The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Russell Banks makes characterization central to his theme in his examination of the impact of a trauma on the lives of ordinary people. Expressed in the first-person point of view, each narrative begins with a statement that immediately strikes a tone offering an important insight into the speaker’s character. By using parallel treatment of the characters, the author highlights their differences, differences that explain—at least to the reader, if not to the other characters—their different reactions to the tragedy of the bus accident and their decisions either to support or reject the lawsuit.

Dolores Driscoll, the bus driver, begins, “A dog—it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw.” The bewildered, anxious tone established by these contradictory words is continued throughout what sounds like a response to an interviewer’s questions. The interviewer, though, is Dolores’s conscience, responding to her own anxiety and to what she knows others must be thinking: that her negligence caused the accident. She provides a personal history of loving care for others: her sons, her invalid husband, the children on her bus. However, her last words describe the bus accident as she experienced it. Regardless of her refusal to accept responsibility for the accident, Dolores knows that fourteen children died in a bus she was driving.

Billy Ansel, a Vietnam veteran, a widower, the father of twins killed in the accident, and the only...

(The entire section is 459 words.)