The contemporary American journey novel
Edwards, Bradley C.
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As a recognizable structure that appears in different literary genres and periods, the journey narrative may be distinctly considered: each features a traveler who moves through several different settings. The historical and cultural ubiquity of the journey narrative is perhaps due to its usefulness as a structuring device and mnemonic aid. This narrative pattern is found in many of the most important American novels, so the American journey novel constitutes a tradition united by structural similarities and the theme of psychological development. The examination of this tradition shows several distinct groupings, such as the quest, the pilgrimage, the picaresque, the odyssey, the Bildungsroman, and the Western. A consideration of these groupings is useful to ascertain strands of influence, for arranging the most important journey novels thematically and by employment of conventions highlights the ways in which individual texts imitate and diverge from similar works, ultimately to form a cohesive corpus. The close examination of contemporary American journey novels Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee, Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson, and Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, shows how these works share a narrative structure yet diverge boundlessly in their incorporation of influences, allusions, and details of setting and character. These contemporary exemplars show how this sturdy narrative framework surpasses Atlas to support vast fictional worlds that host an Ovidian array of psychological metamorphoses.
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