Over the course of the novel, buses and BART trains come to represent the intersection between public and private lives, and symbolize the ways in which Native people in particular often struggle to reconcile their personal identities and cultural identities. The transit systems of Oakland—where it is frowned upon to stare at strangers, make disturbances, or even speak—are places where the characters who use them have time to reflect quietly on their own lives and thoughts while being in a public space surrounded by a community of sorts. Given the novel’s overarching theme of cultural identity versus personal identity, and its examination of the identity crises that emerge when oppressed people must reckon with a past full of violence, erasure, and generational trauma, the buses and BART trains featured within its pages represent the tension between the desire to participate in a larger cultural tradition and a community and the desire to close oneself off to the pain of the past, the injustice of the present, and the uncertainty of the future.
Buses and BART Trains Quotes in There There
To get to the powwow Tony Loneman catches a train. He gets dressed at home and wears his regalia all the way there. He’s used to being stared at, but this is different. He wants to laugh at them staring at him. It’s his joke to himself about them. Everyone has been staring at him his whole life. Never for any other reason than the Drome. Never for any other reason than that his face told you something bad happened to him—a car wreck you should but can’t look away from.