the end of the play is formulaic and unrealistic. It is, however, in keeping with romanticized visions of ideal love, which insists that sex should end in marriage.

Inge’s goal of portraying depraved love might be defined by any of the three couples, since at least one member of each pairing also defies the mores of the 1950s. In the puritanical atmosphere of the period, illicit sexuality, as Inge demonstrated in Come Back, Little Sheba and Picnic, is always cause for public concern. In Bus Stop , Cherie admits to a sexual history. She has had many partners, beginning at age fourteen with her cousin...

(This entire section contains 1374 words.)

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and continuing even when she met Bo. That is, in fact, how they first got together; the problem for Cherie is that Bo mistakes sex for love.

According to the values of the 1950s, Cherie must love Bo, since she cannot simply walk off insisting that it was only sex—even if it was. She must love him, or she must be provided with a reason for her sexual freedom, as is Grace.

The older, more experienced Grace is as lonely as Bo, but marriage is not the answer. She states that she is only looking for a temporary or momentary encounter. Her denial of marriage as a goal contradicts the accepted premise that unmarried sex should lead to love. In Picnic Rosemary’s sexual encounter forces a marriage to her seducer. And like Grace, Rosemary, is not a young girl. Grace’s acceptance of her occasional need for a man, without marriage, could establish her as a female lead with questionable morals.

But neither Cherie nor Grace, although representing questionable morality in the repressed and repressive 1950s, really fits a depraved definition of love. No doubt Inge meant for Lyman’s planned seduction of Elma to be viewed as depraved, as it would have been in 1955.

Elma is, after all, still in high school; therefore, Lyman’s flirtation appears quite perverted. Yet this seduction also reveals several ambiguities. Although Elma’s age is never revealed, the audience knows she is still in high school; however, she is old enough to be working in a diner at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Thus, Elma is probably only a year or two younger than Cherie, who is nineteen.

Also, Hollywood films have traditionally presented young women, many just out of school, who become involved in romances with older men. This is the staple of romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.

So what makes the situation between Lyman and Elma depraved? It is the very lack of love. Although Inge is looking to reveal depraved love, Lyman is, as the audience learns in the play’s last act, a seducer of young girls. He has a history of loitering outside schools in order to meet them. Lyman’s carefully orchestrated seduction of Elma is not love, but in fact a pathological perversion.

Although, she is flattered at the attention of an older, educated man, Elma’s naive acceptance of his attentions is based on flirtation and on an innocent misunderstanding of his intent. Elma fails to see Lyman as a ‘‘disillusioned eastern intellectual,’’ as Rudolf Erben describes him. Although he has a record of failed relationships and a disastrous career, Lyman glosses over his failures. He describes himself as free from responsibility and ready to explore the world. This is attractive to a small-town girl, whose intelligence and knowledge is alienating to her contemporaries. But it is no more than a flirtation, and when Lyman’s history is revealed, Elma is shocked to find that she has been the object of a planned seduction.

In the end, Inge cannot resist saving Lyman from his own cardinal desires. The ‘‘play within a play,’’ designed as entertainment but appropriated by Lyman as a means of seduction, provides an epiphany for Lyman, who suddenly realizes that he is no young, romantic Romeo. William E. H. Meyer Jr. observes that Dr. Lyman is ‘‘forced to come to terms with his dubious and dark penchant for young girls.’’ The audience is promised that Lyman is about to be reformed of his deviant ways. This resolution is in keeping with the television sitcom model, except that Lyman is the father who resolves all conflict.

As the play concludes, Lyman rejects his past behavior, Grace accepts a twice-weekly sexual tryst in place of love, and Cherie accepts the isolation of a Montana ranch in place of the dance halls of Kansas City. Is any of this love? Or is it the easy resolution that audiences accept? In this sense, the romance between Bo and Cherie fits Inge’s stated intent to present innocent love—except that he is truly the innocent participant.

Bus Stop is enjoyable; it is humorous and entertaining, but to a modern audience, jaded by the depravity of television that focuses on sexual crime, violence, and confession, Inge’s play is innocent flirtation. Even Lyman appears as only disgusting and not depraved when compared to the criminals encountered on the news. Forty years after Bus Stop, Inge reveals himself to be the true innocent romantic.

Source: Sheri E. Metzger, for Drama for Students, Gale, 2000. Metzger is a Ph.D. specializing in literature and drama at the University of New Mexico.

Review of Bus Stop

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A vaudeville of personality, picturesque and vivid: thus might one suggest the flavor and quality of Mr. William Inge’s new play. For in this bleached and seedy café, poised carelessly on a wasteland of snowbound prairies, an American Symposium is mounted; it is the nature of love with which Mr. Inge is concerned. The light of his sensibility flickers with active indolence over the theme, catching its many faces of truth; the director, Harold Clurman—with his special talent for modulation— faultlessly places each of these small private epiphanies in a seamless texture of dramatic experience. Everything is common about the raw matter of ‘‘Bus Stop’’ but the taste and feeling with which it has been elevated to human worth. How delicately drawn, indeed—and played with such rightness and exactitude by Phyllis Love—is the young girl, burgeoning uneasily into love; how subtly, too, does Mr. Inge convey the initial stirrings into dignity of his two major characters: the lumpish, not-yethousebroken cowboy, all bullying rush and bravado, and his soundlessly vapid victim, this night-club hostess with her scrappy and pathetic tags of gentility. The subject could not (in the human sense) be less promising, yet out of such shapeless moral anarchy—only the comic face of which is kept in the foreground—Mr. Inge and Mr. Clurman have extracted the truth of the grotesque, modest and vague, but within its small and limited world, legitimate. And the production bodies forth this accomplishment: with their superbly developed realistic techniques, Kim Stanley and Albert Salmi bring wit and wry tenderness and an interior veracity to these two central roles; indeed, the ensemble performance is a superior illustration of the power and ease with which American players inhabit the theater of realistic conventions. It is superfluous, of course, to note that however gratifying and congenial, this is but one of the major modes of dramatic experience.

Pleasure, then, I have recorded; permit me now a reservation. In a notice of Mr. Inge’s earlier ‘‘Picnic,’’ I observed that his was a talent in which sensibility exceeded the dispositions of the intellect— that is, one in which the power to order and clarify experience was as yet inadequate to the imaginative apprehension of it. Now ‘‘Bus Stop’’ would seem to suggest that Mr. Inge has sought to dissolve the impasse by developing a vein of domestic comedy, a genre for which he has most considerable gifts. One may commend the resolution of the problem, yet there has been a concomitant loss: what I miss in ‘‘Bus Stop’’ is that numinous sense of personality, a bleakly exquisite poetry of solitude which fleetingly brushes the grey actualities of ‘‘Picnic’’ and ‘‘Come Back, Little Sheba.’’ The imaging here is as secure and lucid as in the earlier plays, but there is, behind it, a diminished pressure of intellectual and emotional energy. Mr. Inge is thus limited in his attempt to deal increasingly with serious experience; to its evaluation, he can bring only standards which, however humane, are ultimately provincial. (Would not, for example, a more penetrating mind have reached to the truth of the essential disastrousness of love in America?) Again: a haze of sentimentality obscures those characters which, as it were, sustain the moral weight of the play: the complaisant mistress of the café (a good performance by Elaine Stritch, though excessively mannered), and the alcoholic middleaged intellectual. Anthony Ross’ brilliant control of the latter role mutes its slushy banalities, but surely there is something disturbing symptomatic and how typically American, in the fact that the Socrates of this particular agape should be a boozy professor of literature, whose irregular amorous interests have more than occasionally invited the serious attention of the local instruments of law?

Source: Richard Hayes. Review of Bus Stop in the Commonweal, Vol. LXII, No. 1, April 8, 1995, p. 14.

Bus Stop: American Eye vs. Small-Town Ear

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Bus Stop—both the play and the movie—is an attempt to dramatize what is pre-eminently undramatic, viz., the evolution of small-town hyperverbality into American hypervisuality. This shift in sensibility or revolution in ‘‘taste’’ is an extremely difficult phenomenon to depict—the playwright, William Inge, here choosing to employ the more demonstrable theme of love/sexuality in order to express or encompass this New-World evolution. Indeed, so vital but protean and mercurial is this problem of the shift from ear to eye, from traditional authority to self-reliance, that such well-known anthologists of American culture as Blair, Stewart, Hornberger and Miller, in their The Literature of the United States, have missed the contribution of Inge altogether and have dismissed his work as ‘‘popular’’ and ‘‘lacking depth.’’ Yet, Bus Stop remains a profound portrait of the Emersonian/American ‘‘transparent eyeball’’ in transit—the superseding of ‘‘small-town’’ values for Ishmael’s passion ‘‘to see the world’’ or the Stevensesque ephebe’s command to rise above any municipality in order to ‘‘see the sun again with an ignorant eye.’’ All the characters of Bus Stop—from Bo to Grace—are confronted with this American hypervisual rite de passage, no matter whether they are ‘‘lucky’’ or ‘‘unlucky’’ in love.

Act I, then, introduces us to the ‘‘bus stop’’ or small-town restaurant where the hyperverbal smalltown crew and also the little band of travelers must confront the wider concerns of hypervisual America— where such clichés as ‘‘March comes in like a Lion’’ or the later-employed famous Shakespearean rhetoric of the Old World must face the New-World ‘‘great window’’ and be still before ‘‘the sweeping wind and flying snow.’’ Not for nothing does the curtain rise upon Elma standing and ‘‘looking out the large plate-glass window, awed by the fury of the elements’’; and not for nothing are the first words uttered directed to the play’s ensuing dangerous command—‘‘You should come over here and look out, to see the way the wind is blowing things all over town’’ (p. 6, italics mine). Grace, however, prefers to concern herself with the tele-phone—not tele-vision—and she will be one of those characters destined, at the play’s end, to fail to grasp the necessity to transcend local talk via national vision.

The storm itself, of course, represents the awesome and ungovernable power of America itself— what Emerson called ‘‘Nature’’ as he was confronted by the god-like power of the wilderness wherein he felt himself both diminished and aggrandized: ‘‘I am nothing; I see all; . . . I am part or parcel of God.’’ Here, Will, the ‘‘local’’ authority or smalltown sheriff, can only fume at his own impotence: ‘‘A storm like this makes me mad. . . . It’s just like all the elements had lost their reason . . . I like to see things in order’’ (p. 8). In the face of this awesome display of power observed through the ‘‘large plateglass window,’’ all Will can do is fall back upon the above cliché of how ‘‘March comes in like a Lion.’’ And all Elma, the young waitress, can do is rely upon parental security: ‘‘Nights like this, I’m glad I have a home to go to’’ (p. 6). Yet, indeed, in the early lines that Elma speaks—‘‘I shouldn’t think anyone would take a trip tonight unless he absolutely had to’’ (p. 6)—we find the primary thrust or ironic ‘‘theme’’ of the drama—the absolutely necessary hypervisual rite de passage which every American is forced to make at some point in his or her life. Walt Whitman put it thus: ‘‘You must travel that road for yourself.’’ And Emerson clari- fied the nature of that journey with the reprimand: ‘‘Do we fear lest we should outsee nature and God, and drink truth dry!’’ (italics mine). Here the passengers and the small-town locals are rendered equals by the storm—by the irrational but ultimately vivifying power of our ‘‘genius in America, with tyrannous eye.’’

As I noted above, the quintessential shift from small-town word to American vision is most diffi- cult to ‘‘portray’’ and certainly cannot be accomplished by means of any traditional or Aristotelian notions of plot, character or even theme. Thus Inge has chosen the more ‘‘popular’’ topic of human love and sexuality in order to ‘‘suggest’’ the deeper dilemma going on within the restaurant or what Hemingway called his small café, ‘‘a clean, welllighted place.’’ Here Man and Woman come to act out the ‘‘play within a play,’’ the voyeur and exhibitionist coming to terms with the essence of American reality and passion. Here, then, it is most important that the ‘‘love affair’’ at the center of the drama be that between Bo and Cherie, between Mr. and Miss America—between two ‘‘beautiful people’’ who can represent ‘‘amber waves of grain’’ and ‘‘purple mountains’ majesty’’ or the fruitfulness of our Emersonian ‘‘incomparable materials’’ from ‘‘sea to shining sea.’’ The sexual encounter between Carl and Grace or the flirtation between Dr. Lyman and Elma are also important as variations on the theme of voyeur and exhibitionist or of genuine and spurious love; but the driving force in the play is the pursuit of seductively-dressed and prettily-blond Cherie by Bo—another Brom Bones in hot pursuit of his buxom Miss America, Katrina Van Tassel. Of course, what Bo has to learn about the actual capture of his ‘‘voluptuous’’ hypervisual ideal forms the tension of the second and third acts. But the quest of the Montana rancher for the Ozark beauty is the sine qua non of Bus Stop—and, indeed, of the whole of American literature, from Cooper’s Hawkeye to Vonnegut’s more ironic Deadeye Dick. These small-town lovers will have to discover in their romance the more serious problem of the American Dream— of what it means to be either a spot-lighted Hester Prynne or a spotlighted Miss U.S.A. or even a spot-lighted chanteuse under the almost unbearable scrutiny of ‘‘the public gaze.’’ It does no good for Cherie to exclaim, ‘‘Is there some place I kin hide?’’ (p. 9). For the Woman, there is no escape except into the hypervisual maturity and responsibility of ‘‘America is a poem in our eyes.’’ For the Man, there is no conquest except by the selfabnegation which confesses the utter destitution of the ‘‘transparent eyeball’’: ‘‘I just never realized . . . a gal might not . . . love me’’ (p. 29).

Act II begins with the ‘‘courting’’ of Elma by Dr. Lyman and also with Dr. Lyman’s jaded talk about ‘‘higher education.’’ Although this dialogue seems almost too peripheral to the main thrust of the play, this commentary about love and wisdom is really essential to what follows. Here, ideal love is to be neither the seduction of the naively young by the old (‘‘people might not understand’’); nor is it to be the simple abduction or rape of the Woman by the Man (‘‘Ya cain’t force a gal to marry ya,’’ p. 33). Somehow there has to be an elevation of love wherein both Man and Woman can feel themselves participating in a destiny transcending ‘‘what ya might call a sexual attraction’’ (p. 34). Hawthorne called this the long-awaited ‘‘brighter period’’ in Male-Female relations: and Emerson called it the ‘‘sublime vision’’ that elevates the ‘‘chaste’’ soul. Perhaps Father Edward Taylor, the early Puritan divine, summed it up best by indicating the merger of sublime sexuality with divine hypervision when he shouted—‘‘Oh! if his Glory ever kiss thine Eye.’’ In Bo, this is the impulse behind his ‘‘most fervent love’’ for his Miss America—‘‘Ain’t she beautiful, Virge?’’ (p. 47)—but an impulsive adoration that must find itself molded by patience and tenderness or by what Bo reveals in confessing to Cherie that ‘‘I jest couldn’t kill them ‘sweet li’l deers with the sad eyes’’’ (p. 43). Here Bo is beginning to learn something of the congenial power of what we might call ‘‘The America Religion of Vision.’’

Of course, too, the most ‘‘dramatic’’ moments of Bus Stop come here in Act 2, in the ‘‘floor show’’ and in the fight between Bo and Will. When Elma suggests the display of talents, Dr. Lyman erroneously supposes it to be an idea ‘‘straight from Chaucer’’ (p. 40). Rather, this is an American ‘‘demonstration’’ and has as its central purpose the hypervisual display of Cherie in her costume, not the hyperverbal recitation of Shakespeare. Elma and Dr. Lyman may repeat some of the lines from Romeo and Juliet, but this only serves to reveal the distance between Shakespearean rhetoric and American vision. Juliet-Elma may well be ‘‘like the sun’’; but this is the New-World Revolutionary Light wherein, as Jonathan Edwards noted, the former laws of nature were superseded: ‘‘The Sun shall rise in the West.’’ Shakespearean language, with its ‘‘winged messenger of heaven,’’ can no longer be the American model and is impotent, like Dr. Lyman, in the face of the New-World ‘‘great window’’ and ‘‘great awakening’’: Emerson writes—‘‘When I see the daybreak I am not reminded of these Homeric, or Shakespearean, or Miltonic, or Chaucerian, pictures’’; nor of ‘‘Pope and Johnson and Addison [who] write as if they had never seen the face of the country’’ (italics mine). However, Dr. Lyman is enough of an ‘‘American Scholar’’ to at least realize something of his aesthetic, as well as moral, failure in asserting that he can’t ‘‘continue this meaningless little act!’’—when he realizes that he has betrayed the American Dream and thus his ‘‘name . . . is hateful’’ to himself (p. 46).

Bo, of course, as the All-American ‘‘hero,’’ immediately senses the falsity of the Shakespearean enactment, culminating in Dr. Lyman’s breakdown: ‘‘If thass the way to make love . . . I’m gonna give up’’ (p. 46). Instead, Bo attempts to win his Miss America by the only means he knows—by physical battle with the small-town authority, the sheriff. It matters little that he is finally whipped and taken to jail; in fact, this ‘‘humiliation’’ of lover and artist is necessary to demonstrate to the Woman that the Man’s ego is sublimated, at her feet. This spectacle of battle and defeat, in fact, gives the Woman the opportunity to experience the voyeur’s role, to feel the power of observation: Cherie tells Bo ‘‘. . . and if I was a man, I’d beat the livin’ daylights out of ya, and thass what some man’s gonna do some day, and when it happens, I hope I’m there to see’’ (p. 47, italics mine). During the fight itself, Elma, Cherie and Grace all ‘‘hurry to the window to watch’’ (p. 48). Moreover, in the midst of all this exhibitionism and voyeurism, Dr. Lyman points to the crucial evolution occurring—the aesthetic American Revolution generated by New-World pioneers and ‘‘smalltown folk’’:

It takes strong men and women to love . . . People big enough to grow with their love and live inside a whole, wide new dimension (p. 49, final italics mine).

D. H. Lawrence called this the new consciousness arising upon the continent of America and no where else—a cultural upheaval which would cause condescending Europeans (and American critics) to ‘‘open new eyes" (italics mine). Emily Dickinson simply called it our ‘‘new Circumference’’ or ‘‘new Equation given’’—our ‘‘very Lunacy of Light.’’ Dr. Lyman here rightly laments his inability to give his ‘‘most private self to another’’ (p. 49); for this ‘‘self’’ is none other than the ‘‘transparent eyeball’’ and its reduction or elevation of the other to hypervision. The most profound and ironic truth that Bus Stop has to offer is Dr. Lyman’s assertion that ‘‘I’ve nothing in my heart for a true woman’’ (p. 50, italics mine)—the same ‘‘nothing’’ that drove James’s John Marcher into a loveless existence as ‘‘the man to whom nothing was to happen,’’ as this voyeur cannot ‘‘love’’ but only ‘‘see.’’ Unless American hypervision can unite Man and Woman into an idealization wherein both feel power and worth—both experience ‘‘sexuality’’ and ‘‘tenderness’’—the only result can be the loneliness which encompasses all the characters, from time to time, in Bus Stop. This ‘‘theme,’’ of course, as has been insisted upon above, is no easy matter for any playwright or ‘‘word-smith’’ to incorporate into either words or what Blair, et al., have called Inge’s ‘‘popular drama.’’ Hence the ‘‘small town’’ with its ‘‘small talk’’ must finally find itself without anything to say—what Emerson intuited in declaring that ‘‘speech becomes less and ceases in a nobler silence.’’ O Say, then, Can YOU See why America has no lyrical Lion or growling Bear as its national symbol—but the ‘‘eagle-eyed’’ American Eagle of 6X vision! O Say, Can YOU See why the American Liberty Bell ominously cracked upon its first ringing— a breach with the courtly muses of Europe and a disfunction which the hyperverbal English would no doubt have immediately repaired, while the Americans left the bell in silence and are now quite content merely to go and view this national symbol. O Say, Can YOU See why the American harbor greets its visitors and immigrants with no chiming ‘‘Big Ben,’’ cognizant of lyricality and time— but with the upheld torch of Miss Hypervisual American Liberty and her ‘‘Battle Hymn,’’ ‘‘Mine EYES Have SEEN the Glory!’’

Act III, then, finds the small-town restaurant under the vital, but quiet, ‘‘dawn’s early light’’: Inge directs us to the following—

Early morning . . . the storm has cleared, and outside the window we see the slow dawning, creeping above the distant hills, revealing a landscape all in peaceful white (p. 52).

Bo, addressed by the authority of the sheriff, simply says: ‘‘I don’t feel like talkin’’’ (p. 53). However, when later pressed into ‘‘apologizing’’ and musing upon his lonesome homestead, Bo has not forgotten his ‘‘beautiful angel’’; he tells Virgil ‘‘I ain’t int’rested in no school marm. . . . I want Cherry’’ (p. 57). Although Cherie was a ‘‘chanteuse’’ who sang of ‘‘That Old Black Magic’’ of Word and Music, her real attraction for Bo is her appealing vision; he tells her, ‘‘You was so purty, and ya seemed so kinda warmhearted and sweet’’ (p. 59). In the face of this ‘‘tender’’ hypervisual confession and kiss, and in the face of her realization that Bo is offering her the chance to participate in the regenerating of the ‘‘Virgin Land’’—Bo tells her that he’s ‘‘virgin enough’’ for both of them— Cherie can be ‘‘won’’ by this adoring Brom Bones of Montana: she encourages him, ‘‘Bo—ya think you really did love me?’’ (p. 59). Bo can then fully possess his ‘‘pearl of great price,’’ conceived in the spot-light or what Hawthorne called ‘‘A Flood of Sunshine’’: Bo holds her ‘‘cautiously, as though holding a precious object that was still a little strange to him’’ (p. 60). Even Dr. Lyman is now, in the ‘‘dawn’s early light,’’ forced to come to terms with his dubious and dark penchant for young girls: he no longer wishes to seduce Elma but engages in the aesthetically and morally elevating experience of having simply enjoyed her presence and friendship— of having seen her for what she really is.

From now on, then, all the travelers from this small-town depot will find the road ‘‘clear’’ but ‘‘awful slick’’—what Robert Frost called the dangerous ‘‘road not taken’’ into American hypervisuality. Emerson referred to it as the painful challenge to ‘‘bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.’’ From now on, Cherie will find consolation in lonely Montana from the fact that her ‘‘love’’ has transcended small-town values for American fortitude and adventure. Here, Inge has simply given Bo and Cherie the direction: ‘‘They . . . embrace. All look’’ (p. 63)—the only time that all the characters have been united in a single meaningful act. In Moby- Dick, Melville had expanded this direction via the New-World paradigm: ‘‘I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.’’ Moreover, from now on, Elma will find her status and self-esteem enhanced by the fact that a man—even a questionable one—has found her beautiful and hypervisually valuable: ‘‘Just think, he wanted to make love to me’’ (p. 66). However, from now on, Virgil and his guitar will be ‘‘left out in the cold’’—bereft of that Love which offers the highest American consummation in vision, not music. And, finally, Grace will continue to long for, but not receive, the ‘‘true marriage’’ of exhibitionist and voyeur under the aegis of our ‘‘genius in America, with tyrannous eye.’’ All she can do is to ‘‘[cast] her eyes tiredly over the establishment’’ (p. 67). This is the ‘‘establishment’’ of ‘‘America the Hypervisual’’—the small-town locus where all American buses must finally stop for illumination, where all hyperverbal midnights of the soul are revivified in the cold, clear and hard-won ‘‘dawn’s early light.’’ The curtain merely falls on an empty stage awaiting the next convoy of what Emerson called our ‘‘ foolish traveling Americans.’’

O Say, Can YOU See why Bus Stop will have to be reread—not as ‘‘lacking depth’’ but as profoundly indicating the supersession of the small town and its hyperverbal traditions by the broader hypervisual concerns of what Walt Whitman called the dazzling panorama of ‘‘these United States.’’

Source: William E. H. Meyer, Jr. ‘‘Bus Stop: American Eye vs. Small-Town Ear’’ in Modern Drama, Vol. XXXV, no. 3, September, 1992, pp. 444–50.


Critical Overview