Themes and Meanings
Friendship, trust, intimacy, and the need for protection from emotional injuries are pervasive elements in John Sayles’s story. Each of its women has fallen in love with a man whose crimes have made her life harsh and problematic. Like their male counterparts, the women are mistrustful of, yet finally dependent on, one another. Lourdes excuses the act of taking a newcomer under her wing by claiming boredom, but through Pam, sees her own first visit four years earlier. She too had feared that the other women would be radically different, former convicts themselves and capable of the prison violence they constantly discuss. Pam, like Lourdes, however, will eventually adapt.
The relationship between Lee and Delphine is the closest to an actual friendship, although Delphine is African American and Lee is another goldilocks. Ethnic barriers here are not strict but still exist. Whites, Hispanics, and blacks occupy the front, middle, and rear sections of the bus, respectively. Sharing their careers, Lee and Delphine discover more common ground as they pass the time comparing notes on marriage and disastrous honeymoons, and knowing the emptiness of it, they continually promise to socialize as couples when their husbands return to them. It appears that Lee and Delphine could enjoy a more conventional friendship were it not for the strict racial barriers dividing their husbands. It is as if they are dutybound by marriage to mirror the antagonism that exists between their husbands.
That Lee and Delphine can heal their rift is a small triumph for all the passengers. As Mrs. Tucker has shown them a glimpse of the austere road ahead, Lee and Delphine prove that they are not so accountable for their husbands’ mistakes as it seems. Although their men must adhere to an aberrant code of prison ethics, it is no fault of the wives, and the price the women must pay need not be as steep.
Pam and Lourdes appear to be on the road to forming a bond similar to Lee and Delphine’s, even with the notion that white-versus-Hispanic violence is as possible between their husbands as the white-versus-black violence between Lee’s and Delphine’s. These sisterly bonds are finally stronger than those of their long-distance marriages. As Lourdes suggests, “If there’s life in hell this is what the field trips are like.”