LIT233 : Road Journeys in American Culture: 1930-2000

Convenor(s): Dr Jonathan Ellis


Please note: This module may or may not run in any given semester. Please check with the tutor.

General Information

This course analyses the development of road narratives from the 1930s to the present, looking at the ways in which this narrative trope tells the story of American culture and society throughout the twentieth-century. The course aims to address some or all of the following questions. Do road journeys reflect or run away from political realities ‘at home’? To what extent is the road journey a gendered space predominantly occupied by men? Are certain groups of people allowed to travel and other groups not? Is the road journey a metaphor for American colonisation and expansion, or something else more ambiguous? In order to answer these questions, we will be studying a range of different films, novels and poems. As well as situating these texts within their specific historical and social contexts, you will also be able to respond to debates within film studies about such matters as celebrity and stardom, feminist film theory, and the relative importance of film genre, and discussions within literary studies regarding the influence of the Beats, the impact of cinema on literary style, and the extent to which artistic journeys reflect national obsessions. Provisional List of Texts • It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934) • The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (written 1951; first published 1957) • Poems by Elizabeth Bishop and Amy Clampitt • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955) • Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) • Badlands (Terence Malick, 1973) • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees (1988) • Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) • Paul Auster, The Music of Chance (1990) • Brother, Where Art Thou? (The Coen Brothers, 2000)


There will be two teaching hours per week (one lecture, one seminar). Lectures will provide important artistic, cultural and historical context for individual road narratives to be studied each week. In seminars you will have the opportunity to share your ideas and discuss them with other students and your tutor. The course will proceed chronologically through the twentieth-century, usually focusing on a single film, novel or selection of poems in each session. There will also be film screenings of course films.


Assessment is by means of two pieces of coursework. The first assessment will be an essay of 1500 words; assessment two is an essay of 2500 words. These essays will count for 40% and 60% of your total mark. The first essay will address a road narrative not studied in the seminars and will therefore require independent research. The second essay will focus on books and/or films studied in class.

Contact Details

Dr Jonathan Ellis, tel: 0114 222 8465

Information last changed: Monday 10th of August 2015 :: 12:40:15 PM (BST)


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK