Style and Technique
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.