In the heart of a, culturally rich Bristol, is the James family and their close acquaintances. They are a group of complex characters each navigating their own personal battles.
As the community rallies together in the historic Bus Boycott, these individuals face trials, transformations and moments of triumph. In this character analysis, let’s explore the relationships and personal narratives that make this play a story of resilience, family and identity.
Phyllis is ten years old, talkative, curious, and highly imaginative. She dreams of being crowned the queen at a beauty contest in Weston-Super-Mare, a seaside town in England. The ordinary cupboard in the flat “explodes into a world of pageantry” in her imagination.
She forms a strong bond with her half-sister, Lorna, and also likes having her father around, being too young to remember or understand his abandonment.
When she is the victim of racism and cruel comments about her appearance at school, she gives up hope of becoming a beauty queen. Through support from her parents, she regains her confidence and sense of pride about her appearance and race.
Thirty-eight years old, Mavis is strict with her children, but also loving and with a playful side. She is deeply angry about Wendall’s abandonment and states that “Mi gon’ cut ‘im rass throat!” before she sees Lorna and stops herself.
Mavis has been left exhausted from bringing up the children as a single parent, asking Wendall in an emotional speech:
“What about these hands that been doing the work of two people?”Mavis
Eventually, she forgives her husband after he shows a commitment to helping the family and the Black community in Bristol. She also acknowledges that she was partly to blame for their marriage breakup.
Through the success of the Bus Boycott, she gains happiness, hope and pride in herself. She is able to use this feeling to lift Princess when she becomes disheartened.
Forty years old and “tall and handsome”, Wendall is wayward and irresponsible, gaining the nickname The Hustler due to his criminal activities. He has been in a relationship with Lorna’s mother in Liverpool, until she was sectioned (hospitalised for mental health issues), leaving him to raise their daughter.
At first, he tries to use charm to win back his family, asking Mavis, “Why yuh always ‘ave to be de prettiest gyal ‘pon de street?” When this doesn’t work, he realises that he needs to do more to gain their forgiveness; he joins the activist movement for the Bus Boycott and works hard to give Mavis the fun that has been missing from her life.
He finally gains redemption through the victory of the boycott, and by proposing a new marriage to Mavis, getting a stable job to support his family and helping Princess to regain her confidence.
Wendall Junior is seventeen years old and dreams of being a photographer. He is fiercely protective of his mother and sister, and does his best to make Wendall leave so that he doesn’t ‘break us all over again’.
Growing out of adolescence and into adulthood, Wendall Junior has a political awakening that sees him joining the protests in support of the Bus Boycott. He tells his father:
“I’m not a boy! You think I don’t know about the world. About what it means to be a man . . . a Black man.”Wendall Junior
Wendall Junior stays angry at his father longer than anyone else in the family, lambasting him for his lack of a job and responsibility. After the Bus Boycott victory, he shows his forgiveness for Wendall by including him in the photograph he takes of the family.
Forty-two years old, Margot is a White friend of Mavis. She is funny and flirtatious, and enjoys the attention she gets for her glamorous appearance. Margot is also caring and looks after Mavis, as well as forming a close bond with Princess, indulging her in her beauty contest obsession.
Although Margot loves the James family, she also displays casual racism. When talking about the Bus Boycott, she said that immigrants shouldn’t complain about the limited employment opportunities they receive.
After falling out with Mavis over these views, they reconcile after she helps Princess. Mavis tells her, “you’re always welcome here”, and Margot cries with happiness.
Lorna is nine years old, and Wendall’s daughter that he had with a woman from Liverpool. She is initially quiet and overwhelmed by her new situation, but soon comes out of her shell as she and Princess bond.
Lorna misses her mother deeply, especially when she is bullied for being mixed-race and made to feel that she doesn’t belong to any cultural group:
“I’m only half. Half of everything. Half-sister.”Lorna
She feels accepted in the James family when she sees that Wendall Junior has hung up a photograph titled “My Other Sister”, causing her to break out in a “big smile.”
Nineteen years old, Leon is a loyal and supportive friend of Wendall Junior’s. The two of them share a passion for photography and political activism.
Leon provides one of the most comical moments in the story when he clumsily flirts with Margot, and “attempts to casually lean on a wall and slips.” He encourages his friend to be less hostile towards his father, perhaps seeing the harm that his anger does him.