Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
From the early traditions of Natty Bumppo and Huck Finn to the more modern images drawn from John Dos Passos and Jack Kerouac, the journey motif has long been a stable of American literature. This thesis explores the origin of the modern road hero in American culture at the turn of the twentieth century along two divergent lines. The first is the configuration of the hobo as a heroic rebel, and the second is the making of the bohemian/intellectual vagabond.
The first part of this investigation, by considering a diversity of cultural forms and viewpoints, attempts to paint a broad backdrop from which more focused study may proceed. As such, disparate phenomena such as the undertone of ambiguity behind the "tramp menace," the image of the comic tramp in popular culture, and the generation and resonance of an indigenous hobo subculture will be examined coextensively. The second section grapples with the formation of the hobo as hero, beginning with the writing of Walter Wyckoff and Josiah Flynt and proceeding with the work and persona of Jack London. This is followed, in section three, by a discussion of the intellectual vagabond. Reaching back to consider the spiritual forebear of this genre, Walt Whitman, the section culminates with an exploration of Richard Hovey, Bliss Carman and the "Vagabondia" poetry. The final section addresses the consolidation of the two major images already delineated. More suggestive than comprehensive, this discussion links the germination of the modern road hero to the parallel politicization of the hobo and the bohemian/intellectual vagabond during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Brown, Jeffrey S., "Hoboes and Vagabonds: The Cultural Construction of the American Road Hero" (1992). History Master's Theses. 23.