ENG 266: Popular Literature of the American Road

266PosterHitchhikerUniversity of Nevada, Reno

ENG 266 Popular Literature

Department: English

Instructor: Jennifer Forsberg           

Number of Credits: 3

Catalog Description: Various forms of popular writing, e.g., best-seller, the western, sciencefiction, the detective story.

Goals/Objectives: Upon completion of this course, students will

  • Identify and interrogate the use of the road as an American cultural trope in discussion and writing;
  • Read three novels and poetry and prose excerpts that problematize the road in literature;
  • Be familiar with the critical conversations regarding assigned authors and topics; and
  • Develop an understanding of the road in contemporary writers and culture, literary and popular.

Required Textbooks/Materials:


Jack Kerouac–On the Road, The Original Scroll edition, ISBN: 978-0-14-310546-6

Hunter S. Thompson–Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, ISBN: 978-0679785897

Willy Vlautin—The Model Life, ISBN-13: 978-0061171116

Songs for the Open Road, ISBN-13: 978-0486406466

PDF Selections posted through ARES Course Reserves/WebCampus (WC)

Films: (selected scenes to be watched/used in class)


Lost Highway

Easy Rider

The Road

First Week’s Assignments/Readings:

Week 1: The Invention of Road Culture at the Turn of the Century

December 31:           

General introduction to road in America, course and assignments. Read: AAKH-Campus of the University of Vienna (October 17, 1998) Opening Address (WC); Selections from Journals of Lewis and Clark (1801-1806) (WC), John O’Sullivan editorial (1845) (WC); Selections from Lincoln Campaign Speeches, Railroad: 1859-1861 (WC) and Walt Whitman from “Song of the Open Road” (Songs).

January 1:

Holiday, No class; Start Kerouac’s On the Road

January 2:

Read: Whitman, “On Journeys through the States” (Songs); Tocqueville: “Of Individualism in Democratic Countries” and “Why the National Vanity of the Americans Is More Restless and Captious than that of the English” (WC); Miller “Automotive Passacaglia” (WC); Hugill “Good Roads and the Automobile in the United States 1880-1929” (WC).

Written Assignment 1 covering readings from Day 1&3 due via WebCampus 8PM

January 3:

Kerouac On the Road, discussion of 109-169 (but keep reading on to finish for Monday); Cunnell “Fast this Time” pp 1-52 (in OTR);

Course Details:

One of the greatest popular appeals in American literature deals with the mythos of the road. Free spirited travel across the frontier has been a motivating force in the literary marketplace and popular American culture, whether in covered wagons, on horseback, in railcar or automobile. This class will briefly trace the historical development of the road as a popular literary trope and focus on 20th century texts that become foundations of both romantic and horrific visions of the road in a crippling capitalist culture in post-war America.



Written Assignments: You will complete 4 written assignments that aim to present the textual details and facts of the material read in small snapshots. They should analyze and synthesize concepts and ideas together and provide the opportunity to pose claims and support those claims with evidence. These will be 3-4 pages each and be submitted to Web Campus on the following dates: 1/2, 1/7, 1/10 and 1/15 by 8PM. Feedback will be returned before the next submission.

Final Exam: Your final exam will consist of 4 short answer essay questions that draw on major themes and concepts from the material covered. This will require textual evidence to support claims and advance sophisticated arguments in a small-scale. You will be able to use your course materials, including written assignments.

Late Assignments: No late assignments will be accepted; no exams will be taken early/late.


Your attendance and participation is a crucial factor in both the class dynamic and development toward successful analysis and critical thinking. It is important that you attend class ready to draw details from the text(s) and contribute to the class discussion. Because this is a discussion-based course, absences can severely impact the class trajectory and is particularly true of a condensed course. You will be awarded 2 points for each day based on attendance and participation; days missed will incur a deduction for that class meeting.



The point distribution for the course is:

Written Assignments (4 worth 10 pts each)


Attendance and Participation (2 points/day)


Final Exam