Greyhound People

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Greyhound People

Alice Adams

"Greyhound People," which many critics refer to as one of Alice Adams's most popular stories, was inspired by the author's experiences on Greyhound buses, which she rode to get from her home to the University of California at Davis, where she taught for a brief period of time. This short story, originally published in the New Yorker in 1981, was recently published in the highly acclaimed The Stories of Alice Adams (2002), with "Greyhound People" being singled out as one of the best stories in the collection. (Note that this story may have been previously published but the exact date could not be found or confirmed.)

The long commute from home to work and the bits of conversations that the author heard during the ride must have stirred Adams's imagination. The story begins with a simple question, but one with possible complex consequences: What would happen if one day the protagonist got on the wrong bus? Where would she end up? What would she learn? And how might the experience change her? Greyhound buses, after all, are but distant cousins of city buses that rarely drive over city limit speeds, stop every two or three blocks, and never cross the somewhat barren lands that lie between two metropolitan areas. To get on the wrong Greyhound bus could have dire consequences, or, in the least, significant complications. And this is what Adams explores. In the process, the protagonist learns to loosen her grip on the stale routine that has become her life and to enjoy herself.

In a review of The Stories of Alice Adams, Michael Frank of the Los Angeles Times classified "Greyhound People" as falling into the category of "snapshot" stories—a sort of picture of life or as Frank put it, a kind of "collage." This reviewer found that rather than building suspense in many of her stories, Adams tended to create sketches. In specific reference to "Greyhound People," Frank wrote, "You come away from the story feeling that you have been taken somewhere—not enlightened so much, not shaken up—merely shown." Then Frank adds: "Adams is a great shower of people, of place, of social moments and moments of intimacy." In other words, "Greyhound People," is a great vehicle for taking an enjoyable ride.

Author Biography

Alice Adams, award-wining author of hundreds of short stories and several novels, had to overcome continual challenges to her writing career until she finally published her first novel at the age of forty. Born on August 14, 1926, to southern parents, Nicholson and Agatha Adams, in the then-small town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Adams soon discovered that in her generation, women, like children, were to be seen but not heard. Despite the fact that she managed to be accepted at the prestigious Radcliffe College at the age of sixteen, she was advised by school professionals to give up her attempts to become a writer and instead focus on getting married. Adams followed this advice rather halfheartedly and ended up unhappily wedded to Mark Linenthal Jr. one year after she graduated from Radcliffe with a bachelor of arts degree. The marriage was unsuccessful, as were Adams's attempts to get published during those years. The marriage did, however, produce the couple's only child, Peter, born in 1951. But it would not be until after her divorce in 1958 that Adams would finally achieve her dream of becoming a published writer.

After struggling through a difficult marriage and divorce, Adams's life did not get much easier. She was a single mother who had to find a way of paying the bills and putting food on the table. Although she continued to write, she could not support herself and her child without taking on menial jobs. While working as a secretary taxed her energies, the low-grade jobs she held provided her with interesting material for future stories. Adams gained first-hand knowledge about the hardships and prejudices that women faced in the years before, and during, women's fight for equality. It was during these years that Adams almost gave up writing. She second-guessed her abilities because of the many rejections she received. At one point, she was so depressed she sought the advice of a psychiatrist who suggested that she forget about ever publishing another word. But then, in the late 1960s, Adams's long hours at her writing desk were finally compensated. The publishing world, in particular the New Yorker, began paying attention to her work. In the years that followed, Adams's writing, especially her short stories, began appearing everywhere.

Although she would go on to write several novels, it was Adams's short stories that drew the most attention. She would later admit that the short story form was her favorite; and this affinity of hers would shine through her work. She received so many O. Henry Awards for her short stories that in 1982 she was granted the O. Henry Special Award for Continuing Achievement, a feat only two other authors have accomplished. Her work also appeared in the publication the Best American Short Stories several times. In 1992, a few years before her death, Adams was presented with the Academy and Institute Award in Literature.

At the age of seventy-two, after a long history of publishing, Adams died in her sleep on May 27, 1999, in San Francisco. The posthumously published and highly acclaimed collection, The Stories of Alice Adams (2002), included the short story "Greyhound People," which has been singled out as one of the best stories in the collection.

Plot Summary

Adams begins her story "Greyhound People" as she typically begins most of her stories—by immediately stating the problem or the challenge that the protagonist is facing. In the first sentence of the story, the narrator relates: "As soon as I got on the bus, in the Greyhound station in Sacramento, I had a frightened sense of being in the wrong place." With this fear looming over her, she takes the closest seat to the driver that she can find. Unfortunately, as soon as she settles into it, a man angrily claims the seat as his own. The narrator relinquishes the seat to him and steps back a few paces to find a substitute.

Once settled, the narrator focuses on the people and the conversations around her. She notices that the anger of the man who made her change seats has subsided. He talks to two women across the aisle from him as if he were a friend of theirs, happy to see them. Meanwhile the narrator sits alone. She wonders, again, if she has taken the wrong bus but does not take any action to find out. Rather, she watches the bus driver enter the bus and take his seat. Instead of questioning him, she wonders why he does not collect tickets.

As the bus pulls out of the station, a child with a very loud voice begins asking a lot of nonsensical questions. "Mom is that a river we're crossing? Mom do you see that tree?" The questions are not only loud, they are non-stop. And eventually a black woman in the front of the bus becomes irritated by them. She tells the little boy to be quiet. The boy has a startled look on his face when he starts to add new questions to his repertoire. "Mom does she mean me? Mom who is that?" The narrator admits that she silently applauded the woman who told the boy to be quiet. Then a white woman walks down the aisle and confronts the black woman, telling her that her son was "retarded" and his constant questioning was the way "he tests reality." The mother then adds: "You mustn't make fun of him like that." When the mother returns to her son, his questions begin again.

The narrator, although somewhat embarrassed by her lack of sensitivity about the boy, found the taunting by the black woman to be a bit appealing. She liked the sound of defiance in the black woman's voice. This is when the narrator turns around to observe the people on the bus and notices that she, a white woman, was in a definite minority. Most of the passengers were black, which surprises her.

In the next section of the story, the narrator provides a glimpse of the scenery that is passing her by through the window. She describes the rolling hills and farmland and a view of the distant bay of water. In the middle of her description, the bus turns off the freeway, making the narrator fully realize that her fears were true. She was not on the San Francisco express bus. The bus would be making three stops: Vallejo, Oakland, and lastly San Francisco. The narrator sighs. At least the bus was going to San Francisco. The worst of her mistake was that she would be late. Her roommate, Hortense, who had volunteered to pick her up, would probably be worried about her. But that could be easily mended.

When the bus pulls into the station in Vallejo, the seat partner of the black woman who told the young boy with all the questions to be quiet stands up and turns to the back. "And you, you just shut up!" she tells the boy. Many people in the bus applaud her. But the narrator does not, even though she admits that she would have liked to."

The narrator provides a small amount of information about herself: she lives in San Francisco and works in a government office there but has been temporarily assigned to duty in a Sacramento office. That is why she is commuting between the two cities. He husband has just recently told her that he was in love with a woman of Japanese descent who works as a nurse. The narrator allowed her husband to keep their apartment because she does not like to argue.

As new passengers board the bus in Vallejo, the narrator notices an extremely large woman walking down the aisle. The woman is big enough to fill two seats, the narrator states, but there are no double seats vacant. The narrator assumes that the woman heads her way because she is very thin and does not therefore take up much room. The woman apologizes for her size and the amount of room she takes up when she sits next to the narrator. They strike up a conversation, one of the few in the whole story.

The bus finally arrives in San Francisco; and as she imagined, the narrator must face her very worried roommate, Hortense. Hortense has insisted on picking up the narrator because the bus station is located in a very seamy part of the city. But she has been waiting for a long time for her late partner. Feelings amended, the two women go home to a lackluster dinner—a chef salad—because Hortense is trying to lose weight.

One morning, the narrator shares a seat with a young woman who is going to Sacramento to work. The narrator suspects that that the woman is from upstate New York, the birthplace of the narrator. When the young woman confirms that this is indeed where she is from, the narrator does not share with the girl that the narrator herself is from the same place. She also hopes that the girl does not provide any more personal information about herself. The narrator would rather keep the relationship on the surface.

Once she arrives in Sacramento, the narrator describes the bus station there. Since it is in Sacramento and many people catch buses to Reno, the narrator comments on the people waiting for the Reno bus, what she refers to as "lines of gamblers."

When she catches the wrong bus for a second time, the narrator knows that Hortense will never believe it was a mistake. The narrator starts to make up excuses to ease Hortense's potential anger but realizes how childish that was. At this moment, the narrator senses the consequences of being so dependent on Hortense. We are both "grown up," she thinks, suggesting that she is beginning to gain some confidence.

As she travels, the narrator notices a young man sleeping across the aisle from her. He stirs her memories of her husband. She then recounts how her marriage fell apart, the signs of which she is just now recognizing. When her bus finally arrives in San Francisco, Hortense is furious and does not allow the narrator to soothe her in any way. When they arrive home, the narrator refers to herself and Hortense as "the odd couple."

The narrator bumps into the young girl from upstate New York again. The girl tells the narrator about a bus pass that she can buy that would allow her not only to go from San Francisco to Sacramento but to anywhere in California. The narrator decides to buy the ticket, which according to her made California seem "limitless." Then the narrator admits that she really does understand how the Greyhound bus station worked. In other words, she knew where she had to go in order to catch the bus she intended to catch, and if she got on the wrong bus at that point, it would be on purpose. She is tempted to go into a restaurant and order a milk-shake. However, since Hortense has put both of them on a diet, the narrator feels a bit guilty about having the ice cream drink. The narrator realizes that her feelings are ridiculous, since she does not need to lose weight and can actually afford to gain some. So she orders the milkshake. While she is drinking it, the black man, who had ordered her (rather gruffly) to vacate his seat on the bus at the beginning of the story, walks up to her table and asks how she is doing. With these three events (buying the All-California bus pass, drinking the milkshake, and being recognized by a man), the narrator says "something remarkable" has happened. She is beginning to think for herself, understand her emotions, and open up to the people around her.


Handsome Black Man

The handsome black man enters the story at the very beginning. He arrives on the bus just after the narrator and demands that she get out of his seat. The narrator feels this man is rude but obeys his orders nonetheless. She had sat in that particular bus seat because she felt more secure sitting close to the bus driver, but she gives up her security in order to avoid confronting this man. The handsome black man represents all men in this story, at least from the point of view of the narrator. She gives in to men, ignoring her own needs. She later watches this man as he demonstrates his softer side; but this side is not for the narrator's benefit but rather for two other women. This man reappears at the end of the story, after the narrator has made up her mind to change her life. Having done this, the man enters the restaurant as the narrator is drinking her milkshake. He walks over to her table and asks how she is doing. With this greeting, the narrator feels flattered. This man remembered her. Not only did he recognize her, in the narrator's mind, he is also, in his own way, apologizing for having been so rude to her in the beginning of the story. He represents the narrator's revised opinion of herself and her relationship to men.


Hortense is the narrator's roommate. When the narrator is divorced, Hortense invites the narrator to live with her. Hortense is an overweight, nurturing woman, who worries about the narrator. She insists on picking her up from the bus station because the station is located in a bad section of the city. But she has little patience when the narrator keeps coming in late. She becomes so nervous about the situation that she is short with the narrator, brushing off the narrator's attempts to soothe her. She is also overly protective of the narrator's health, confusing her own excessive eating habits with the narrator's. The narrator is very thin and yet Hortense insists that the narrator eat only a salad for dinner, for example. Although the narrator appreciates the assistance that Hortense offers her, she realizes that she can only stay with Hortense on a temporary basis.


The narrator never gives her name, only using the pronoun "I" throughout the narrative of this short story. She works in San Francisco as a statistician in a government office that deals with unemployment; but she has been temporarily sent to Sacramento for ten weeks. This is why she commutes between the two cities and why she is on a Greyhound bus every workday. She is recently divorced and temporarily living with Hortense, a woman who fusses over her. The narrator admits that she stays with Hortense because of her "sheer dependency."

The narrator appears to be a woman who allows circumstances to navigate her through life without her making definitive choices. She questions events, such as when a bus driver appears to take two tickets from her instead of just one, but she keeps her questions to herself. She admits that she does not like confrontation. That is also why she allowed her husband to keep their apartment. She did not have it in her to fight for it. She is an observer of life. And that is the role that she plays out in this story. She observes the people around her, connecting with them almost entirely inside her head, seldom actually saying anything to anyone. When someone does open up to her, she makes a point of not asking questions that might be too personal and certainly not answering any questions with enough information to give away anything personal about herself.

By the end of the story, however, the narrator experiences the beginnings of a dramatic change. She is letting down the walls that have isolated her and opening up her horizons. Tired of her tendency to be dependent, she begins to reach out to strangers, to think for herself, to take chances, and to dream.

New York State Girl

The New York State girl is a young woman who shares a seat with the narrator on the bus. They meet accidentally a few times, sharing information with one another but not to any great extent. The young girl is from New York, as is the narrator. She also works in a similarly styled office building in Sacramento as does the narrator. They both carry valises on the bus. They are, in some ways, mirror images of one another except that the girl is a younger version of the narrator. The New York State girl also is a little more wise, more worldly. She explains things to the narrator, such as the bus pass that the narrator has almost misused. She also tells the narrator about a different kind of bus pass, one that allows a person to travel all over California. This opens a door of experience for the narrator who decides to follow the girl's suggestion. Despite her help, however, the narrator refuses to deepen their relationship in any way.



In the beginning of "Greyhound People," the narrator isolates herself from the people around her in several different ways. First, she places her briefcase on the seat next to her. She does not do this to purposefully keep other people from sitting next to her; however, she does comment that in doing so, no one will sit next to her. On a subconscious level, her briefcase acts as a barrier. Later in the story, she consciously removes her briefcase so someone might sit next to her, signaling a slight opening in the barricade that she has built to protect herself.

The narrator also isolates herself through her silence. Although she reacts emotionally to different circumstances, she keeps her feelings to herself. For example, she emotionally applauds the woman who tells the young boy to be quiet. Even though other people express their emotions by clapping their hands and cheering, the narrator remains still. She wants to applaud, but she does not want anyone to know how she feels. She has the emotions but she is afraid of them. She does not know for sure if they are appropriate and therefore does not want to expose them. In doing this, she further removes herself not only from the people around her but from her own expressions.

When she does finally have a conversation with the young girl from New York, she does not share with the girl the fact that they are both from the same region. Not only does she not open up to the girl, she is uncomfortable when the girl opens up to her. The narrator slowly opens up by the end of the story, by listening to this young girl's advice. This stimulates other reactions, ones in which the narrator begins to ease the barricades that have isolated her from her surroundings as well as from herself.

Topics for Further Study

  • Imagine that you could buy a bus pass and travel to any city or place in California. Where would you go? Choose at least four places and research the history, the cultural makeup and any annual events in your chosen place. Write a travel magazine article for each destination, trying to entice other people to visit the places you have chosen.
  • Take several rides on buses that cross your town. Listen and record conversations and events that happen during your trip. Then write a story about your adventures. What new things did you learn about your town? What did you find out about the people who live in your town? What did you learn about yourself in reference to how you reacted to your fellow passengers?
  • Compose a statistical report on divorce in the United States during the twentieth century. Then write a report on the changes that have occurred over the years. How have certain events, such as World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War, affected the divorce rate? What were the peak years for divorce rates? What age groups are most affected by divorce? Are there any differences in divorce rates depending on one's cultural background? Does belonging to particular religions make any difference? Compare different regions of the United States, such as the South, the West, the Northeast, and so forth.
  • There are many good books that have been published on how to write an effective short story. Read some of these books and report back to your class the various components that are involved in a short story. Explain how a short story differs from a novel (more than just its length). Refer to some of the best American short story writers and provide your classmates with a list of some of these authors' best works.


The narrator admits that she is staying with Hortense out of a feeling of dire dependency. She has just come through a painful breakup of her marriage and a divorce from her husband and is feeling much like a child who has been forced out of her home. She leans on Hortense, not only because she needs a place to stay but because she is too emotional to make any decisions on her own. She allows her new roommate to tell her what to eat, when to come home, and how to get from the bus station to the house. Although the narrator is silently complaining of the stifling affect this is having on her, she is still struggling to stand up on her own two feet and feels she must rely on someone else to help her. In the beginning of the story, she accepts her circumstances without making any attempts to change them. She shows this through the way she reacts to the bus driver, whom she believes has taken two tickets from her instead of one. She thinks this is wrong, but does not ask for an explanation. Even when she thinks she has gotten on the wrong bus and is frightened about the circumstances of her action, she does not stand up and ask anyone, not even the bus driver, if she is indeed on the wrong bus. She just sits there and waits to be taken to wherever the bus is going. Also, when a man tells her to get out of "his" seat, she acquiesces without even a little whimper. Similarly, she has given up her apartment, not so much because she did not want to stay there but rather because she did not want to argue with her husband. She allows these things to happen to her as if she had no say in the matter.


Although this is not a typical coming-of-age story, which usually involves a teenager moving into the ranks of adulthood, "Greyhound People" does fit into this category in many ways. The narrator is an older woman who has been married for several years, but emotionally she is still immature. Her marriage provided her with a shelter similar to the one that a young person's family home provides. Decisions were more than likely taken care of by the narrator's husband. So when the narrator is pushed out of the house, she finds that she must make all kinds of decisions on her own. At first her situation is frightening. She is fearful that she has taken the wrong bus, for instance. She is also afraid of asking anyone how to get out of the situation, and like a scared child, she sits stiffly in her seat, waiting to see what will happen next instead of standing like an adult and taking the situation into her own hands.

The narrator grows, emotionally, from the beginning of the story to the end, however. Although she is fearful in the beginning, by the end of the story she is ready to confront her overbearing roommate Hortense, for instance. Or at least, she is ready to do this obliquely. Instead of staying on the strict diet Hortense has put her on, the narrator goes into the restaurant and orders a milkshake, something Hortense would have looked down upon, if not completely forbidden. The narrator also tells Hortense that she does not have to pick her up at the bus station, thus allowing the narrator more freedom of choice as to what bus she rides and at what hour she comes home. And, whereas in the beginning of the story, the narrator took the bus only for the routine ride between Sacramento and San Francisco, by the end of the story she has bought a special pass that will allow her to travel all over California, thus opening up her horizons and eliminating at least some of the boundaries that she has set up between herself and the outside world. By the end of the story, it is as if the narrator has finally unfurled her wings and is ready to fly. Her emotions have matured, and she has come of age on a psychological level.


First-Person Point of View

This short story is told in the first-person point of view with little dialogue presented throughout. The narration comes mostly from inside the head of the protagonist, which is referred to as interior monologue. First-person narration limits the story in some ways, but also provides a more intimate relationship with the storyteller. The reader is given the opportunity to hear the thoughts of the narrator, understand the emotions the narrator is going through, and then juxtapose these elements to the actions that the narrator does or does not take in response to them. The circumstances of the story are all interpreted through the emotions of the narrator, thus giving a narrow point of view of other characters in the story. The reader can only guess at other character's reactions to the same circumstances that the narrator faces. For example, the picture of Hortense that the narrator provides is obviously one-sided. The only version of her is given through the narrator's experience. Whether Hortense is really over-bearing and over-protective will never be known. All that is known is that the narrator sees Hortense in this way. It could be that the narrator is feeling overwhelmed emotionally because of her divorce and that she wants to break free of Hortense's need to nurture her. Hortense is never allowed to speak for herself because the point of view is the narrator's.


The story "Greyhound People" is filled with subtle symbolism. The bus the narrator travels on represents a sort of outer shell, much like the emotional shell that the narrator has built around herself to protect her emotions. She does not want to become emotionally involved with anyone around her because her emotions are still very raw from the divorce she has recently gone through. Like the bus, she travels through her day without connecting to anything around her. She moves routinely from one place to another without becoming involved.

The man on the bus who insists that the narrator is sitting in his seat represents the narrator's husband, who has insisted that she give up their apartment and their marriage. This man is very curt with her and, although she is offended, the narrator acquiesces because she does not like confrontations. This is exactly how she interacted with her husband. Then, in contrast, the narrator watches this man put on a friendly demeanor with women who sit across the aisle from him. This could represent the many affairs the narrator's husband had with other women. The narrator comments on how emotionally removed her husband had become with her, and yet he was emotionally involved with other women at the same time. At the end of the story, when this man from the bus recognizes the narrator in the restaurant and asks how she is doing, she imagines that he is actually offering her an apology for his previous behavior. This could be her wishful thinking that her husband could at some time in the future also apologize for the way he has treated her.

Hortense, the narrator's new roommate, represents the narrator's opposite self. Where the narrator is thin, Hortense is fat. Where the narrator is quiet and yielding, Hortense is aggressive and demanding. Hortense symbolizes what the narrator does not want to become. However, Hortense is also the stimulus that motivates the narrator to change. The narrator admits that she is temporarily dependent on Hortense, but she fights Hortense's attempts to dominate her life. In doing so, she learns to test her environment and her circumstances instead of giving in to the mundane daily routine of her life.

The young girl from New York might symbolize the narrator's younger self—an alternative view of herself. She and the young girl are both from the same region. They both work in Sacramento and commute from San Francisco. They both spend most of their day in similar office buildings located next door to one another. The author would not have created all these similarities if she had not intended something symbolic. It is this girl, to whom the narrator is at first afraid to open up to, who inspires the narrator to buy the bus pass that will take the her out of her routine. The young girl, although living under similar circumstances as the narrator, is more willing to talk about herself. She is also more excited about exploring new environments. She ultimately inspires the narrator to consider doing the same.


The setting of this piece is very constrictive in the beginning. The narrator sits inside a Greyhound bus for much of the action. Although she describes the countryside of California in small doses, little is said about her environment outside of the bus and the bus stations she encounters. This confining setting provides the reader with a physical example of how confined the narrator is feeling. She is closed in emotionally. She is traveling but she has little to do with her fellow companions or with the environment through which she is moving. She is moving through a land that does not touch her, nor does she touch it. She is also, for the most part, always surrounded by strangers. Although this setting does not change throughout the story, there are hints toward the end that the setting will change slightly. The narrator has bought a bus pass that will allow her to travel all over the state. She will remain inside a bus, but at least the scenery outside the bus will change. In this way, the narrator is at least expanding her experiences and seeing new things.

Historical Context

Special Education

It was not until the 1960s that groups sought federal assistance that would provide free services in the public schools for children with special needs. Under pressure from these groups, in 1966 Congress established the Bureau for Education of the Handicapped. As programs began to be developed through this bureau, the Education of the Handicapped Act was passed four years later. These actions, however, did not provide full services for all children with special needs. It would take five more years and a lot of pressure from parents of children with disabilities, as well as a few court cases that ruled in their favor, before more federal support for the education of these children would become law. Today, all children with special needs, from first grade through college, are entitled to free and appropriate public education that also provides specific services for their needs. The law ensures that these children's rights are protected and that the federal government will assist local states in providing the education that these children require.

A Brief History of Vallejo

Vallejo is a medium-sized city located in the California foothills where the Carquinez Straits meet San Pablo Bay in northern California. The city was named for Mexican general Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo in 1844. Six years later when California became a state, General Vallejo offered a large tract of land, as well as financial assistance, to help in establishing the capitol of California on his land. The state congress agreed, and the city of Vallejo was adopted as the state capitol. Although the state congress did actually convene in Vallejo in the 1850s, the buildings that General Vallejo had promised to build were nowhere to be seen. The congress met in dilapidated buildings that leaked in the rain and eventually voted to move the capitol, in 1853, to another city.

The U.S. Navy, however, found the San Pablo Bay to their liking and built the first permanent U.S. naval station on the west coast in Vallejo in 1854. When the railroad was established there, Vallejo experienced an economic and population boom. Mare Island Naval Station remained a busy installation, providing employment to many of Vallejo's population until it was closed in 1994. Although the navy is gone, Vallejo remains an ideal hub for commercial shipping, industry, oil companies, and ferry transportation in the San Francisco Bay area. Today, thousands of passengers on Vallejo's three high-speed catamaran ferries travel to and from San Francisco for work and recreation.

A Brief History of Sacramento

Sacramento, located on a major California river (the Sacramento River) was a hub of transportation too, especially during the Gold Rush. The rush began when gold was found on Captain John Augustus Sutter's land, the builder and commander of one of the first U.S. Army forts in that area. The fort was built to help ensure the bid for the control of the land that would soon become the state of California. Sutter, a man who would make a lot of money in his lifetime but would die bankrupt, is credited, along with his son, as being the founder of Sacramento.

At the height of the Gold Rush in 1849—a time during which the population of the city grew to 10,000 people in seven months—the Sacramento city government was established. Five years later, Sacramento was made the permanent capitol of the new state of California. Many historic events originated in Sacramento. One such event occurred in 1860, when the Pony Express, the first long-distance mail delivery system, began its first run from Sacrament to St. Louis, Missouri—a run that was completed in ten days.

Over time, the Sacramento Valley has become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the United States, helping to build the economy of its major city, Sacramento. Today, almost one-half million people live there. The city is located about ninety miles northeast of San Francisco and about twenty-five miles northeast of Vallejo.

A Brief History of San Francisco

San Francisco is the fourth-largest city in the United States and is located in northern California along the Pacific Coast. Although the first white settlers from Mexico and Spain began a community in this area in the eighteenth century, it was not until the Gold Rush years that a population boom occurred. In one year, from 1848 to 1849, the population of San Francisco expanded from 1,000 to 25,000 people.

The city has had at least three different names. Around 1780, Sir Francis Drake dubbed it Nova Albion; in 1846, Captain John B. Montgomery changed its name to Yerba Buena (after a wild plant of the same name); and then a year later, taking a cue from the Spanish settlers, it was finally named San Francisco, after the Roman Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi, a lover of animals.

A devastating earthquake (modern scientists estimate it must have reached 8.5 on the Richter scale) destroyed much of San Francisco in 1906. What was not destroyed by the earthquake was destroyed by subsequent fires. But by 1915, proud to show off its new face of complete restoration, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition, a world's fair. Other great architectural accomplishments include the building of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.

Often referred to as the city of countercultural movements, many from the Beat generation, as well as those from the so-called hippie generation made San Francisco the hub of much of their activity. The Black Panthers (an African American political group in the 1960s) was headquartered just outside of San Francisco in the city of Oakland.

At the end of the twentieth century, San Francisco became the center of many of the businesses. As young computer-savvy entrepreneurs moved in, the city's rundown districts saw economic improvement as older neighborhoods became "gentrified." Today, San Francisco is the banking and financial center of the West Coast, the home of the Pacific Exchange (regional stock exchange) and a major branch of the U.S. Mint (where money is printed).

A Brief History of Oakland

Oakland was founded two years after California became a state. It is located on the east side of San Francisco Bay and to the west of San Francisco. One of Oakland's main points of interest is its port, which is one of the three most important on the West Coast.

The population of Oakland was slow to grow. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, many people crossed the bay in order to make Oakland their new home. During World War II, the naval facilities in Oakland attracted large numbers of workers, who helped to build the naval force of that war. But the economic boom that occurred during the war came to a screeching halt after the war, leaving thousands of people unemployed. Those who could afford to leave moved to the suburbs. The rest struggled to make a living as they watched their city deteriorate.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, Oakland was hit with two disasters. First there was the damage caused by the 1989 earthquake that destroyed a major part of the Oakland-San Francisco Bridge; and then there was the huge wildfire in 1991 that devastated thousands of homes. Today, Oakland is enjoying a renaissance as businesses and individuals, who have grown tired of the high cost of housing in San Francisco, move in and renovate large sections of this town.

Today, Oakland's 400,000 citizens are ranked eighth in the United States in overall educational achievement, with almost one-third of its population in possession of a college degree. Major publications such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal list Oakland as one the United States' best cities for businesses.

Critical Overview

"Greyhound People" has been referred to as one of Adams's most popular short stories, as well as the best story in the 2002 collection, The Stories of Alice Adams. "Greyhound People" appeared in Adams's sixth collection, which speaks for itself in terms of how many short stories she wrote in her lifetime. Most critics agree that the short story form was Adams's strong point; they often compare her style of writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor, and Katherine Mansfield—all great storytellers.

In his article for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Frank called Adams "a writer who has a natural, almost innate gentility, an ease of being with language, character, landscape, atmosphere and emotion that is both authentic and modest." Another critic who highly praised Adams was Ann H. Fisher, writing for the Library Journal, who described Adams as a "master fiction writer," one who creates "multidimensional" characters. Besides such critical praise, another marker of Adams's ability to write very good short prose was how often her stories appeared in the New Yorker, the ultimate goal of most contemporary authors. Adams's editor at the New Yorker, Fran Kiernan, told the New York Times critic Peter Applebome, that "No one wrote better about the tangled relations of men and women or about the enduring romance of friendship." Kiernan then added: "As a writer, she [Adams] was unfailingly wise."

In her review of Adams's 1999 short story collection, Rita D. Jacobs, writing for World Literature Today described Adams in this way: "There are certain writers whose short stories exemplify the kind of perfection that theorists and critics extol. Alice Adams's stories frequently achieve the deftly limned but fully realized character, the complication quickly described, and the denouement which offers insight or a catch in the throat." Her writing is filled with insights, Jacobs continued, an observation that other critics have also made. Furthermore, in drawing her conclusion about Adams's work, Jacobs stated that not only did she find Adams's short stories "affecting," she also described them as "models of the art."

Another reviewer, Beth E. Andersen, writing for the Library Journal, was saddened by the announcement of Adams's death in 1999. Andersen, in her critique of The Stories of Alice Adams reflected not only on Adams's death but also on the author's ability to write. After Adams's death, Andersen wrote, "her gift for creating the familiar landscapes of interior life with pitch-perfect diction was forever silenced."

And finally, in a review of Adams's last short story collection, a Publishers Weekly writer predicted that The Stories of Alice Adams, which was published posthumously, would be well received by all—those who have read her before and those who will read her for the first time—because of "the seemingly offhand openings that carry the reader deep into the story, the swift characterizations, the effortless shifts in point of view and, of course, the almost casual but dazzling sentences."


Joyce Hart

Hart is a freelance writer and author of several books. In the following essay, Hart searches for the source of the narrator's fear in Adams's story.

Adams's narrator in "Greyhound People" goes through some trying experiences in this tale and comes out a renewed spirit; but in the process, she exposes a lot of her fears. She tries to name them, but one has to wonder if she is being honest with herself. Her reactions to her fears do not fit the names she attempts to put on them. Does she offer clues to what her real fears might be? And if so, are readers privilege to them? With a closer examination of the narration, can readers at least speculate what these underlying fears might be?

Adams begins her story with the narrator confessing that she "had a frightened sense of being in the wrong place." Readers assume that this means that the narrator is on the wrong bus, since she is talking about catching a Greyhound bus from Sacramento to her home in San Francisco. She asks people in the bus station (fellow riders) if she is in the right line; but then she admits that these people more than likely did not really understand what she was asking. Note that she does not ask anyone who works at the bus station for directions but rather climbs aboard a bus, which she senses is the wrong one. Because of her "anxiety and fear," she sits as closely as she can to the bus driver. Now it seems that a normal person would have asked more questions. She or he would not have gotten on a long-distance bus without knowing where it was going. If, out of awkwardness, the narrator had decided to take a chance on a particular bus, it seems reasonable to believe that she should have at least asked the passengers sitting around her on the bus, the people one could assume might be more aware of where this bus was going. But the narrator does not do this. She just sits there and hopes she has made the correct decision. Even when the bus driver enters the bus, she does not make the effort to find out the destination of this bus. So what is she really afraid of? Is she concerned the bus will not take her home? If she is, she does not mention this fact right away. Instead she makes observations about things that are happening around her. She mentions that a stranger asks her to give up her seat, and she explains her reaction to him. She also discusses the woman who insults a child with learning disabilities. Then the narrator goes through another whole range of emotions over this incident. It is not until the bus turns off the freeway and the bus driver announces that they are heading for the city of Vallejo that the narrator makes any comment at all about her destination. After the bus driver states that the next stops are Oakland and San Francisco, the narrator is relieved.

So what is the real fear in this incident. Is it a fear of getting lost? Of not being taken home? If it was, how could the narrator have gotten so casually involved in the people around her. She also has time to reflect on an incident that happened to her earlier that morning when a bus driver appeared to take two tickets from her instead of just one. During this same time, she also checks out the scenery, not necessarily looking to see where the bus is going but rather to enjoy the "very beautiful" hills, "a bright white farmhouse," and "the dark shapes of live oaks." She is describing a pleasing, relaxing pastoral scene—one of peace and tranquility. There was no mention of threatening black clouds on the horizon or gnarled, twisted branches, things that would suggest how the narrator was feeling if she was truly scared.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Adams was often compared to the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was more famous for his novels than his short stories, even though he was an excellent writer of both genres. A collection of his short stories called Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A New Collection was published in 1995 and is a good place to find many of Fitzgerald's highly prized stories previously published in popular magazines of his time. Fitzgerald, although he wrote about a completely different generation than Adams, captured the nuances of personal relationships in a similar style.
  • One collection of Katherine Mansfield's short stories (another writer to whom Adams was often compared) is the 1991 publication Stories. Mansfield was considered a master of the short story; she was a writer who transformed the writing style of her day. Some of her best stories include "The Fly," "At the Bay," and "The Singing Lesson."
  • Critics cannot seem to say enough good things about Flannery O'Connor, a prolific writer of short stories and a woman who is often held up as the icon of the short story genre. O'Connor's The Complete Stories (1971) contains two of O'Connor's most popular works, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "Everything that Rises Must Converge." A southern writer with a sense of humor, O'Connor is entertaining in many different ways.
  • Although there is no doubt that any of Adams's collections of short stories is sure to please, she was also well received as a novelist. One of her more popular novels is Superior Women (1984), a story about four young women as they enter college at Radcliffe and the ensuing decades that follow as their relationships to one another develop.

Rather it seems that the "frightened sense of being in the wrong place" that the narrator mentions at the beginning of the story is not a real fear—the kind of fear one might have when one's life is threatened. What it really sounds like is excitement. She is in a "wrong place" in the sense that it is not the usual place that she finds herself in, day in and day out. It is a new place, one that is offering her new experiences. And one cannot help wondering if the narrator, in fact, put herself in that position on purpose. What else would explain how easily distracted she becomes with what is going on around her. Why else would she want "to concentrate" on the sweetness of the countryside outside her window? Maybe what she is feeling has nothing to do with being threatened but everything to do with coming alive. She gives a hint of this when she describes her "large briefcase," which is taking up the seat next to her. She describes it as being "stiff and forbidding-looking," blaming it for no one wanting to sit next to her. Could it be that she herself feels "stiff and forbidding-looking?" Does she scare people away? And does she subconsciously want to change this?

The narrator quietly applauds the woman who stands up to the noisy child at the back of the bus. The woman speaks her mind when she tells the boy: "You the noisiest traveler I ever heard." The narrator shared this opinion, but would not, and probably could not, have expressed her feelings out loud. She applauds the woman not just for what she says but for the fact that she said it. The narrator obviously has trouble saying what she feels. Remember, she did not ask the right people the question she wanted answered about the bus; she did not ask the bus driver why he took two tickets instead of one; and she did not say anything in her defense when a fellow passenger insisted that she was sitting in his seat and demanded that she vacate it. She should have not only applauded the woman who told the young boy to be quiet, she should have really praised the boy himself. At least he had the guts to ask the questions that were inside of his head. And the reader should also notice that the woman whom the narrator did applaud also told the boy: "in fact you ain't a traveler, you an observer." In other words, she summed up exactly what the narrator is. She too is an observer. She watches everything. In saying that the young boy is not a traveler meant that the boy was not really involved in his surroundings and circumstances but rather just someone who stands back and watches. A traveler experiences things. Events pass through them. They react and are changed by them. The narrator, in contrast, is physically present but she has placed so many barriers between herself and the world that she is not really in attendance.

Things are made a little clearer when the narrator meets the young girl from New York. The bus is unusually crowded, so the narrator takes down her psychological walls just a bit and takes her "stiff and forbidding-looking" briefcase off the seat next to her so the young girl can sit down. "We started up one of those guarded and desultory conversations that travel dictates," the narrator relates. The conversation conveys facts about the girl that the narrator relates to, but she does not tell the girl much about herself. As a matter of fact, what the girl did tell the narrator made her feel ill at ease. It seemed "ominous" to the narrator (here's the fear again) that she and the girl should share so many similarities. But why would this make her fearful? One hint comes from a statement she makes: "Of course I did not ask the girl where she was from—too personal." There are those walls again. The narrator does not want anyone to get inside of her. Her fear seems not to be of talking to strangers, or getting lost, or making a mistake. Rather it seems that her greatest concern is that someone will find out exactly what she is feeling. If they knew what her emotions were they would know her better; and then what? Maybe she fears they wouldn't like her.

"The narrator, in contrast, is physically present but she has placed so many barriers between herself and the world that she is not really in attendance."

The narrator is scarred by these thoughts because of her recent past. She has just gone through a very emotional divorce and breakup of her marriage. Her husband has left her for another woman. And that might explain why, at the end of the story, she refers to "something remarkable" having happened to her. What she calls "something remarkable" was really just a simple act of kindness; but for the narrator, it was an outstanding event. The man who had insisted that she give up her bus seat for him notices her in the restaurant. He greets her, asking with a "friendly smile," as he passes by, how she is doing. He barely pauses at her table, and yet the narrator is left "a little out of breath." She wonders if he remembered her. "Was it possible that something about me had struck him in just the right way, making him want to say hello?" she asks. This is a woman who needs attention and yet at the same time hides from it. She is torn between her needs and her fears. She feels soft and too tender inside. Her real fear is that if she opens up, someone might hurt her again. So for the majority of the story she remains closed. She observes life from a distance. But by the end of the story, as witnessed by her reaction to this man and her anticipation of her upcoming travels throughout California, she is beginning to open up. She is starting to find hope and to recognize that the fear she is experiencing is not based on outside things, but rather it comes from inside of her; and the only way to get rid of it is to let it go.


Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on "Greyhound People," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

David Remy

Remy is a freelance writer in Pensacola, Florida. In the following essay, Remy examines Adams's use of contrary elements to emphasize the narrator's search for self-acceptance.

The narrator in Alice Adams's story "Greyhound People" is a displaced person, a lonely woman caught between a world she no longer knows and another which she has yet to explore. She is a nameless character, one who embodies the yearning and doubt all humans suffer. Though she navigates quotidian complexities with a willing acceptance that borders on naïveté, she remains far from comfortable. Adams presents her narrator/protagonist in a series of situations that underscore the contrary elements in her life, opposites that seem to repel rather than attract as each event resonates with a sense of loss and displacement. Thus, by focusing on aspects of geography, personal relationships, and race that confront the narrator, Adams emphasizes her protagonist's search for balance and harmony in the world.

One of the first contrasts the narrator of "Grey-hound People" must confront is that of geography. Transplanted from upstate New York to San Francisco, California, on the opposite coast and away from where she was raised, the narrator inhabits a region of the country that is markedly different from the one she left behind. On the west coast of the United States, Americans are, generally speaking, much more relaxed in their attitudes and more willing to travel at a pace dictated by the individual rather than by society. Adams allows this attitude to pervade the story: each of the passengers regards the bus trip differently. For them, a bus ride can be something other than a commute. It can become an opportunity to relax and socialize. The narrator seems to have adjusted well to this philosophy, for the more than hour-long commute to and from work seems nothing more than a minor inconvenience to her—provided, of course, she boards the right bus.

However, when the narrator meets a girl from upstate New York on the bus and encounters her three times during the course of subsequent journeys, the narrator seems irritated, as though the girl's preoccupation with romance, work, and office politics serves as a grim reminder of the life she once knew. The narrator believes, perhaps erroneously, that she has put her life in New York behind her, but the girl's accent, which the narrator identifies with astonishing ease, reminds her of something "ominous," as though the lives of the two women are "heading in the same direction," en route to a common fate. The girl from upstate New York may reside in California, but everything about her is redolent of life back east, making her differences even more apparent. In short, she sticks out like a sore thumb. The narrator, who hails from the same part of the country, worries that she does too.

Furthermore, the narrator must travel from her temporary home in San Francisco to Sacramento five days a week because she has been assigned to study unemployment statistics in the state capital. This assignment forces the narrator out of her daily routine into yet another new environment. In Sacramento, the office she works in may be "inter-changeable" with the one in San Francisco, but otherwise everything about the two cities is different, from the oleanders (assumed to be poisonous) that line the medians to the hordes of gamblers waiting at the bus station to board the next Reno express. This geographical displacement is compounded when the narrator takes the wrong bus. Instead of traveling directly to San Francisco, she must first stop in Vallejo and Oakland. What had at first seemed a "straight shot" filled with the usual highway scenery becomes a detour rich with roadside attractions. Though at first apprehensive, the narrator delights in discovering a new life onboard the bus. A mere ride becomes a journey, one she embarks upon with mounting anticipation.

Personal relationships are yet another means by which Adams highlights, through the use of opposites, her protagonist's isolation and need for change. Many of these changes come about unexpectedly, however. For example, because her husband leaves her for another woman, the narrator is forced to share an apartment with her friend Hortense. The narrator's husband, who works in advertising, drops hints about her taking a lover and their joining wife-swap parties. "A pretty girl like you, you'd do okay," her husband would tell her, though he only has his best interest at heart. When he finally declares his love for another woman, the narrator is "worse than surprised" to learn that she has been replaced by a "beautiful Japanese nurse," a woman whose exotic appeal cannot be matched, regardless of how attractive the narrator may be. Thus begins for the narrator what proves to be a "long and painful year."

As Adams makes clear throughout the story, all types of human relationships offer a contrasting perspective on the narrator's life, especially those that are of a personal or intimate nature. In particular, the narrator's relationship with Hortense presents a comic view of two people who are opposites in practically every way. For example, Hortense is fat whereas the narrator has kept her slim figure (though at one point in the story she wonders if adding twenty pounds to her frame would make a difference in the way the world sees her). Hortense is punctual while the narrator, alas, is not. Furthermore, she prefers drinking thick chocolate milkshakes to the fish and cold salads her roommate prepares. As the narrator observes, "We were getting to be like some bad sitcom joke: Hortense and me, the odd couple." On a more somber note, the narrator deduces that Hortense is probably not poor; in contrast, the narrator, despite having a secure government position, regards herself as poor because she has known poverty, both the financial and the spiritual kind, and that badge of identity has remained with her throughout her life. These many differences between Hortense and the narrator eventually force the latter to contemplate ways in which she can garner her independence, such as taking a taxi home from the San Francisco bus station and finding an apartment of her own.

Perhaps the most obvious contrast in "Grey-hound People" is that of the characters' racial backgrounds. The narrator, who is, the reader assumes, white, rides bus routes with a majority of patrons who are black. It is this obvious difference that makes her suspect that something is wrong. "And, as I dared for a moment to look around the bus, I saw that most of the passengers were black: a puzzle." Indeed, the stark contrast between the racial backgrounds of the narrator and the other patrons on the bus confirms the fact that she has boarded the wrong bus. Apparently, the narrator is unaccustomed to the company of blacks because, without being quite sure why, she sits up front near the driver, filled with a "frightened sense of being in the wrong place." She describes one fellow passenger as "a big black man," one who is "angry and very handsome." Adams has her protagonist come close to using a negative stereotype in describing her encounter; nevertheless, the narrator's description of the man emphasizes differences in race, gender, and custom (the man insists that she is sitting in his seat even though no possession of his marks the spot) that force the narrator to view herself from a fresh perspective.

"… the narrator, despite having a secure government position, regards herself as poor because she has known poverty, both the financial and the spiritual kind, and that badge of identity has remained with her throughout her life."

Later, the narrator sits beside a large black woman who remains friendly and agreeable throughout their conversation. She is honest and self-deprecating about her size because she knows that, by sitting beside a thin woman like the narrator, she may make her emotionally and physically uncomfortable. The woman is wise enough to know that opposites, here exemplified by her size and race, more often repel than attract. She does not, however, appear excessively apologetic or obsequious. Her acceptance of herself serves as a model for the narrator to follow with regard to her own self-image, and she soon finds herself looking forward to their next encounter, for the narrator knows that, regardless of the obvious differences between them, she and the large black lady regard each other as equals. This awareness opens the narrator to the possibility of future meetings, ones that she invites with a newfound confidence. So emboldened is the narrator by these encounters with her fellow patrons that she thinks about them during the course of her subsequent journeys, and she wonders if, indeed, they are thinking about her.

This doubt is put to rest when she meets the handsome black man while she waits for the bus leaving for Vallejo and Oakland. He recognizes her and greets her with a warm hello, his demeanor contrasting sharply from their first encounter when he appeared angry and territorial. At first the narrator believes that this is the man's way of apologizing for his previous behavior, but then she realizes that such a gesture, however well intended, is simply not part of his character. "He was not at all like that, I was sure," concludes the narrator. "Even smiling he had a proud, fierce look." Nevertheless, the narrator realizes that the man's greeting was genuine, for it awakens within her an act of acceptance, an epiphany, that provides the story's climax: "Was it possible that something about me had just struck him in just the right way, making him want to say hello?" This encounter with the handsome black man, like the one she has with the black lady who sits beside her on the bus, leaves the narrator with an improved self-image, one realized as a result of confronting opposites that, by story's end, come together to form a whole, for now the narrator is ready to meet "anyone at all."

By having the protagonist of "Greyhound People" confront opposites in her everyday life, contrasts that are pronounced because of geography, interpersonal relationships, and race, Adams addresses many of the worries and fears that are common to the human condition. The narrator, though nameless, represents an individual's struggle to overcome unexpected changes and gather enough courage to venture into the unknown. As Adams makes abundantly clear by the story's end, the journey, though occasionally filled with wrong turns, can itself be its own reward.


David Remy, Critical Essay on "Greyhound People," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Christine C. Ferguson

In the following essay excerpt, Ferguson discusses the characteristics of Adam's second collection of short stories entitled To See You Again: Stories.

Beautiful Girl was well reviewed and won acclaim from critics who celebrated its style and its thematic rejection of some of the more typical clichés about women and love. Susan Wood, in The Washington Post Book World (21 January 1979), wrote, "It is refreshing and hopeful to find a writer in this day and age who, although recognizing love's possibilities for destruction, can still write about the ways in which love, both sexual and platonic, is akin to salvation." In The Christian Science Monitor (12 February 1979), Janet Domowitz asserted that "Adams concentrates on emotions so poignant that they are almost beyond words of expression."

The period that followed was one of the most productive of Adams's career. In 1980 she published her fourth novel, Rich Rewards, the half-satirical, half-earnestly romantic first-person narrative of a divorced woman's attempt to find a place for herself through love and work. The popular reception of this novel, although manifest, was not as strong as that produced by Superior Women (1984), Adams's first best-seller. In the midst of this period of constant production, Adams was also able to publish her second volume of short stories. Critics generally agreed that To See You Again: Stories (1982) showed an expansion in Adams's narrative scope. These nineteen stories, many of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, range in milieu from the high society of San Francisco to the plantation life of the West Mexican coast, and in character from compulsive gamblers to teenage waitresses. Adams displays her trademark thematic concern with the durability of the human spirit and its continual desire for new stimulus and growth.

Nowhere is this focus handled more deftly than in "Greyhound People," the story that many critics have described as the finest in the collection. The story derives its premise from the dread people experience when they feel they have taken a wrong turn and lost their way, only to manipulate this sense of displacement into an opportunity for revelation. Its protagonist is a recently divorced commuter in Northern California who spends her days in transit, both literally from Sacramento to San Francisco and psychologically from the cloying dependency urged upon her by her overprotective friend Hortense to the total emotional independence she desires. One night she discovers, to her horror, that she has taken the wrong bus; instead of taking the express to San Francisco, she must take a convoluted route that stops at various small towns. Her distress quickly turns to pleasure as the trip affords her an opportunity to meet and observe people and situations outside her own rather banal class experience. Her exhilaration is so intense that, despite Hortense's dismay at her lateness, she is unable to refrain from repeating the experience, almost compulsively boarding the wrong bus at the end of the workday. Finally, she admits: "Actually, the Greyhound system of departure gates to San Francisco is very simple; I had really been aware all along of how it worked." The wrong bus has been the right bus after all, its true destination inhabiting a psychological rather than a geographical space. At the close of the story she purchases a special pass that allows her to travel limitlessly over all of California and break the ties that have held her firmly to routine and dependency.

"Greyhound People" is not the only story of the collection to transform a mistake or a wrong turn into an unanticipated boon. "By the Sea" works as a sort of modern revision of the Cinderella story. Its protagonist, Dylan Bellentyne, is an eighteen-year-old waitress working in a much-hated job at a seaside holiday resort while her former hippie mother tries to free herself from a controlling boyfriend and build a life for herself. Dylan spends her time fantasizing about being adopted by a respectable older couple or, more plausibly, of being whisked away from her mundane life by a handsome, dark, and rich stranger. With the arrival of the wealthy and young Mr. Iverson at the lodge, the latter fantasy seems about to come true. Adams, with her usual aversion to conventional scripts, is quick to subvert romantic cliché, however. When the emphatic Mr. Iverson does woo Dylan, she views him only with mild distaste: "Instead of being moved, as she might have been, Dylan thought he sounded a little silly … and she stepped back a little, away from him." Despite his repeated urgings, Dylan continues to resist his advances; though young, she has been freed from the myth of love as a fairy-tale solution to the banal sufferings of everyday life. Like the deliberately misdirected protagonist in "Greyhound People," she is wary of those emotional paths that seem well-worn and overly familiar.

Not all of the stories in To See You Again, according to some of its critics, are so successful in avoiding the conventional. Benjamin DeMott, in The New York Times Book Review (11 April 1982), leveled the charge of repetitiveness, a criticism that continued to haunt Adams throughout her career: "By the middle of the book I found myself in need of change, desirous of esthetic (not moral) relief." While DeMott laments the recurring elements of her stories, other critics condemned Adams's departure from them in the story "Teresa." The first of the many collected Mexican stories spawned by Adams's love of that country, "Teresa" details the misfortunes of a woman living in an impoverished area outside of Ixtapanejo. The narrative tone is unusually sentimental, verging on the mawkish, as it describes the murder of Teresa's husband, Ernesto, by the cruel gringo plantation owner, Senor Krupp, and the subsequent imprisonment of her son, Felipe, for his revenge killing of Krupp. In the preface to her 1990 collection of stories exclusively devoted to Mexico, Mexico: Some Travels and Travelers There, Adams suggests that the story was drawn from a real-life incident that she and some friends learned of while traveling through the country in the 1960s. This basis in reality perhaps prevents Adams from maintaining an ironic distance from her subject, as she does in other stories. Writes Robert Phillips in Commonweal (25 March 1983): "Teresa is the least convincing protagonist in the book. It is as if the author needs the trappings of 'civilization' to fully comprehend her character's motivations." Convincing or not, "Teresa" represented a new movement in Adams's work toward the depiction of nonurban and non-middle-class lifestyles, a movement that testifies to the sometimes criticized diversity of her work and her humanistic, although rarely overtly political, interest in the plight of the oppressed.

Another interesting tendency is apparent in the critical reception of To See You Again, one that most female authors encounter at one point or another in their careers. There is an urge in some of her reviewers to place Adams within, or in direct opposition to, a gendered concept of writing. Typifying the first of these responses, William Buchanan states in Studies in Short Fiction (1983): "The blurb on the jacket suggests a comparison with Katherine Mansfield. This comparison seems apt. Both use mainly women protagonists, and their stories show a very feminine concern for the quality of relationships and moods.… The blurb goes on to suggest a comparison with Flannery O'Connor. This comparison does not seem apt. There is nothing feminine about Ms. O'Connor's stories." Buchanan's characterizations of "feminine" and "masculine" writing obviously reveal far more about his preconceived notion of gender difference than they do about Adams's art, but they nonetheless represent a not uncommon mode of interpreting her stories. Carolyn See, in The Los Angeles Times (13 April 1983), parodies this tendency to reduce all artistic output to the gender of the producer, asserting that Adams is similar to O'Connor or Mansfield only in that "she is also a woman and writes short stories. It might be more productive to think of Alice Adams as comparable to Walter Cronkite because you can believe what she says. Or to Albert Michelson, Einstein's predecessor, because of her experiments in motion, time and light, or to evangelist Terry-Cole Whittaker, because Adams insists—philosophically and intellectually—on the possibility of happiness for intelligent people. Or to Norman Mailer because she'd knock him out in the first round." See finds in To See You Again a strong and accurate representation of the diversity that marks the life of most women as "neither slave nor feminist, but something in between," rather than a trite encapsulation of "feminine" emotional homogeneity.

"Adams displays her trademark thematic concern with the durability of the human spirit and its continual desire for new stimulus and growth."

The title story of the collection is also its most impressionistic one. Based loosely on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912), the narrative details the passionate fixation of a female college instructor with her attractive student Seth. Laura's love is played out purely on an internal level; she never confronts Seth or betrays herself in front of him, and indeed the story opens with his departure from her senior-level English class and also ostensibly from her life. Her anguish at his departure becomes a metaphor for the greater losses within her marriage to Gerald, a once handsome young architect who has become crushed under the weight of recurrent and deadening depression. Her desire for Seth, which is never explicitly sexual in nature, becomes a desire for regeneration in general. Imagining what he will look like when he reaches her age, she muses "at that time, your prime and our old age, Gerald's and mine, Gerald will be completely well, the cycle flat, no more sequences of pain. And maybe thin again. And interested, and content. It's almost worth waiting for." A thin shaft of hope, one of the most recurrent motifs in Adams's fiction, pierces the gloom of a relationship dulled by years of depression.


Christine C. Ferguson, "Alice Adams," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 234, American Short-Story Writers Since World War II, Third Series, edited by Patrick Meanor and Richard E. Lee, Gale Group, 2001, pp. 3–15.


Adams, Alice, "Greyhound People," in The Stories of Alice Adams, Knopf, 2002.

Andersen, Beth E., Review of The Stories of Alice Adams, in Library Journal, Vol. 127, No. 13, August 2002, p. 147.

Applebome, Peter, "Alice Adams, 72, Writer of Deft Novels," in New York Times, May 28, 1999, p. B11.

Fisher, Ann H., Review of The Last Lovely City, in Library Journal, Vol. 124, No. 3, February 15, 1999, p. 186.

Frank, Michael, "Graceful Collages and Mysterious Pairings: The Stories of Alice Adams," in Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2002, p. R5.

Jacobs, Rita D., Review of The Last Lovely City, in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 4, Autumn 1999, p. 735.

Review of The Stories of Alice Adams, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 249, No. 35, September 2, 2002, p. 50.

Further Reading

Burroway, Janet, and Susan Weinberg, Writing Fiction, Longman, 2003.

If after reading Adams's work you find yourself interested in attempting fiction writing, this is one of the best books to invest in. This is the book that many writing teachers use to help explain elements of the story such as point of view, setting, plot, and so forth.

Charters, Ann, The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, Bedford Books, 1999.

There are 124 different short stories from around the world in this collection, offering the reader an excellent sampling of contemporary as well as classic selections. Also included are short biographies of the writers and commentary on their work.

De Angelis, Barbara, Confidence: Finding It and Keeping It, Hay House, 1998.

De Angelis seems to have a knack for helping people speak out for themselves. Her books are all bestsellers. So, if one is curious about what it might feel like to lack confidence or is wondering how to overcome it oneself, this book might inspire one to spread one's wings and fly, just as Adams's main character did.

Updike, John, ed., The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Three of Adams's short stories are contained in this national bestseller, as are a wide range of excellent authors' works. This popular book has been called one of the richest collections of short stories of the twentieth century.