“Rowing the Bus” is a short story and a post-modern piece of fictional text, written by Paul Logan in 12 November, 2013.
The story that orbits around the idea of how childhood traumas could, such as school bullying, affect the personal conduct of the human being. The author manages to elaborately explain to his readers, through a narration of what it seems to be a re-invigoration of a semi-personal childhood memory, the devastating, deeply rooted effects of school bullying on the psyche and personality of the victims. The main theme is embodied in a past traumatic experience live by a young kid named Paul, which is heavily relied on feelings of despair, alienation, and a need for recognition as a means of reconciling with the failures of his past to show the foregrounding factors behind the character’s indecisiveness. In the short story, Logan tried to explain the inner workings of Paul’s psychological torments, which have affected his reasoning to make the right call and judgment as far as the discriminatory acts exercised on his friend, George, is concerned.
It seems that the protagonist is of a universal impact, one that anyone at any time can relate to. The character of Paul is one that evokes, in the readers, a mixture of feelings between sympathy, recognition and slight resentment. To be fair, many would likely feel connected with his story in one way or the other, being a victim or the victimizer. In the first part of the story, readers get firsthand insights into Paul’s private life and its capital role in influencing his already fragile self-esteem. As a young kid, Paul has no control over the external factors that are manipulating his personal conduct. It is neither his fault to be born with such physical defects nor to be of a poor family. He was simply “the perfect target” for bullying (par 2). Thus, some readers may sympathize with Paul for being bullied at school due to being socially awkward; however, at later stages of the story, others might not tolerate his cowardice and silence when his temporary friend, George, was bullied back.
Logan tried to give a psychological dimension to the story by implying that Paul’s indecisiveness is merely a product of the traumatic experience of the extreme bullying he has undergone in his previous school. Paul is just a kid seeking acceptance in a high-standard world, yet, in the process of finding his way towards safe adulthood, he became a bully himself, by indirectly participating in the act with some sort of a silent treatment of ignorance. One might expect from Paul to be comprehensive of the sufferings George is going through since he, himself, not long ago, went through the same whirlwind. However, Paul can be seen as quite selfish in his decisions to disregard what his friend was going through and just think of how he would safely pass what was left of his year. His un calculated decisions were tremendous of a greater impact not only on George who felt alienated and betrayed but also on Paul who was to be forever haunted with his friend’s image and guilt.
Moreover, the story is a Coming of Age story, of a young boy who is trying to safely pass the ports of adulthood. In the story, we witness the development of a male character from a state of being a helpless child into a state of maturity that is marked with an epiphany that breaking the circle of bullying, and to an extent of life, can only be possible when one finally takes a decision of action. This idea of breaking up the silence is a metaphor to illustrate the performative power of language. It is when we speak up for ourselves, or even on the behalf of others, that a change might happen. Otherwise, one would forever be stuck at one point of his life, at a state of helplessness.
Nevertheless, it is delivered via the perspective of a first-person narrator, which gives to the story the illusion of an immediate reaction and interaction when reading it from the point of view of an “I” rather than of a third party. The choice of narrating “Rowing the bus” from a first-person POV was not hazardous. The writer’s aim to allow the readers to be in the same shoes as the protagonist was for a certain means, carefully paving the way for the readers and preparing them to be more likely sympathetic and forgiving of Paul’s later decisions.
Nonetheless, the story is basically one huge bloc of flashback, which even makes the reader doubt the accuracy of its details. However, Logan’s aim was to further reinforce the impact of childhood traumas on the psyche and personality of the victims who would probably never be able to see themselves beyond that trauma. It will be one of the founding blocks of their personality, which only explains the vividness of the imagery regardless of the fact that years have already passed since the actual events happened. The use of flashbacks demonstrates the psychological depth of the story, showing that such traumatic experiences could never be graved by the worn-out days, but it will be always part of the ongoing present of the victim.
Hence, Logan’s tone in narrating the story, also that of the narrator, is characterized by guilt, sadness, and repentance. Readers can really feel Paul’s agonies concerning his friend’s misery, manifested through the writer’s use of certain vocabulary, of the acute description of feelings of pain, alienation, and fear, which only adds to the vividness of the imagery used in the text.
Thereby, figurative language is a tool that Logan availed in a subtle and dexterous way to not only capture a past moment in its mundane form ─ that of a mere decayed time span ─ but also to cage the most abstract of notions like betrayal, guilt, and repentance. His vivid description in the first parts of the story is such detailed one that it transcends the meaning to meet the readers’ senses. It helps to clearly visualize parts of the story and create a strong mantle picture. Furthermore, Paul Logan introduced a number of literary devices in this piece of literature to help him express his theme better. The use of colloquial language is very important in contextualizing the text. The use of modern forms of language and vocabulary, such as “buddy”, “wimp” and contraction forms like “what’s” and “you’re”, which lent a sense of realism to the characters’ and their dialogue.
Nevertheless, characterization in the story is an indirect one. It is through their actions and decisions that are taken in response to the events that the readers get to build up a solid opinion about each of the characters, be it that of Paul or of any other secondary character. Through the reaction of Paul to what was happening to his friend we can deduce the weakness in his character, and due to standing up for the two freshmen in the bus that we get to see his maturity, as a character. To conclude with, “Rowing the Bus”, regardless to its universality, is a personal work─ a bold attempt of the writer to share an intimate and private moment with his readers. It exposes the fragile parts of any human being, those of one’s childhood, and aimed at explaining their long-term impact on our lives.