The “road trip” has come to represent the most American of activities—the independence of travel, the freedom of the open road, and the act of self-discovery. However, some road trips, literarily at least, have the power to observe American life from a place of transience, transition and itinerancy, allowing for certain insights into our country that may not have otherwise surfaced. This course will attempt to use the very liminal space of constant motion to aid us in potentially redefining the American landscape as one of transnationality, diversity, and surprise. The course will also focus on units of travelers as representations of identity, and how that identity has the potential to morph and change based on context. We will hopefully be able to use this genre as a powerful tool in understanding the horizons and limitations of “national identity” as a concept.
Although Kerouac’s novel On the Road has seemed to bring road-tripping into its status as the iconic “American” experience, this course more loosely defines the terms both “road” and “trip” in order to allow all kinds of different variations on the theme. Grounding ourselves a li le more than a century earlier, we will begin with the very same ideas of transience and travel and nation using excerpts from Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) and Henry James’s Daisy Miller (1879). The early 20th Century, too, will complicate understandings of moving through an “American” landscape—with Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), Steinbeck’s The Pearl (1947) and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea (1951). In our third section, we’ll fully embrace the “contemporary” by exploring possible works as (finally!) On The Road (1957) Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools (1962); and, sections of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives (1998), Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012).
Whether it’s driving in Sal Paradise’s beat-up Commodore, sailing in Ahab’s Pequod, trekking in the Bundrens’s wagon, or drifting away in Santiago’s skiff, we will examine these journeys—by land, by sea, or by foot—that help us “search for America” in a variety of ways. We might be surprised by what we find.