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Site ReadingFiction, Art, Social Form$
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David J. Alworth

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780691183343

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691183343.001.0001

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(p.73) 3 Roads
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David J. Alworth

Princeton University Press

This chapter focuses Jack Kerouac and Joan Didion, arguing that the postwar American road narrative produces a sophisticated account of the nonhuman social actor through its treatment of the automobile, an entity that is both a material thing and a social site. In Kerouac's On the Road, a semiautobiographical account of his road trips in the late 1940s, the car plays no less potent a role in facilitating male bonding and in constituting the social world of the novel. To capture the distinctiveness of that world, the chapter contrasts it with the representation of two other automotive subcultures—the hot-rodders and the Merry Pranksters—in seminal works by Tom Wolfe that appeared in the wake of On the Road. Then, the chapter turns to the writing of Joan Didion, arguing that Play It as It Lays functions as a self-conscious response both to Kerouac's novel and to the mythology of road-tripping that it fostered.

Keywords:   Jack Kerouac, Joan Didion, John Chamberlain, postwar American road narrative, automobiles, hot-rodders, Merry Pranksters, Tom Wolfe, On the Road, Play It as It Lays

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