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Tear into the Guts: Whitman, Steinbeck, Springsteen, and the Durability of Lost Souls on the Road

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Abstract

This article investigates the relationship between the concepts of freedom and confinement and the metaphor of "the road" in the works of three significant American cultural figures. A close analysis of the formal elements of the poetry of Walt Whitman, the novels of John Steinbeck, and the songs of Bruce Springsteen reveals a negation at the core of durability. These narratives pit characters, readers, and listeners against the ideology of freedom that structures road narratives and American durability. Whitman's version of the road is open and apparently available to all, whereas Steinbeck's version inverts these terms, making the road a place of oppression and confinement. Beginning to unveil these contradictions, Springsteen's music grasps the weight and emptiness of the road as a cultural signifier. Finally, the article argues that only through collective thought and action within and against the contradictions inherent in durability can we stop simply persisting and start living.

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Kathleen Hicks is a curriculum developer at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, AZ. She earned her Ph.D. in English from Arizona State University in 2003. Her scholarly interests include 20th-Century American literature and environmental ethics. Currently, she serves as the Bibliographer and writes the “Steinbeck Today” feature for The Steinbeck Review.