“The Passenger” Write Up by Isobel, Alessa, and Michael

Summary Part 1: Alessa
Babe is a limo driver with piercings and a boss/dispatcher (Ruthanne) she has never met in real life. Today, she was going to pick up two Chins by international baggage at LAX, which causes Babe to start complaining because that means she’ll have to circle the airport multiple times before she picks them up. After a couple rounds, people start coming out and she somehow knows who she needs to pick up. She tries to put their suitcase in the trunk because of company policy but is unable to do so because they don’t understand English.

Babe starts to have a flashback of when her mother first attempted suicide. Babe addressed her mother by first name and discovered that she had taken an entire bottle of Xanax. Fortunately, her mother threw it all up before Babe entered the apartment.

At the end of part one, Babe and the Chins are caught up in some traffic.

Summary Part 2: Isobel
Babe is in the limo with the Chins and Ruthie informs her about a fare at a recording studio. Babe takes it and exits the freeway she’s on, so she can jump onto a shorter route. However, this route is backed up with traffic because of an accident that took place hours ago. We have another flashback that takes place in Cleveland. Babe and her mother go to a coffee shop and a man and his daughter sit with them during lunch. The group don’t really talk until Babe’s mother converses with the man’s daughter. The girl’s long hair is brought up and after a brief conversation, Babe and her mother leave the coffee shop without touching the bill. Babe is brought back to the present due to flashing lights in front of her. She calls a policeman over to the limo who she begins to converse with, learning that the accident involved a car full of kids. The Chins are in the back and they seem to be a little nervous. Babe hears moaning coming from their suitcase and the policeman acknowledges their presence. Once he leaves, the Chins hop out the limo as the traffic is moving forward without paying Babe. She turns her attention to the abandoned suitcase.

Summary Part 3: Michael
She opens it carefully and through fear with a stick. As she opens the case she screams without realizing that the words are coming from her mouth. There is a baby in the suitcase, very small and fragile. She holds the child close to her face, she rushes the baby to the emergency room. Once she gets there the baby is taken and she treated as a criminal. Many of the nurses believe Babe is the reason for the baby’s condition. Babe has a flashback to the time her mother tried to slit her wrists yet missed the vein. She continues to clean up her mother and tend to her needs despite her obvious will not to live. She is taken from the waiting room to a locked closet containing a metal table. She is spoken to by many different officers and eventually realizes how serious the situation is. She is eventually released and reflects upon her life and the child’s past. About the mother’s dreams and hopes for the child’s life.

Alessa’s Analysis:

Conflicts (pink)

People make assumptions about me

When it comes to interacting with authority and people of higher class, she is most likely painted out to be a criminal or immature because of her appearance and age.

They don’t understand a word I’m saying.

This makes it difficult to interact with her customers, specifically when she tries to put the luggage in the trunk of the limo and when she’s trying to make them get back inside the car. This also pisses her off when she finds out that they can speak English.

My mother tried to kill herself

Growing up with a suicidal mother seems to have made Babe very blunt and honest. Perhaps her use of rude sarcasm is a coping mechanism that she uses to protect herself.

She doesn’t believe a word I say.

Babe could possibly go to jail if she doesn’t convince the cop that what she’s saying is the truth, especially since she didn’t even any proof she could provide them with at the time.

Scene (green) VS Summary (blue)

In paragraph fifteen, the main character leaped from telling the story to describe things about herself. She revealed that she lived on Lincoln Boulevard and that she used to have a boyfriend. Babe is also a limo driver with a nose piercing. She’s twenty-three years old and doesn’t really want much from life. Ruthanne is her boss and dispatcher, which she has never met in real life. The main character builds up our knowledge about her and, in turn, makes herself more relatable to the reader.

Summary:

I’m twenty-three. I live alone in a second-story box on Lincoln Boulevard. I had a boyfriend for a while. I liked him, then I didn’t. I have a few friends left over from high school, and we go drinking sometimes, but lately I’m not sure why. We get together and moan about rent, or we get worked up telling stories we’ve told before. We end up staring into our drinks because facing each other is like looking into a mirror in bad lighting.

Babe picks up two Chins outside international luggage at LAX. Babe complains about this because it means she’ll have to drive around multiple times before picking up her customers. She somehow knew that the Asian couple by the curb were her customers. After she collects the couple, she notices that they don’t understand English.

Scene:

Then I see a man and a woman standing at the curb with a very large black suitcase between them, and for some reason I know that they are my Chins. She’s wearing a neatly cut jacket and a matching skirt. Her black high heels are so polished they reflect the lights overhead. He wears a double-breasted suit that hangs loosely over his thin body. His hair is swooped back into a gentle pompadour, and it’s shiny with whatever goop he put into it.

The first time her mother tried killing herself was when the main character was nineteen and already living on her own. The mother had swallowed a bunch of sleep pills before throwing them all up. It is also revealed that Babe addresses her mother by her first name whenever she was trying to get her attention. The following is how the main character found her upon entering the home and what happened once she returned to work.

Scene:

When I got to her shabby rental in Laurel Canyon, she was sitting on her couch with her legs crossed underneath her. Her orange dress, missing half its sequined flowers, covered her knees like a tent. Bubbles of spit shone on her chin and there was vomit on her dress.

Summary:

I went to work, where I unloaded soggy restaurant tablecloths and hospital sheets from the washing machines and crammed them into carriers strung from the ceiling. After eight hours, my apron was soaked and my hands were waterlogged, and I was a little high off the dryer fumes. When I walked out onto Highland, I had the feeling I was swimming. The noise of the traffic was like the rubbery sounds you hear underwater.

The narration returns to present time, where Babe is stuck in traffic because of an accident that happened up ahead and around two hours ago. She was originally going to pick up a few more people from a recording studio, but the traffic prevents her from doing so. Babe has to inform Ruth that she was going to be unable to pick up the clients.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was the main character’s mother suicidal?
  2. What significant detail stood out to you the most?
  3. Was the main character passive?

Isobel’s Analysis:

Techniques tracked:

  • The artistic purpose of the flashbacks
  • Symbolism that was shown throughout the story

When we first begin “The Passenger,” we learn that our main character, Babe, is a limo driver. She talks about how other people were content with past jobs and how they wanted to be doing something else, but then Babe shocks us by saying that she is perfectly content with being a limo driver. As the story unfolds, we see that while Babe drives, memories that have escaped her mind seem to float back to her, thus allowing her to see them vividly as the surrounding area just flies by. Also, near the end of the story, Babe realizes that she doesn’t remember most of her life.

I really have no idea about the things that went on in my life.

When I read this, I began to think that the limo could symbolize a way for her to get back to her past because it’s only when she’s driving that she really remembers the little things that went on in her life.

Driving sometimes puts me in this dreamy place where I remember strange details from my life.

Her limo is like a teleportation device to the parts of her mind that she’s suppressed and most of these parts involve her mother during her childhood and young adolescence life.

Another thing that we learn from Babe’s story is about her dispatcher, Ruthie. Ruthie is never actually seen by Babe in person, but Babe has seen her red jacket in the office once.

…her red jacket hanging off a chair at the office. It had a dog appliquéd across the back. Normally someone who would wear that jacket would have nothing to say to me…

Also, Ruthie never follows the rules about using the numbers that correspond to each driver, choosing to use their real names instead.

We’re required to use our call number, but Ruthie never does.

Due to those two little details, I thought that the red jacket could symbolize the social classes in L.A. Babe says herself that someone with that type of jacket would never talk to her and that could be because a person with that type of jacket has more wealth or a higher status that her. Also, the fact that Ruthie never uses call numbers can be interpreted as Ruthie thinking that she is above those rules. I also thought that L.A. itself could symbolize something.

Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

I thought that L.A. could represent lost hope or maybe just hope. I thought that line just made it seem like the mother of that baby had hope of her little baby living a better life but obviously it didn’t work out. Also, Babe continues to live there so maybe she still has hope of something good happening.

When Babe picks the Chins up, she notices a “very large black suitcase” in between them. Once I learned that there was a baby inside of that suitcase I saw the suitcase as representing secrets. I thought that the specific detail of the suitcase being in between the couple showed that it was a shared secret and that it was very large showed that it was a large secret (it was). The Chins are also very protective of the suitcase and keep it close to each other which is something people do when they have secrets, they keep it close and in between themselves.

When Babe’s mother tries to commit suicide for the first time, she is described as wearing a very specific dress.

…orange dress, missing half its sequined flowers…

This description of the dress made me think that the dress could symbolize the mother. I’m sure the dress was once very beautiful but now, it’s seen as falling apart. This is just like the mother who is now suffering from the demons inside of her head that are causing her to feel suicidal. When people are suicidal, they are often depicted as dolls that are unraveling and falling apart at the seams but maybe what the author was trying to get across was that the mother wasn’t just a doll. The mother was an orange dress, something beautiful and cheery but that is now losing its sequined flowers. Also, during this scene in the story, Babe’s mother asks about Babe’s current job, as a person who washes clothes. She asks how the clothes are and Babe responds with:

It’s like dirty sheets getting clean.

I saw this as foreshadowing for when the mother goes with that group in the desert. She is the dirty sheet that is now getting cleaned. Also, if you think about it, the mother is getting helped by Babe most of the time, so Babe’s job could symbolize her helping her mother getting through her darkest hours.

Later, in the story while Babe and her mother are in Cleveland we hear about a temple that the mother works at. The temple is described as the only nice things for blocks in Babe’s neighborhood. I thought that the temple could symbolize hope in hardships because of its niceness. The temple has a gold roof and Babe often wonders if the gold is real or not. This could be Babe wondering if she should trust this hope or if this is just a false sense of hope.

When the Chins are trying to leave the car, they are shown as being frantic and messy compared to their previous cool and classy personas.

Mrs. Chin follows, her skirt sliding up her thighs…

…scrambling awkwardly…

Earlier on in the story, the couple seemed very calm and very polite. Mrs. Chin slid into the car gracefully and Mr. Chin followed. The author including the couple leaving in the way they did just seemed to show how anxious they were to leave. This foreshadowed the upcoming events of Babe finding a baby in the suitcase which is probably why the Chins were so eager to leave.

The final bit of symbolism that I saw was the baby in the suitcase.

It’s lying on a soiled yellowish cloth, making weird stuttery noises that don’t exactly sound like breathing. A small tank lies next to it, and an oxygen mask that must have once covered its nose and mouth hangs down around its chin. A rank, rotten smell reaches me, and I see that the baby’s legs are caked with mustardy shit…

In either case, some mother gave that baby away. Maybe she needed the cash, or maybe she thought her baby would do better without her. Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

Once I read these paragraphs that talked about the baby, I thought that the baby could represent Babe. One, their names are similar: The baby and Babe. Also, the description of the suitcase that the baby was found in could be the neighborhood that Babe had lived in when she was younger. The neighborhood was apparently a “bad” neighborhood and the suitcase that the baby was found in was bad. Also, the air tank that was found with the baby could be someone trying to keep it alive during the trip. I saw this as Babe’s mother trying to raise her daughter despite all the hardships they faced. Finally, the baby being given away and taken to L.A. also reminded me of Babe because she was taken to L.A. by her mother and she had to raise herself while she was there.

In “The Passenger,” Babe has flashbacks from her past. Based off information from the story (that I’ve previously mentioned in the symbolism section), we learn that Babe finds it easier to remember her past while driving. She has four flashbacks during the duration of the story and all four involve her mother. The first flashback is of her mother’s first time she tried to commit suicide.

She said she had taken an entire bottle of Xanax. She was getting yawny and slurry as we were talking, and I couldn’t get her to tell me how many pills had been in the bottle. But, since she usually avoided taking her pills when she needed them, I figured that “entire” might be the truth.

Babe rushes to her mother’s side and finds her mother alive, sitting on the couch, covered in throw up. The two talk but Babe’s mother isn’t entirely there. Babe’s mother asks if Babe wants to stay for lunch or for some tea but Babe declines, bringing up her job.

I have to go back to work,” I said. “They’ll dock my pay.”

“Okay,” she said, pouting.

Just based off Babe’s reaction to her mother trying to commit suicide and her mother’s reaction to Babe’s disinterest, I started to think that Babe’s mother might be doing this to get Babe’s attention. Maybe she wants her daughter back. In fact, proof of Babe’s mother doing this to see her daughter can be seen in the third flashback.

…she used a razor blade to cut her wrists fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to go over for dinner-which gave me some idea of how serious she was…

“If you really mean it, you use a gun.”

“Oh,” she said, shuddering, as if the idea made her think of snakes or spiders. “I could never fire a gun.”

To me, this sounds like the mother is sad and does feel suicidal, but she might be like this because she misses Babe who seems to maybe be ashamed or disinterested in her mother’s life. Babe’s mother doesn’t want to finalize her suicide by using a gun and Babe responds with a “well then we’re in luck.” Also, in the first flashback, when Babe brings food to her mother, she doesn’t wake her up and instead chooses to just turn the TV on so her mother has someone/something to wake up to in the morning.

I watched her breath a few times, then turned on the TV so she would have company when she woke up.

Babe’s attitude towards her mother’s suicide could just be a coping mechanism because she doesn’t know how else to deal with this.

In the second flashback, Babe and her mother are in Cleveland despite her mother hating the city. The two live in a bad neighborhood and the only thing good about it is the temple that Babe’s mother works at. While they’re there, Babe and her mother go to a coffee shop and sit at a booth. A man and his daughter come in and ask if they could join the two.

…when he got to our booth he stopped and asked if they could sit with us. My mother said yes, if they wanted. The man sat down. The girl looked upset, but he told her to sit, and she did…

The interactions between the two parties seem innocent enough but underneath all of that, something for sinister seemed to be bugging Babe. The coffee shop wasn’t full, yet the man still wanted to sit with her and her mother. As the groups sits, eating in silence, the man’s daughter’s hair gets stuck in her sandwich the mother comments on that and the daughter responds with “I brush it a hundred times every morning and night.”

 “Somebody must have taught you that,” my mother said. I wasn’t sure whether she was asking of telling. The girl didn’t say anything.

Babe and her mother finish their food, then leave without paying. Babe notices this and brings it up.

“I think we forgot to pay,” I said once we were headed into the freezing wind towards the bus stop.

“We paid, all right,” she said.

This scene seemed a little off in my mind, so I began to think about it. Initially, nothing seems too wrong with this scene, but the man’s daughter’s reaction and Babe’s mother’s ending sentence made me think that the man and Babe’s mother had some sort of relationship or contact that Babe was unaware of. In relations to the whole story, I think that this flashback comments on how Babe is having to do jobs that others don’t want to so she could get by, just like her mother had to. Her mother had to live in a city she hated, and she worked at a temple just to get by. Although Babe is content with her job, I’m sure she wouldn’t say no to a better job.

In the third flashback, we see that Babe’s mother has tried to kill herself once again, this time using a razor blade. Babe comes to help her mother and the two are talking about the mother. Babe’s mother feels worthless and Babe tries to comfort her but doesn’t really understand. Once Babe gets her mother a band aid, her mother asks if Babe will stay.

“Stay for a while,” she said.

“Eventually I’ll have to go.”

“That’s always the way.”

I believe that this flashback shows Babe’s mother finally coming to terms with Babe being an adult who has her own life.

The final flashback is of Babe’s mother moving to the desert sanctuary, so she can properly heal. A couple of quotes stuck out to me that helps me understand why these flashbacks were included.

I shrugged. “It’s no different than anyplace else. So what’s the point of leaving?”

“I wish I felt that way. I really do. But somehow, after a while, a place starts to feel like a splinter to me, you know? Like something you have to get rid of before it gets infected.”

Earlier on in the story, Babe is stuck in traffic and thinks of this:

You can be stuck or you can be going places…

I think that another reason the mother is suicidal is because she needs to keep moving, if she ever stops, like she told Babe, it feels like a splinter to her. She can’t stand the same place for too long so that’s why Babe and her kept moving. I think that this is one of the reasons that Babe has trouble remembering her past, so much happened and so fast, she has trouble or she just gave up trying to remember. Also, the last line of the story stuck out to me like a sore thumb:

Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

I feel like this is a comment on the baby that was in the suitcase and a comment on Babe and her mother. Maybe her mother moved to L.A. with Babe with hopes of finally being able to find a place that wouldn’t feel like a splinter. As Babe said before, L.A. isn’t all pools and palm trees. There’s a lot of things going on there. By the end of the story, I was able to intertwine the past and the present of the story by one main theme: Mother-daughter relationships. In the past, it’s Babe dealing with her mother and in the present, it’s the baby (who is the daughter of some mother that abandoned her). So, I believe that the story is sort of like a commentary on that topic.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Silver intertwine Babe’s past with the present situation that she’s in?
  2. What is your opinion of Babe’s mother? Is she a good mother or a bad mother?

Michael’s Analysis: 

Elements of Fiction:

Setting

Sepulvelda BLVD Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles International Airport

A hospital building

Her mother’s desert community

Point of View

This story is retold from the view of Babe, She is a young woman who is well traveled. She has multiple piercings and has lived a troubled life.

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