English | Topics in English and American Literature and Culture
L208 | 29984 | Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

29984 - 11:15a-12:05p MWF (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC:  "The Myth and Literature of the American Hobo"

Through much of the twentieth century, the hobo was the figure par
excellence of American freedom. This course will examine the myth
and lore of this, once celebrated, now all but disappeared, avatar
of the boundless. Through an examination of previous representations
of the wanderer and close readings of various accounts, both first
and second hand, of the vagabond life, we will address such
questions as: Why is the hobo so readily romanticized as an emblem
of freedom?; What was life as a hobo actually like?; and Why has the
hobo as cultural icon all but disappeared from the American
consciousness and what does this imply about contemporary U.S.

While we will spend some time discussing both earlier and later
historical moments, our focus will be on the early part of the
twentieth century, more specifically the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The so-
called “golden age” of the hobo, these two decades were also a time
of great turmoil in U.S. culture and society.  Our study of the hobo
will provide us a unique perspective on the birth pangs of the
twentieth century.  Radical politics, embattled gender norms, issues
of race and class, and the specter of “social deviance” all emerge
in narratives of the road, the latter comprising a kind of “hidden”
history of the early twentieth century.

Required texts include:

You Can’t Win—Jack Black
Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha—Ben L. Reitman
Beggars of Life: A Hobo Autobiography—Jim Tully
The Road—Jack London
On Hobos and Homelessness—Nels Anderson
One More Train to Ride: The Underground World of Modern American
Hoboes—Cliff Williams
Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann
The Hobo - The Sociology of the Homeless Man, by Nels Anderson