HIST-LIT 90AT: The Postwar American Road Narrative





Instructor: Patrick Whitmarsh
Meeting time: Thursday, 3:00-5:00 pm

Postwar American Road NarrativeTraditionally, the postwar American road narrative has been associated with figures like Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, and seen as representing a modern libertinism inseparable from white privilege and angst. As we will see in this seminar, white male writers and drivers do not have a monopoly on the road; it has also been a powerful element of storytelling for writers of color. The imagery and experience of the road assume very different meanings for different people; what is an opportunity for carefree adventure for one person is a source of precarity for another. Looking at works such as Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017), Misha Green’s 2020 adaptation of Lovecraft Country for HBO, and contemporary music by Lil Nas X and Beyoncé, we will explore topics of travel, transience, migration, and dislocation in post-World War II American fiction and culture. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the postwar boom in automobility coincided not only with the expansion of the American suburbs and the oil industry, but with the intensification of the Civil Rights movement. Taking this intersection as its historical starting point, our course considers the racial legacies of the United States through the framework of the road, arriving at a broader understanding of the injustices that persist today, including police brutality, gentrification, and environmental racism.

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