Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The surface simplicity of “Greyhound People”—its plain prose style and lack of flamboyant characters and action—should not conceal the fact that the author is an artful and sophisticated storyteller. Her skill is noticeable especially in word choice and narrative structure.

Two related examples may serve to illustrate Alice Adams’s skillful use of language. The first two pages of the story are filled with nouns and modifiers—“frightened,” “anxiety,” “fear,” “angry,” “scared,” “apprehensively,” “mysterious,” “senseless”—that convey not the quality of her surroundings so much as the narrator’s fearfulness and lack of confidence. Three sections later, the same sort of diction appears but with a difference. In one paragraph persons in the bus station are described as being “frightened-looking,” “belligerent-looking,” and “dangerous-looking” (emphasis added), the “looking” implying that the narrator has realized by this point—subconsciously, to be sure—that these are impressions only, as dependent on the attitude of the observer as on the actual qualities of the observed. By the end of the story, the use of such “fearful” word choice is almost totally absent from the prose.

The change in diction over the course of the story emphasizes the story’s artful structure. In general, two types of rhythms are evident in the structure: the interplay between the narrator’s experiences with the bus people and her experience with Hortense, and the interplay between her meditation on the bus people—not only her experiences with them but also her understanding of them—and her meditation on her own condition. The two rhythms move toward two climaxes: one in which the bus people “win out” over Hortense, so to speak, and one in which the narrator concludes that her own condition is related to her understanding of the bus people. Ultimately, the two rhythms and their two climaxes are interrelated, both showing the narrator’s growth toward maturity and independence.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Special Education
It was not until the 1960s that groups sought federal assistance that would provide free services in the...

(The entire section is 1277 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

First-Person Point of View
This short story is told in the first-person point of view with little dialogue presented throughout....

(The entire section is 944 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Imagine that you could buy a bus pass and travel to any city or place in California. Where would you go? Choose at least four places and...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Adams was often compared to the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was more famous for his novels than his short stories, even though he was an...

(The entire section is 287 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Adams, Alice, ‘‘Greyhound People,’’ in The Stories of Alice Adams, Knopf, 2002.

Andersen, Beth E., Review of The Stories of Alice Adams, in Library Journal, Vol. 127, No. 13, August 2002, p. 147.

Applebome, Peter, ‘‘Alice Adams, 72, Writer of Deft Novels,’’ in New York Times, May 28, 1999, p. B11.

Fisher, Ann H., Review of The Last Lovely City, in Library Journal, Vol. 124, No. 3, February 15, 1999, p. 186.

Frank, Michael, ‘‘Graceful Collages and Mysterious Pairings: The Stories of Alice Adams,’’ in Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2002, p. R5.

Jacobs, Rita D., Review of The Last Lovely City, in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 4, Autumn 1999, p. 735.

Review of The Stories of Alice Adams, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 249, No. 35, September 2, 2002, p. 50.

Further Reading
Burroway, Janet, and Susan Weinberg, Writing Fiction, Longman, 2003. If after reading Adams’s work you find yourself interested in attempting fiction writing, this is one of the best books to invest in. This is the book that many writing teachers use to help explain elements of the story such as point of view, setting, plot, and so forth.

Charters, Ann, The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, Bedford Books, 1999. There are 124 different short stories from around the world in this collection, offering the reader an excellent sampling of contemporary as well as classic selections. Also included are short biographies of the writers and commentary on their work.

De Angelis, Barbara, Confidence: Finding It and Keeping It, Hay House, 1998. De Angelis seems to have a knack for helping people speak out for themselves. Her books are all bestsellers. So, if one is curious about what it might feel like to lack confidence or is wondering how to overcome it oneself, this book might inspire one to spread one’s wings and fly, just as Adams’s main character did.

Updike, John, ed., The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Three of Adams’s short stories are contained in this national bestseller, as are a wide range of excellent authors’ works. This popular book has been called one of the richest collections of short stories of the twentieth century.