Kei Miller’s ‘The Bus Driver’



Kei Miller, a West Indian poet, uses his poem, ‘The Bus Driver is Accused of not Wearing Uniform’ to depict a real life situation and present a social commentary. He presents a conventional, old-time bus driver who finds himself in trouble with the law as he has failed to wear navy blue pants while driving as sanctioned by the government. Instead, he wears brown pants. This man is firmly devoted to past tradition (how he was raised) and religious values. He speaks forthrightly to Judge James at the Traffic Court in Spanish Town and expounds through witty reasoning why he must wear his brown pants. By orchestrating language and structure, Miller skillfully reveals the emotion of the driver and the reality of his situation. Also, diction, rhyme and figures of speech play a focal role in developing meaning through the driver’s arguments and feelings. Hence, through the poetic presentation of a working class citizen, Kei Miller reveals the injustices of the legal system along with its inconsistencies. Even so, ‘The Bus Driver’ exposes the fact that a person’s apparel tends to be read as a reflection of their character.

‘The Bus Driver’ is done in first-person narrative; however, it gives both a single and plural point of view; that of his fellow bus drivers. The poet does this to relay that this is a first-hand experience, hence, increasing the poem’s genuineness and persuasion. The language of the poem is English-Creole which allows both a Creole and Non-Creole reader to understand the poem. By allowing the bus driver to address the judge informally in Jamaican Creole, Miller reveals how frank and bold he is. When the driver asks ‘what’s so wrong in that?’ the rhetoric allows his defiant attitude to show. In addition, the driver yells ‘I won’t drive in rags, your honour!’ The exclamation at the end of his statement creates an auditory image, that of a high pitched shout. Hence, the tone of the persona can be identified as both defiant and defensive which aids in persuading the reader. In addition, the persona constantly repeats ‘I plead guilty…’ throughout the poem. This helps to add balance, and most importantly, shows that the driver’s justifications, in parts, are of equal importance. He pleads he is ‘half’- guilty of ‘shame and good manners’; ‘guilty of a pair of brown pants and ‘old time ways.’  These mocking declarations are able to appeal to a person’s sense of logic. It would be ridiculous to send someone to jail just for a ‘pair of brown pants’. Thus, Miller highlights that the driver’s brown pants is really insignificant compared to someone holding a ‘knife against [yuh] neck.’ Hence, the driver’s tone shows how strongly he regards how his mother raised him as well as convincing the reader of the ridiculousness of the law.

The tone and feelings of the persona can not only be interpreted through language but structure. The poet imposes a pattern in her poem, that is, 14 stanzas, each of three lines. This makes the poem look ordered and symmetrical which suggests a positive sentiment. The driver’s confident statements backed by balanced verses convey to the reader the driver’s sense of security. Not only that, these proportioned lines suggest an inside logical order, an order which the legal system and government lacks. Most importantly, it reveals the bus driver‘s determination to not wear navy blue pants and break away from his beliefs and values. Hence, the pattern of the poem reinforces its message through optical appeal.

Within ‘The Bus Driver’, rhyme is utilized as the poem moves from the driver’s personal reflection to that of the raggedy criminals of ‘today’. This contrast is highlighted through half-rhymes ‘boring’ and ‘growing’, ‘neck’ and ‘guess’. Miller does this to suggest something untidy and wrong about piercing one’s ears and growing one’s hair wild by stressing the ugliness of the words. This is effective in helping the reader to grasp the disorder brought on by today’s deviance. However, in the ending stanza, there is an internal rhyme on tear and wear. This is important in creating a wider impression of finding an order in a respectable appearance. Furthermore, the shift in perspective may also represent the societal shift in law enforcement and male attire. Rhyme then is an important medium used which supplements language.

Literary devices within ‘The Bus Driver’ also help to enhance interpretation and in doing so may acquire the reader’s support and attention. In the beginning stanza, the bus driver describes how his ‘blue cotton shirt’ was ‘buttoned up and tucked in.’ The use of assonance in this line creates a pleasing kind of near rhyme which emphasizes the words. These stresses on the words help to sum up a perception of the possibly neat and coordinated dressing of the driver.  Through the use of simile, the persona compares his pants to what ‘men wear on Sundays.’ The poet even skillfully paints religious overtones by using words such as ‘Sundays’, ‘dignified’ and ‘Judgment Day.’ This is done to affiliate the pants to something sacred and righteous which is undeserving of negative scrutiny. Hence, the persona cleverly illustrates the brown pants in a religious light to convince the court and the reader that cleanliness is close to Godliness.

The bus driver’s pride in his physical appearance is also portrayed through diction and symbolism. The driver ‘splashes’ cologne onto his chest ‘each morning.’ This is exaggerated in order to emphasize the degree of satisfaction and pride the driver gains from smelling good and looking good. When the persona declares that the navy blue pants are ‘always sporting holes’, it not only suggests the deterioration of clothes but of the law. It symbolizes a government which is weak and declining in moral. Even the word ‘sporting’ denotes to the act of being fair and generous, which, ironically, the justice system is not. Hence, the driver’s rejection of navy blue pants embodies his rejection of present society’s nonchalance towards muddled dressing and behaviour. Miller then allows his readers to see how law principles sometimes overlook fundamental problems in pursuit of petty issues.

Strange truths are revealed in the poem when words are juxtaposed. Within stanzas eight, nine and ten, Miller evokes humour and understanding through satirical and contradictory representation. The driver states he does not see ‘[any criminals] in court today’, he guesses they are not present because ‘bad bwoy never out of uniform.’ The poet makes the driver relay this information through satire in order to startle the reader into attention. The idea of labeling a ‘bad bwoy’ with anything which suggests order is ludicrous. The paradoxical statement is absurd, yet it underscores the truth.  Criminals are not caught and tried by a court of law as much as persons who commit trifling offenses. The line too is effective in revealing that these ‘bad bwoy[s]’ wear ‘uniform’ characters, whether external or internal; proving they ‘come from nowhere and answer to nobody.’ Therefore, the poet enables his audience to realize the warped focus of the justice system.

‘The Bus Driver’ offers a bona fide interpretation of the government and its legal system through a citizen’s eyes. It puts forward a genuine perspective of a working class man who tries to maintain his dignity by wearing durable brown pants. Through satirical arguments one is exposed to how obtuse law principles are when you can get in trouble for attempting to dress decently but not for dressing wildly. Through symbolism, language and structure, the poem cleverly depicts that how you dress, reveals who you are and that within the Caribbean, tattered and wild fashion has now become a trademark for a deviant.  The brown pants then becomes an ideal symbol for traditional values and morals to show that one must never submit to negative social change. With this done, on judgment day – not court day – you can proudly say you have lived without falling victim to any mechanism of deviance and disorder.




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