Slavic R5B, Section 1: Highways and Byways: Narratives of the Road

TuTh 8-9:30, Dwinelle 283. Instructor: Robyn Jensen.

Units: 4

The open road suggests freedom, mobility, adventure, and excitement. In this course, we will explore Russian and American narratives in which characters take to the road. Travelling in horse-drawn carriages down muddy roads and in cars speeding along highways, we will accompany these characters as they explore the vast lands of Russia and America. Along the way, we will examine how the road offers new horizons of opportunities: for re-invention, self-discovery, and encountering difference.

Throughout the course, we will consider questions such as: What possibilities and encounters does the road allow? How does the structure of the road journey inform narrative structure? How can we understand this genre’s association with imperial conquest and expansion, but also with the counter-culture, rebellion, and lawlessness? How is the road seen as an alternative space, with its own rules and codes of conduct? How is access to the road determined by questions of social and economic mobility? We will also consider the relative absence of female road narratives. Why might the road be constructed as a historically masculine space?

Works will include Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls, Anton Chekhov’s novella The Steppe, Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow to the End of the Line, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road,” and the film Thelma and Louise.

The primary goal of this course is to develop our reading and writing skills. To this end, the course is structured as a discussion-based seminar. Students should expect to read about 70 pages a week and to come to class ready to discuss the texts. Students will be guided through the various stages of writing, such as outlining, drafting, writing, and revising. Students will also gain experience finding, evaluating, and incorporating secondary sources to support their arguments.

Some readings will be available online or in a course reader. Students should purchase the following texts:

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, trans. Robert Maguire (ISBN: 978-0140448078)

Venedikt Erofeev, Moscow to the End of the Line, trans. H. William Tjalsma (ISBN: 978-0810112001)

Jack Kerouac, On the Road (ISBN: 978-0142437254)


This course fulfills the second half, or the “B” portion, of the Reading and Composition requirement.