Well folks, I hope you enjoyed your travel through American Literature and that you learned something of value, whether it was the definition of a new term (e.g. manifest destiny, mesmerism) or what books to add to your summer reading list (I highly recommend Looking Backward or The Virginian). I hope that I was able to present to you an interesting new topic by focusing on the importance of travel in American Literature through western expansion, through escape to the north or through time travel. All transportation is important in literature because it traces the movements of characters and their progression through the story. I’m hoping everyone also had a chance to stop and peruse the different modes of transportation used throughout the novels and how transportation has evolved over time. If you are interested in the authors, check out The Engineers That Power the Train to learn a little about their life, achievements and other works. And now folks, don’t forget to collect all your belongings, and feel free to leave a comment. Us drivers love to know how your trip was!
This blog, written by a fellow classmate of mine, fits in well with my Grapes of Wrath post. Feel free to peruse his blog as you “travel” through cyber space!
Secondly, how humourous was that? Well, whether you chuckled or cringed, the idea of that video remains the same: that the biblical story of Exodus is about journey and wandering, about leaving one’s home for a new one, about powers beyond one’s control leading to this removal, but also about the possibility of regained authority in a new land. Facing slavery in Egypt, the Israelites fled from the cruel grasp of the Pharaoh to the hypothetical land of milk
duds and honey dew. The promise of freedom and dream-worthy potentials was enough for the Israelites to move away from their homestead and its restrictions. And though the farmers of the 1920s and 1930s were not, technically, enslaved by a Pharaoh, they were under the iron fist of the banking system. When that banking system became unruly and unscrupulous with the Great Depression, the farmers, and their literary counterparts in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of…
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Folks, we’ve gone from exploring the use of horses and wagons to slave ships to automobiles, and now it’s time to examine the use of time as a travel mechanism. Time travel you say? Where a big bulky time machine is used to transport the passenger from one instance in time to another? Similar to say…
Well folks, not all time travel needs fancy machines or souped-up Delorean cars, instead, all some time travelers need is a good nights sleep to be transported through time. For example, in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887, the main character, Julian West was put to sleep by Dr. Pillsbury, a “Professor of Animal Magnetism” (Bellamy 57) in the year 1887. Dr. Pillsbury was skilled in mesmerism which allowed West to fall into a deep, soundless sleep. When West awakened it was in the year 2000 which means he slept for “one hundred and thirteen years, three months and eleven days” (Bellamy 61). Since West was in a trance while he slept, his body tissues and functions were suspended, causing his physical self to remain intact and not age throughout his sleep.
This makes Julian West the first of our characters to involuntarily travel. He is also the first character to experience travel without actually leaving the comforts of his home. As, according to Raj in the above clip, time travel is only capable of transporting someone forward or backwards in time, not to a different destination, Julian West simply traveled forward a century but didn’t leave his home. When he awoke, he remained in Boston, however Boston, he soon learned, had changed a great deal in a century, whether he did not. Upon touring Boston after his time travel, Julian West discovered that things were not as he remembered.
What Julian West learns is that the entire world has changed while he was sleeping, not just Boston. The shops and banks are no longer on Washington or State street because neither are needed anymore. Buying and selling is a thing of the past as money no longer exists. Workers are given “credits” to “purchase” what they desire from large stores which are more like housing centers for the goods “sold” to members of each ward. While Julian West only traveled through time, and not space, the huge gap in time has created a world that is similar to that of having traveled through space as well.
To Infinity and Beyond!
According to Paul J. Nahin, time travel to the future is theoretically possible. In his book Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction he states that if a person was travelling by time machine they could travel to the future. He bases this claim on the theory of special relativity. Now, I’m no scientist, but according to “Einstein’s Special Relativity For Dummies” if you are moving fast enough through space, what you see and what others see will differ based on the speeds you are traveling compared to others. Now as I have already said, I am not a scientist and this is not a science lesson, so that is all we need to know about the theory of special relativity. Instead we will focus again on other aspects of time travel. Nahin also presents theories for time travel that does not involve a time machine, similarly to how Julian West traveled in Looking Backward. The idea has been presented that time travel can occur just through the power of your mind. What Nahin is talking about is time travel based on a persons thoughts, where the traveler thinks about a time long enough and hard enough and their thoughts and desires will transport their mind back in time. There has been some discrepancies about this however, as some believe the whole person can travel back in time, while others believe only their mind can be transported into the body of a person living in the past time. While all of these are theories, time travel is still one of the great mysteries of life and is therefore a great source of entertainment.
Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward: 2000-1887. Canada: Broadview Literary Texts, 2003.
Jones, Andrew Zimmerman and Robbins, Daniel. “Einstein’s Special Relativity.” String Theory for Dummies. 25 November 2012. <http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/einsteins-special-relativity.html>.
Nahin, Paul J. Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1993.
Folks we are now travelling down Route 66, the Mother Road which connects Illinois with Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to California. This highway was the site of a mass diaspora involving hundreds of families who lost their lands in the east and decided to move out west (usually to California) in search of jobs and a new and better life (sounds like Manifest Destiny a bit eh?). We’ve just about caught up with one such family–the Joad’s. I’d ask that while we are travelling down Route 66 you keep your eyes peeled on the side of the road for a broken down Hudson as it might just be them.
In this fantastic book I found entitled Road Frames: The American Highway Narrative, there are entire sections devoted to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and how influential it is as a travel narrative. The Grapes of Wrath is centered around the Joad family, a family from Oklahoma who are forced off their land by tractors and banks and travel to California in search of jobs and a new life. Unfortunately for the Joad’s, they are only one of hundreds of families heading to California in search of work. The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family as they travel along Route 66 in their re-made Hudson truck.
The family jalopy (a beaten-up old car) became the center of the family as it was where they ate, slept and some even died. Each family member had a limited amount of space to call their own, some sitting in the cab, while the rest settled under a tarp on top of the loaded “trunk” (reminds me of the cramped slave ships we saw earlier). The Grapes of Wrath is known, not just as a travel narrative but as one of the best-known road sagas where “the travelers are not vagabonds but refugees” (Lackey 83). It is a combination between The Virginian and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in that the family needs to travel to find work, similar to the Virginian who leaves his home in search of a job, however the Joad’s are not leaving of their own free will, but are forced out in search of a better life, just like Harriet Jacobs who fled captivity in search of her freedom. I am not saying that Steinbeck’s novel is similar to a slave narrative or a cowboy western, however I just wanted to note the similarities that can be found in different types of travel literature, whether it is a western, slave narrative or highway literature.
As I have mentioned already, one of the main points of focus for Steinbeck is the family car. While in the other novels I have examined, the modes of transportation have been present, they have not been a part of the forefront of the novel. In The Grapes of Wrath, almost the entire novel is centered around the car.
“The family met at the most important place, near the truck. The house was dead, the fields were dead; but this truck was the active thing, the living principle. The ancient Hudson, with bent and scarred radiator screen, with grease in dusty globules at the worn edges of every moving part, with hub caps gone and caps of red dust in their places–this was the new hearth, the living center of the family; half passenger car and half truck, high-sided and clumsy.” (Steinbeck 99)
Without the car the family would be stuck. They needed their car to get to California to find a new life. Steinbeck created imagery with this car, focusing on the many repairs it needed, the amount of money spent on gas, and the constant anxiety the car caused for Al and Tom–the mechanics and chauffeurs of the family. The Joad’s were lucky to have Al and Tom who were knowledgeable in driving and car repairs, as other families were not as lucky. The Wilson’s, for example, would have been left stranded at the side of the road had the Joad’s not offered to help fix their car. Gas station owners were getting frustrated too with the amount of cars passing by each day as fewer and fewer of them had the money to pay for the gas they took. One gas station owner told the Joad’s that “fifty-six cars a folks go by ever’ day, folks all movin’ west with kids an’ househol’ stuff” (Steinbeck 126). When this gas station owner asked why everyone was migrating, the only answer Tom had was “Doin’ the same as us…Goin’ someplace to live. Tryin’ to get along. That’s all” (Steinbeck 126). It is in these words that Tom explains that there is nothing left back in Oklahoma and the only way to survive is to keep moving forward, or in the words of Rodney Atkins, “if you’re going through hell keep on going.”
As this post has mentioned, the main source of transportation in The Grapes of Wrath was by automobile. Written during the Depression, cars were not the easiest item to buy. Many people had to sell their belongings just to buy a jalopy or used car. In The Grapes of Wrath there is an entire chapter dedicated to the buying and selling of cars (chapter 7) and all the tricks car salesmen used to sell their cars, such as turning back the odometer to make it seem as if the car had traveled less kilometers than it really did. In a time of such great migration where having a car was a necessity, the car salesmen could and would jack-up the prices of a car.
“I got to get jalopies. I don’t want nothing for more’n twenty-five, thirty bucks. Sell ’em for fifty, seventy-give. That’s a good profit…Get jalopies. I can sell ’em fast as I get ’em. Nothing over two hundred fifty.” (62)
The first documented road trip was by a woman named Berta Benz on August 12, 1888. Since that initial trip, road trips have quickly escalated as car models have adapted over time to become the vehicles we all rely on today. The first cars, beginning in the 1770’s, were originally steam-powered and by the 1880’s cars were being powered by steam, gasoline and electricity. Some of the earliest car manufacturers were Benz, Daimler and Panhard (in Europe) or Duryea, Haynes and Winton (in America). By the 1910, gasoline became the main source of power for cars as these cars could travel longer distances and hold more passengers.
Next Stop: Looking Backward
Division of the History of Technology, Transportation Collections, National Museum of American History. “Early Cars: Fact Sheet for Children.” Smithsonian. 25 November 2012. <http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/earlycars.htm>.
Lackey, Kris. Road Frames: The American Highway Narrative. United States of America: The University of Nebraska Press. 1997.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. United States of America: Penguin Books. 1967.
“U.S. Route 66.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26 November 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_66>.
If you are looking for some more information on travel literature, or you simply want to read some books based around travel then a great website to check out is Paperback Traveler. This website is personally run, but provides a great definition of travel literature. The site is divided into different categories based on the type of travel literature you are looking for. The category that caught my eye was of course “American” but there are also categories that focus on specific authors, European travel literature and best sellers. So if you are wanting more, check it out!
This blog takes a look at Route 66 from The Grapes of Wrath. Route 66 was the main road traveled on to get to California. It is interesting to see the change on Route 66 from the times of The Grapes of Wrath to the present. The pothole filled roads still exist and as this blogger mentions the roads were only suitable for specific types of cars. The cars in The Grapes of Wrath were not “suitable” cars for long distance drives. They weren’t even suitable cars! They were handmade trucks, torn apart and rebuilt to create space for every family member and belonging. I liked how this blogger included the story about the GPS trying to turn them around. It is like the GPS was saying “you don’t want to go there! Turn around and don’t mention this place again”, What does this say about the Joad’s in The Grapes of Wrath who had no choice but to go forward? They had nothing to turn around and go back to.
The town of Williams where we were staying was the last town on Route 66 to be passed by the new freeway. The town makes the most of its’ heritage, although maybe a little kitch? We loved it! First we could walk round the town at night from the motel- no need to get in the car just to cross the road. Next I am a big John Steinbeck fan. The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of a dust bowl family in the 1930’s who were tractored off their land- ie the tractors just came along and knocked down their home, in the interests of big agri business. The family along with many others makes the long and difficult journey from Oklahoma along Route 66 to California, tempted by handbills offering work picking crops- peaches, grapes, cotton, oranges. When they arrive, after loosing three family members along the route…
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Once again folks I’d like to redirect your attention, this time to the South. Currently taking place in the South is a radical change. There is a secret passage that has been created linking the South to the North and it’s use is to help escaped slaves get to the Free States. This secret passage exists in different forms–the most well-known being The Underground Railroad. This railroad is not like the one you fine folks are travelling on, but a large network of people assisting escaped slaves to reach the Free States in the North. The Underground Railroad was given its name due to the newly emerged steam railroad. Since the railroad was new, it wouldn’t seem strange for people to be speaking in railroad terms which is one reason for deciding on the name the Underground Railroad. For example, safe houses were known as “stations”, and run by people known as “stationmasters.” There were also “stockholders” were people who donated money, food and goods to the escaping slaves. The most important position on The Underground Railroad was the “conductor.” It was the “conductor’s” job to help transport the slaves from one “station” to another. The Underground Railroad was not just accessible by foot either. Sometimes boats were used as part of The Underground Railroad as they were a faster way of reaching the Free States. Convince and speed have their costs however and only those with enough money could buy their passage on board while still saving enough money to start a new life when they reached the North. Folks if you consult your maps, I’m sure you will see the faint paths of The Underground Railroad travelling from South to North…
Another good map to examine when discussing slavery is the Map of American Slavery. This map was of great importance during the Civil War because it showed the density of slave populations across all the United States of America — the darker the region, the denser the slave populations.
Folks, the reason I had you look at these maps is to get you familiar with the idea of slavery in America. I did this because a popular form of American travel literature is the slave narrative. As some of the most transient people, slaves traveled by boat from their homelands in Africa to the United States. They were then auctioned off to the highest bidder and traveled to a new “home” with their master. There was then the many escape attempts attempted by slaves, some not making it past the next plantation, while only the lucky made it all the way to the Free States and Canada. The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill provides a great description of the travel one slave, Aminata Diallo, experienced.
The Book of Negros, while both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, is a fictional work, however, authentic slave narratives do exist. An example of an authentic slaver narrative can be found in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. This slave narrative is an autobiographical account, written by Harriet Jacobs, a free slave. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl describes the trials and tribulations slaves faced and their desperate desire to escape slavery, as well as the consequences they must face if caught.
For Harriet Jacobs, escape was possible, however to escape she had to abandon her children, a choice she struggled with as any good mother would. Once she escaped, Jacob’s lived in constant fear of being found and she had to travel around from place to place in order to stay hidden and safe. I attempted to trace Jacob’s hiding places and her journey goes as follows:
- She began at an unknown friends house (Jacobs 241).
- Next she stayed at a white lady’s house who was a friend of her grandmother and while there, Jacobs was concealed by a fellow slave named Betty (Jacobs 245).
- While at this house, Jacobs moved between a basement cellar and an attic store-room (Jacobs 246).
- She then was moved to a ship and then a swamp, both on the same night, while a place of concealment was being prepared for her (Jacobs 260).
- This special hiding spot was to be her home for the next seven years, and was a cramped attic space, above a shed on her grandmothers property (Jacobs 262-263).
- Her next movement was on board a ship, in which herself and her friend Fanny were being taken to the Free States (Jacobs 314).
- The ship docked in Philadelphia and Jacob’s promptly traveled to New York (Jacobs 324).
From her time of escape to her time of reaching the Free States, Linda moved or was moved to 9 different locations. Once in New York, Linda continued to move about, finding different jobs and travelling as a nanny, however she did not have to hide herself away. Unlike Aminata from The Book of Negros, Jacobs did not sail from Africa to America and was not sold from one master to another, however, the traveling Jacobs did take part in was just as important to a slave narrative, for without these constant movements, it is more than likely that Jacobs would have been captured and killed. Travel for slaves was necessary for survival, not a pleasurable experience like it is for you folks. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sailing the Deadly Seas
Between 1540 and 1850, it is estimated that 15 million slaves were transported from Africa and the West Indies to the Americas. The journey took approximately two months as the slaves were being transported by ship.
In Africa, slaves could be bought for roughly $25.00 and sold in America for $150.00, therefore, slave-traders packed their ships with slaves, because even if some died along the way, they would still make a profit. One study shows that on an average slave ship each slave was given about seven square feet to live in. This means that in those seven square feet, the slaves had to eat, sleep, and relieve themselves, all while surrounded by the stench of those around them doing the same, as well as dealing with those who were sick or dead. For a better feel of the conditions found aboard a slave ship check out this video by the Discovery Channel.
Next Stop: The Grapes of Wrath
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negros. Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. 2007.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. United States of America: Modern Library. 2004.
“Slave Ships.” Sparticus Educational. Sparticus Educational Publishers Ltd. 13 November 2012. .
“The Underground Railroad” PBS: Judgement Day. 26 November 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2944.html>.
While this blog does not discuss the topic of travel in slave narratives, it brings about an interesting point on slave narratives which should be considered. Not all slave narratives are focused on travel and escape.
Originating as early as 1760 (Campbell), the traditional American slave narrative was characterized by a journey from oppression to freedom, or more acutely, literal travel from the deep Antebellum south to the liberal minded Northern states. However, “…the attainment of freedom is signaled not simply by reaching the free states, but by renaming oneself and dedicating one’s future to antislavery activism,” (Andrews). Often including a preface to emphasize and affirm authenticity, the narratives pooled nature imagery, biblical allusions and spirituality, as well as severe emotional and physical abuse including but not limited to: lynching, domestic violence, rape and molestation. In their earliest period, slave narratives were written by sympathetic white witnesses, some slave owners, others not and later evolved into personal accounts direct from ex-slaves. Exemplified in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, more clearly than in some of the others, poignant internal struggles and the…
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Now folks, I’d like to start by directing your attention to the West. Just look at those plains, ready and waiting to be settled by those worthy Americans. Ever heard of Manifest Destiny? The belief that it was the duty of American citizens to expand westward, imparting their ideas of freedom on all citizens capable of self-government (well except the Natives)? If you folks look closely, I’m sure you’ll be able to spot some Manifest Destiny hidden inside this weeks novel.
The Virginian, written in 1902 by Owen Wister is a tale about a cowboy, “The Virginian”, and the life he leads. Within The Virginian are three characters–the Virginian, the narrator and Molly Wood–who travel throughout the novel for various reasons, and, as this is a blog about travel in American literature, I want to find out what the reasons are.
The Virginian: Originally from Virginia, the Virginian traveled west to the frontier in search of a job. Upon finding a job at Sunk Creek Ranch, the Virginian worked for Judge Henry, eventually becoming the foreman. For his job, the Virginian had to travel from Sunk Creek to surrounding ranches, such as Bear Creek, or travel east to places like Nebraska, to deliver cattle. The Virginian even had to travel 263 miles to reach the “town” at Medicine Bow station (Wister 8), whether to meet the Easterner for his first visit, or to marry Molly Wood. Before settling down at Sunk Creek however, the Virginian was known to have traveled through “Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho and Montana” (Wister 38).
The Narrator: Also known as the Easterner, the narrator traveled to Judge Henry’s ranch for a vacation. Originally labelled the “tenderfoot,” the Easterner quickly learned the ways of a horse and soon became a good friend of the Virginian’s. He continued to vacation at Sunk Creek, however he made separate stops along the way to meetup with the Virginian, such as in Omaha where the pair agreed to meet while the Virginian was traveling for work (Wister 108).
Molly Wood: Originally from Bennington, Vermont, Molly travels to Wyoming in response to a job opening. Wanting to escape from the pressure of her family, Molly takes the place as the schoolmarm at the newly built school in Bear Creek. After her family suffered a financial blow, Molly worked as a piano teacher and a seamstress (Wister 68) and was constantly pressured into marrying Sam Bannett for his money. Not wanting to live as Mrs. Bannett, Molly accepted the position in Bear Creek and prepared herself for an adventure.
All three characters traveled from the east to the west, leaving behind civilized cities for the wild unknown of the frontier. The reason that the characters in The Virginian travel westward is to fulfill their Manifest Destiny. As the west was not yet settled, it was seen as a place where a person could gain independence and the chance to start a new life–something that Molly and the Virginian succeeded in doing. Westward expansion was so popular that The Virginian is considered to be the first western novel and it sold 50, 000 copies in the first two months of publication. Due to its popularity, it was later made into a television series. The travel that the Virginian does throughout the novel is so extensive that maps have been created to help visualize his routes. These maps depict the Virginian’s travels to town, his travels across the mountains to visit Molly and his travels to the foothills to hang thieves.
Travel was an important part of the Virginian’s life because of the vastness of the land where he worked. There were no highways connecting ranches or towns, only dusty trails worn thin by horse hooves as riders traveled great distances to reach their destinations.
A good horse is hard to find, which is why Shorty’s horse Pedro is such an important part of The Virginian. Pedro was trained to come when called, easy to tack-up (saddled) and never bucked (Wister 216). Folks, when you are traveling across open lands for days at a time, a good horse is a necessity. If your horse is constantly spooking or running away than he could harm himself or you. If a horse is constantly fighting with his rider, then both the horse and rider will run out of valuable energy, causing their trips to take longer and be far less enjoyable.
For long trips, or trips that involve the transportation of good, a wagon is needed. Typically two horses, known as a “team” are used in this situation. A team of horses are typically paired together using a two-horse hitch method, where the horses must be matched both in size and conformation (body structure of the horse) to make the weight distribution fair for both horses. Some owners prefer when the horses match in colour and markings as well, however this is not a necessity. The pair, Buck and Muggins, which the Virginian used to drive the Easterner to Sunk Creek for his first visit were a two-horse team and they were needed to help transport the Easterner’s clothing trunk (Wister 41).
Side Note: Travel by train did occur in The Virginian, however as it was not a main source of travel it will be covered in a later post. Primarily the train was used to travel from different states, such as how Molly boarded a train in Vermont to reach the station in Medicine Bow. This station was the same one which the Easterner traveled to at the beginning of the novel.
Next Stop: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
“Hitches.” Caballus Driving Society. 8 November 2012. <http://www.cs.uic.edu/~clitberg/cds/hitch.htm>.
Humphreys, Sara. American Literature Literary Periods. Trent University, Oshawa. 2012 October. Lecture.
“Manifest Destiny: An Introduction.” PBS: U.S. Mexican War. 26 November 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/kera/usmexicanwar/prelude/md_introduction.html>.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. “Manifest Destiny.” History. Ed. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty. Houghton Miffin Harcourt Publishing Company: 1991. 8 November 2012. .
Wister, Owen. The Virginian. United States of America: Signet Classics. June 2010.