American Road Narratives

American Road Narratives: Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    American Road Narratives
    Book Description:

    The freedom to go anywhere and become anyone has profoundly shaped our national psyche. Transforming our sense of place and identity--whether in terms of social and economic status, or race and ethnicity, or gender and sexuality-American mobility is perhaps nowhere more vividly captured than in the image of the open road. From pioneer trails to the latest car commercial, the road looms large as a form of expansiveness and opportunity.

    Too often it is the celebratory idea of the road as a free-floating zone moving the traveler beyond the typical concerns of space and time that dominates the discussion. Rather than thinking of mobility as an escape from cultural tensions, however, Ann Brigham proposes that we understand mobility as a mode of engagement with them. She explores the genre of road narratives to show how mobility both thrives on and attempts to manage shifting conflicts about space and society in the United States.

    From the earliest transcontinental automobile narratives from the 1910s, through classics like Jack Kerouac'sOn the Roadand the filmThelma & Louise,up to post-9/11 narratives, Brigham traces the ways in which mobility has been imagined, created, and interrogated over the past century and shows how mobility promises, and threatens, to incorporate the outsider and to blur boundaries. Bringing together textual and cultural analysis, theories of spatiality, and sociohistorical frameworks, this book offers an invigoratingly different view of mobility and a new understanding of the road narrative's importance in American culture.

    Cultural Frames, Framing Culture

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3751-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the year following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, RV sales and rentals in the United States soared. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reported “a record surge” in its American business (Wille). Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2001 and continuing through 2002, RV rentals rose by 30 percent (Sloan), while RV sales in the first five months of 2002 jumped more than 20 percent compared with 2001 (“High Rollers”). This RV trend was even more notable because, against the backdrop of a contracting economy, it continued to expand. In 2002 domestic shipments of RVs “rose 21 percent . . ....

  5. ONE Early Road Narratives and the “Voyage into Democracy”
    (pp. 17-52)

    Six years before the appearance of her best-selling classicEtiquette,Emily Post authored a road narrative. Appearing in 1916,By Motor to the Golden Gatedescribes her journey from New York City to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco taken the previous year with her son and a cousin. On assignment forCollier’smagazine, Post was, in her editor’s words, “to find out how far youcango pleasurably! When you find it too uncomfortable, come home!” (Post 8). In these early days of cross-country automobiling, discomfort would be determined by the suitability, or even the existence, of roads...

  6. TWO Post–World War II Reorientations of Racialized Masculinity
    (pp. 53-105)

    The road narrative genre experienced an upsurge in the decades following World War II. Jack Kerouac’sOn the Road(1957) and the TV seriesRoute 66(1960 – 64) achieved mass popularity, John Howard Griffin’sBlack Like Me(1961) became a bestseller, and John Steinbeck’sTravels with Charley: In Search of America(1961) appeared the same year the writer won the Nobel Prize for literature. Diverse in medium and message, this group of texts nonetheless shares a common core: in this period, the story of mobility is a story about men on the move. With the 1964 publication ofThis Is...

  7. THREE Troubling Scale in Women’s Road Narratives of the 1980s and 1990s
    (pp. 106-150)

    Though prevalent before War World II, road narratives featuring female travelers disappeared after the war, suggesting that, among other things, discourses of mobility were prominently articulated and defined in relation to an ideology of masculinity during the cold war and civil rights eras.¹ With the 1980s, female protagonists return, but their return marks a departure from earlier scripts. In Barbara Kingsolver’sThe Bean Trees(1985), Mona Simpson’sAnywhere But Here(1986), and Ridley Scott’s filmThelma & Louise(1991), women leave home — as they did in pre – World War II road narratives — but home does not leave them.² Characters use...

  8. FOUR Agitating Space and Stories: Late Twentieth-Century Native American Road Narratives
    (pp. 151-186)

    While Thelma and Louise make the ultimate decision to “keep goin’,” the road narratives of this chapter complicate that trajectory, undertaking mobility as a historical project, a way to go back—and come again. Introducing Native American viewpoints, these texts represent mobility as a mode of incorporating personal, communal, and historical pasts into the present. The texts, then, insist that the process of incorporation enacted by mobility is never just spatial; it is also temporal. In David Seals’s novelThe Powwow Highway(1979), Philbert Bono and Buddy Red Bird leave the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana and head for...

  9. FIVE Reviving (Re)Productivity: Post-9/11 Stories of Mobility in the Homeland
    (pp. 187-224)

    While the road narratives of the last chapter expanded the realms of incorporation that mobility navigates, the texts in this chapter take the relationship between mobility and incorporation to another scale. In these road stories, produced in the years following the 9/11 attacks, mobility itself undergoes reincorporation as a mode of identity formation. More specifically, Jim Jarmusch’sBroken Flowers(2005), Duncan Tucker’sTransamerica(2005), Sam Mendes’sAway We Go(2009), and Cormac McCarthy’sThe Road(2006) enact a response to the transgressive mobility of the 9/11 attacks with narratives that reclaim mobility as a way to address the profound loss...

  10. Epilogue: Postrecession Mobility, Placing Mythology
    (pp. 225-230)

    The opening sequence ofNebraska,the 2013 road film directed by Alexander Payne, immerses us in a landscape of mobilities. The camera holds steady on a long shot of a local route. Traffic streams away from and toward the viewer. To the left of the road, a large sign extends into the air: “Tire Factory.” To the right, a solitary figure walks on a narrow strip of snow-covered ground toward the camera. And on his right, on the other side of a chain-link fence, a freight train sits idle on the tracks. The automobile, the pedestrian, the railroad: they are...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 231-240)
    (pp. 241-252)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 253-262)