2Pre-readingThe multi-layers of this essay: segregation, integrity, memory, family saga, epistemology, narration—all deftly and subtly interwoven together
3Post-readingWhat does the distance of fifty years allow Paley to see that she did not see at the time? When do we best understand our lives—at the instant events occur? Shortly thereafter? Much later? Ever? Can we trust our recollections of events that occurred fifty years back?How do your discovery at the very end that Paley has only learned of her mother’s trip fairly recently (par. 17) affect your reaction to the essay? Is this—Paley’s discovery of this family story—the key fact of the essay? Or is it that the recounting of this story roused in Paley the memory of her own journey South?
4Post-reading Compare and contrast these words: The darker people The blacksNegrosAnti-Semitism
5Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 1. It makes us pause and consider what story is being told and what the point of view of the teller is, because “the darker people” as usage avoids the clarity and cliché of “African American” or “Negro” or “black.” As we learn, the writer intends us to think of “people” as inclusive of white and other shades of color.
6Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 2. Memory; the relation between what “actually happened” and what we remember; the relation of a writer’s license with invention, even in a personal account, and “the facts.”To emphasize her mother’s strength in the actual past; to allow some room for an illuminating ambiguity in her present effort to judge the positions of her various family members toward racism in the past; to draw attention to the distance traveled in race relation between then and now, while noting too the years that sometimes must pass before we learn of something, or learn to understand something important that happened to us or to members of our family.
7Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 3. That the family is Jewish, and that the behavior of another Jewish boy in hitting a Negro impressed her brother with the need to get used to a foreign place. But it is also her brother who is “shamed”by the black soldiers having to sit behind German POWs in the War.
8Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 4. The writer is less “adamant” than her mother, but like her mother spontaneous and human. There is not the intention to make a political statement. She takes the child from the exhausted black woman naturally. Racism is no less marked in the time of her bus ride than in the time of her mother’s. But there is an additional element of sensuous connectedness in the writer’s experience, in her holding of a sleeping baby against her own body.
9Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 5. The remark is an allusion to the poem “Fire and Ice” (1923) by Robert Frost:Some say the world will end in fire,Some say in ice.From what I’ve tasted of desireI hold with those who favor fire.But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hateTo say that for destruction iceIs also greatAnd would suffice.
10Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 6. Because, as her brother was shamed by the disgrace of black soldiers, so she is shamed by the humiliating position the mother has been put in.
11Understanding the Writer’s Ideas 7. That profound experiences are not necessarily understood as they happen, and can easily be pushed aside by our mundane concerns; that memory can be both elusive and illuminating, and also magical as in the writer’s first meeting her grandson when she is a very young married woman, without yet any children of her own.
12Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 1. Why do we remember some things and not others? The writer explores this question by means of recollections about family incidents in a time of overt racism, seeking also to discover the attitudes of her family members at that time.
13Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 2. The writer uses description to give an emotional account, as in the description of the sleeping child in pars. 13 and 14. The writer’s use of dialogue makes a scene vivid and immediate, letting you feel it as much as think about it.
14Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3.Section 1: Tells the story of her mother’s trip South in 1927.Section 2: Tells the story of the writer’s trip South in 1943.Section 3: Locates the writer, at the time of writing, in old age (fifty years after 1943), and identifies the black baby she held on her bus ride South and her grandson.Section 4: Provides the matter-of-fact chat between the writer and her siblings about her mother’s bus ride, and rouses her own recollection about her ride in 1943.
15Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3. The writer connects section 1 and 2 by injecting, in the opening of section 2, her imagined version of her mother’s words, rejected as inaccurate by her sister. In this way the acts of writing and of remembering are linked as approximations of “what really happened,” and the context of family recollection is introduced.
16Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3. Section 3 links what come before and what comes after, and also serves as a kind of epiphany or moment of magical illumination at the center of the essay. Once again the writer reminds us that she is struggling to get it right, writing a remembrance that suddenly shows her “fifty years later,” that in holding the black child in the bus she also held the grandchild not to be born till many years after.
17Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 3. Her grandson is portrayed as preparing himself “for the coming realities,” some of which are bitter and a challenge to our courage such as racism, and some of which are impalpable, like discovering through recollection the truth of an incident long gone. The “of course” that opens section 4 connects the earlier account of her mother’s bus ride and the actual talk of the time as well as the later revisiting of that trip in the common effort at recollection of the writer and her siblings.
18Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 4. Partly by providing dates (par. 1; par. 10; par. 15); partly by bringing the essay repeatedly back to the time, and the process, or writing—as in par. 7, pars 15, par. 17.The process of recollecting is referred to periodically and explicitly to note alternative readings of details or meanings in the incidents recounted, as in par. 7, the opening sentences of par. 9, and the questions in par. 6 (“What happened on the bus?’); par. 17 “How come you never told me…”); par. 19 (“I asked my brother…”).
19Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 5. The allusion to quiet and silence in par. 2; the sensuous evocation of bodily warmth and comfort in the description of the second half of par. 12; the first three sentences of par. 14.
20Understanding the Writer’s Techniques 6. The last section tells us something self-defining about the writer, who sees herself as formed from childhood as “the attentive listener and total forgetter of information” (par. 16). And in these final paragraphs the writer as both listener and forgetter tries to sort out “what actually happened” and “what people though at the time” of the incidents she elsewhere recounts. This process rouses her own recollection of a bus ride down south.