Framing the automobile in twentieth century American literature : a spatial approach

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Shelby Smoak (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Myers

Abstract: "This study examines fictional representations of the automobile in American literature and argues that the American novel subverts a favorable perception of the car. While other approaches have engaged the automobile in critical discussion, I apply Joseph Frank's spatial theory to propose the automobile as a framed site that recurs throughout texts; this approach allows for a stricter focus on the material automobile in the text and encourages an investigation of the relationship between cars and American culture. The automobile in literature, however, is not a static site, but is dynamic, much in the same manner Roland Barthes theorizes when he argues for opening a text. To highlight the dynamic quality of the textual automobile site, this study focuses on how characters and cars interact in works of American fiction. Specifically, I argue for cars as experiences of violence, sacredness, and consumption. Cars represented as sites of violence involve instances of car fatalities, of premeditated murder, and of a general antagonism toward car technology; cars represented as sites of sacredness involve instances when cars are places of escape and freedom, and where cars are sites of religious idolatry; cars represented as sites of consumption involve instances of when cars are traded, or where cars are places for consuming other goods such as food and beverages. Moreover, particular paradigms predominate in specific periods of American literature, so that in the early decades of the twentieth century, fiction predominantly represents cars as sites of violence; in the middle decades, fiction predominantly represents cars as sites of sacredness; and at the century's end, fiction predominantly represents cars as sites of sacredness. The American novel employs the paradigms of violence, sacredness, and consumption to subvert a perception that cars are good for American culture. Ultimately, I hope my work will yield new ways of examining literary representations of cultural objects. Additionally, I wish for my work to express the indelible mark the car has left, and is still leaving, upon American culture, especially the American novel."--Abstract from author supplied metadata.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2007
fictional representations, automobiles, American literature, novels, Joseph Frank, spatial theory
American literature--20th century--History and criticism
American fiction--20th century--History and criticism
Automobiles in literature--20th century--History and criticism

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