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's On the Road and the film Thelma & 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.
Choice Outstanding Academic Title from American Library Association
Unique and often brilliant, American Road Narratives is both exceptionally well done and reflective of a theme that is of wide interest both in the United States and abroad. Brigham manages to simultaneously provide a panoramic view of the road and of mobility in American culture—and a road well traveled suddenly becomes new and many times more interesting.
American Road Narratives references post-9/11 debates over mobility to introduce andframe the theme of incorporation.... This tension not only demonstrates the polysemic nature of mobility, but in turning ‘the road’ into a site of belonging and comfort rather than escape and rebellion, this tension also shows that the meanings of mobility, of the road and the car, are subject to changes in the historical and social contexts for their articulation. Brigham’s book is a thoughtful and well-researched reconsideration of these recurring themes in American history, geography and mythology.
Ann Brigham is Associate Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Roosevelt University and the coeditor of Making Worlds: Gender, Metaphor, Materiality.