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In the Driver's Seat: 11/14/15

In the Driver's Seat by Cynthia Golomb DettelbachIn the Driver's Seat by Cynthia Golomb Dettelbach is a look at gender and the automobile. It was referenced in one of the essays in The Automobile and American Culture. As there seems to be fewer highway and automobile books written by women than men, I added it to my list.

At most interest to me were the discussions of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Both are clear inspiration points for the long running television series, Supernatural, a series I'm now being able to decode with road trip tropes both old and new. Even their names: Sam and Dean are exactly one letter off from the characters in On the Road (Sal and Dean). When adding in the idea that "...Kerouac often casts Sal as Ishmael to Dean's Ahab" (p. 36) the early seasons of Supernatural began to click into place.

Dettelbach makes a convincing argument for ON THE ROAD being an homage to MOBY-DICK. That in turns makes SUPERNATURAL and homage to MOBY-DICK.

The connection between the show and Kerouac's book is real and there are many references within the series and are listed on the Wiki. What struck me as extremely relevant was the inherited ties to Moby Dick because the theme of obsession over the unobtainable is an on-going one of so many road trip stories. When I come to the literary analysis part of my project (beyond the off the cuff connections I've been making during my reading and live blogging) I will have to think of the texts in terms of Melville's novel.

Later chapters in the book become incredibly personal, becoming more of a memoir than an analysis of gender or culture and the automobile. The author was the only daughter in a family full of boys in a rural area where there were strict gender role expectations, including that women did not drive (save for helping out on the farm) and boys were expected to smash up at least one car in their youth.

These chapters are a single point glimpse of a car as a rope in a gender tug of war. For her and for women like her, the car was a means of freedom and escape. For the men in her life it was a sign of their growing masculinity and a means of maintaining power over others.

Here is a point where the rural and suburban come into direct opposition. For the suburban woman of the 1950s and onward, a car was a necessity. If a family could only afford one car, typically the woman (especially if she was the homemaker) would keep control of the car, dropping the husband off at nearby public transit each morning. For the truly urban woman, one living either married or single, in the city, there was no family automobile as parking was expensive and traffic was so bad that riding public transit or walking was just a more efficient option.

As with all my road trip research, I live blogged my reading on Tumblr.

Three stars

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