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Abstract

In this article, I am going to analyze the concept of “gendered space” as it appears in select post-1970s US-American road narratives produced by women writers of various ethnic and social backgrounds. Drawing on recent re-mappings in cultural geography, I will cross disciplinary boundaries and argue that for female literary protagonists, the “open road” appears as a dangerous frontier—in which women’s physical and emotional well-being is always at perilous stake—rather than as an adventurous playground. In women’s road stories, the American highway does not maintain its mythical, iconic status, signifying freedom and the heroic quest for identity, which has been ascribed to it at least since the legendary accounts of the flight from domesticity by Jack Kerouac and his fellow (anti-)heroes of the Beat generation.

Female protagonists, too, it will be shown, feel the luring of the road, or see cross-country travel as a way out of the ideology of separate spheres—and, from a socio-historical perspective, they indeed have much more reason for doing so than their male counterparts. However, more often than not, women come to realize that they are “prisoners of the white lines of the freeway” (as Joni Mitchell puts it in her famous road-song “Coyote”), and as such are not liberated by mere motion, but confronted with spatial limitations not much different from those encountered at the hearth. Nevertheless, by embracing these multiple confrontations for the challenges they present, and by deliberately transgressing gendered boundaries of public vs. private and cultural vs. natural space, the itinerant protagonists of the texts under discussion eventually re-appropriate their share of the road.

Note on the Author

Alexandra Ganser is a doctoral fellow in the specialized Ph.D. program “Cultural Hermeneutics: Reflections of Difference and Transdifference” at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

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