The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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Marpessa’s Bus Symbol Analysis

Marpessa’s Bus Symbol Icon

The narrator’s sweetheart Marpessa Dawson is a bus driver, and her bus is the backdrop against which their romance is rekindled. The narrator’s all-consuming, devoted love for Marpessa means that even something as ordinary as a municipal bus can become a site of excitement and joy. The narrator reflects on how riding public transport carries stigma in Los Angeles, and the bus thus represents the ordinary, poor, downtrodden people who are the novel’s main subjects. At one point, Marpessa asks the narrator if he is ashamed that she is a bus driver, but really the opposite is true—he loves Marpessa so much that this love extends to everything about her, including the bus. Perhaps on account of the narrator’s biased perspective, Marpessa is presented as a particularly extraordinary bus driver, one who stands up for herself to rude passengers and who impresses the students at Chaff Middle School with a Fast and the Furious-style presentation.

The bus gains further significance as a symbol through its role in the re-segregation of Dickens. Buses were important symbols within the Civil Rights movement, from Rosa Parks (who famously refused to give up her seat to a white passenger) to the Freedom Riders (who rode throughout the South protesting segregated bus terminals). The narrator begins re-segregating Dickens by putting up a sign on the bus requesting that passengers give up their seats for white people. This was originally simply meant as a birthday present for Hominy, who asked for “racism.” However, the bus segregation eventually inspires the broader re-segregation plan and thus plays a pivotal role in bringing back Dickens. In this way, the bus serves as a microcosm of Dickens as a whole.

Marpessa’s Bus Quotes in The Sellout

The The Sellout quotes below all refer to the symbol of Marpessa’s Bus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of The Sellout published in 2015.
Chapter 11 Quotes

“Segregate the school.” As soon as I said it, I realized that segregation would be the key to bringing Dickens back. The communal feeling of the bus would spread to the school and then permeate the rest of the city. Apartheid united black South Africa, why couldn't it do the same for Dickens?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dickens, Marpessa’s Bus
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
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Marpessa’s Bus Symbol Timeline in The Sellout

The timeline below shows where the symbol Marpessa’s Bus appears in The Sellout. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...the Stank. Hominy offers the narrator some hash, and the narrator decides to ride the bus to the beach in order to escape the Stank and see Marpessa. A calf wanders... (full context)
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
The narrator catches the 5:43 am #125 westbound bus, driven by Marpessa. Years ago, Marpessa marred a “has-been gangster rapper” named MC Panache, which... (full context)
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...she misses his plums. The narrator remembers when they “rekindled [their] childhood friendship on the bus” when he was 17 and Marpessa 21. They caught each other up on their lives... (full context)
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...and silent movies “theirs.” They especially loved Kafka. Back in the present, Marpessa opens the bus doors and asks after Hominy. The narrator tells her that he has an idea that... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...narrator asks about Hominy’s birthday present, Marpessa tells him to “get the fuck off the bus.” The narrator boasts that it was he who painted the line around Dickens. He declares... (full context)
Chapter 10
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Later Hominy and the narrator are riding the bus, and Hominy feels like he cannot wait to give up his seat to a white... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
...and mulls over the history of racist incidents in the city. A man on the bus claims that he is offended, and the narrator asks what he means, claiming that offence... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
After the white woman stays on the bus for the entire  three-hour route and back again, Marpessa suspiciously asks the narrator if he... (full context)
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...sellout.” She claims that this is why she broke up with him. Marpessa drives the bus onto the beach and into about a foot of ocean. Laura Jane strips off her... (full context)
Chapter 11
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...much as look at the narrator. She gives a Fast and Furious-style presentation, zooming her bus around at hyperspeed. The children are captivated, and one white teacher is so moved by... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
...away. Charisma tells the narrator that ever since he put up the signs on Marpessa’s bus telling passengers to give up their seats for white people, the bus has become the... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Charisma explains that she wants the school to become like Marpessa’s bus. When the narrator was a child, everyone in Dickens was black. Marpessa didn’t realize her... (full context)
Chapter 14
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...segregate the school. He drives up one night and is surprised to see the #125 bus parked outside her house. He can see that his sign indicating “priority seating” for whites... (full context)
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...to show Marpessa a picture of his satsuma tree. Stevie tells the narrator that the bus is there because Marpessa thinks that what the narrator did to it is “special.” The... (full context)
Chapter 17
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
...joke” and Marpessa cracks up laughing. The narrator runs straight from the stage into Marpessa’s bus and strips naked. Marpessa boards the bus and tells the narrator that even though it’s... (full context)