Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Angelou re-creates stereotypes that are emblematic of different segments of the black and white populations. Robert is a good, responsible, caring young man who has been “steady going up.” Since the death of his parents he has taken responsibility for the family by learning a trade, making himself a master mechanic, and rearing his younger sister. In looking after her interests, he has assumed the role of a father figure and best friend (as Buddy, her nickname for him, connotes). He has been a kind of guardian angel for her, helping her to attend nursing school and heading north to get her when he hears that she is ill.

Robert is a fine man physically as well as a person of good moral character. His tall physique makes it hard for him to get comfortable on the cramped seats of the bus, and when the elderly woman speaks to him, he is polite and deferential to her in response. The woman, meanwhile, also represents an important social type in the black community. She is the respected elder, what sociologists have called an “other mother,” in reference to women who care for all the children in their neighborhoods as if they were their own, and who look out for the welfare of young black people even if they are strangers, offering advice and wisdom. Her religious faith, part of the paradigm of the respected elder, is represented in the Bible that she has on her lap. Her warning to Robert about the white men is based on a cognizance of what can happen to young black men at the hands of white racists. The two vile white men embody white southern lower-class male racism—what the elderly black woman terms trash coming from trash.

Angelou creates a tension that grows throughout the story between Robert’s goodness (manifested in his selfless concern for his sister, his polite respect for the elderly woman, and his love for his fiancé) and the...

(The entire section is 763 words.)