Memory, History, and the Journey West in the Twentieth-century Novel

Jennifer R Luongo, Fordham University


"Memory, History, and the Journey West in the Twentieth-Century American Novel" brings together two important preoccupations of twentieth-century literary, historical and social discourses: psychoanalytic approaches to memory and the mythology of the American frontier. Through an examination of four classic American novels, Willa Cather's My Ántonia, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Robert Penn Warren's All the Kings Men, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, my project explores the connection between traveling west and returning to the origins of the self through memory. By examining the impulse for westward travel in such varied novels which span a time period of approximately forty years, I argue that our nation's history is analogous to personal memory and that a return to the personal and national past is entwined with a journey across continental space. One of my primary frames of reference is Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." The perspective that Turner presents enables me to establish an alternative understanding of place of origins in America and to suggest that the West represents a direction of the national desire to discover and create, a direction of potential but also a primitive source of our national character. Additionally, Freudian, Jungian and Bergsonian theories, my other primary frames of reference, allow me to develop my argument that movement, particularly westward movement, which ties Americans to a cultural and social past, also provides access to a more deeply rooted personal past. My study also explores the idea that the quintessential American character is a traveler and examines the novels' treatments of the immigrant tradition in America and how this crucial aspect of American life shapes ideas about personal and national identity.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Luongo, Jennifer R, "Memory, History, and the Journey West in the Twentieth-century Novel" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3216919.