Writers on the Road

Throughout history, Americans have  been known for their desire to discover and explore new places and enjoy new experiences. Never is this aspect of American identity more apparent than in its writers. From travelogues to diaries, American writers have taken pen to paper to record their thoughts and experiences as they traveled through the vast country that makes up America. The following writers are three such people, who across the decades have recorded their own views of America and themselves along the way.

Best known for his novels of adventure and exploration, one of Jack London’s lesser known works is his autobiography titled The Road which was published in 1907. During the late 1890s when he was still a teenager, London began illegally riding trains across America, working odd jobs during what was at the time the worst economic depression the country had experienced. As London travels from one end of the country to another, he describes in detail many aspects of the hobo life, from how to jump on a train, to how he lied to the police to get out of going to jail. He also takes time to reflect on his life and what he will do once he has finished with the hobo lifestyle.

A travelogue in its own right, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley details Steinbeck’s trip in a camper with his standard poodle as they drove from Long Island, New York, visiting every geographical area of the United States until they reached Long Island again. The purpose of Steinbeck’s trip was to rediscover America for himself after having previously written about it and to satisfy his own wanderlust.

On a more personal level, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (made into the movie starring Reese Witherspoon), tells of her own physical and emotional journey as she hiked the Pacific Coastal Trail beginning in Mojave Desert and ending in Washington State. After the death of her mother and her own downward spiral into drugs, Strayed used the hike as a way to reflect on her past and where her life would lead once she finished the trail.

Whatever their reasons for wanting to travel throughout America, these three writers—writing in three different centuries—each offer  a unique view of America and themselves.

Emily Bereiter

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