Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues Characters
by Harriette Gillem Robinet

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Truth is the major theme of Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues. Twelve-year-old Alfa Merryfield is the protagonist who seeks to solve a mystery while bolstering his sense of pride in himself and his family. Named Alpha by his mother, which represents the first Greek letter, his name was often misspelled as Alfa which he accepted because he thought it was odd "being a second child named first." Ironically, Alfa's correct name truly identifies his role. Keenly aware that he is the man of the house, Alfa feels responsible to earn money to pay for necessities or pawn treasured belongings to insure that his great-grandmother and sister will not become homeless. He is intelligent, resourceful, curious, and creative. Like his great-grandmother, Alfa is tall, resulting in people assuming he is older than he actually is. His maturity enables him to plan his future and pursue his ambitions to become a doctor, stressing that "I was a scientist" when explaining his approach to comprehending life. He initiated finding, applying for, and securing his job at the grocery. Alfa wears a bow tie and tries to stay neat to present a professional image.

Alfa values education and considers it the means to escape poverty and become autonomous and free from oppression. He relies on the scientific method to solve the mysteries which confront him. His desire to learn is a theme throughout the book as Alfa develops his own intellect by studying books and gains knowledge from his experiences and the wisdom of his great-grandmother, sister, and other trusted adults such as his teacher. Alfa displays a variety of behaviors depending with whom he is interacting. He is sometimes submissive and cooperative to appease racist whites in order to avoid punishment and possible injury. Alone, he is independent and persistent. With his sister and friends, Alfa explores his surroundings and is assertive.

Embracing nonviolence, Alfa aspires to emulate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ability to respond peacefully and not hatefully to white supremacy. He writes and sings "the Alabamy bus-rider blues," altering the lyrics to express he has "a bad case of rent money blues." Alfa frets that his family will be unable to pay their rent which is due in a few days. Someone has been taking the hard-earned money he and his sister and great-grandmother earn from their hiding places. Although emotional nurturing is ample at home and within the African- American community, the availability of food and sustenance are ever present concerns. The Merryfields often patch together meals from various food sources and work at diverse tasks only to earn low wages.

Uncertainty and worry are themes that Robinet develops. Alfa despairs that the family is unable to use banks because of segregationist policies and that they are stuck in a cycle which perpetuates the rent dilemma and prevents them from accumulating savings. He is determined to challenge white supremacy and change the "System," which is a character unto itself in this novel because it permeates everything and everyone. Racism is a basic theme of this book. Alfa proactively seeks to resolve his problems by facing them directly. He refuses to submit to his fears and logically assesses evidence. Alfa is not in denial and is cognizant of reality.

Limping because of a sore knee hurt in a fight with white bullies, Alfa also has a cut lip and injured eye which represents the stresses and resilience of the bus boycotters. Even though he is weakened, he will prevail. He emphasizes the theme of unity in which all Montgomery blacks will boycott the city buses until they can sit where they choose without being removed. Alfa wants to heal society, not provoke further strife. He capably mends wounded animals, setting a pigeon's broken leg and sawing off a wounded leg to save a dog's life which foreshadows the leg wounds he suffers when library guards beat him before Officer Newton offers long-denied remedies to fix Alfa's problems. Exoneration of false...

(The entire section is 2,358 words.)