Southbound on the Freeway

by May Swenson

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In "Southbound on the Freeway," are we the guts, or the brains?   do cars control us or do we control them?????????????????????

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In May Swenson's poem "Southbound on the Freeway," the poet never really tells us if humans are the guts or the brains. Instead, the poet poses the question and frames that question within the poem, as an alien tourist from Orbitville mistakes cars for the creatures who live on the planet.

The personification of the automobiles is apparent as in the alien's perception "eyes" are headlights and taillights and "feet" are tires. Interestingly enough, however, the cars can only "glide, like inches, down the marked tapes" (stanzas 11-12). So even though automobiles can move, their movement or freedom is restricted by the roadways. This suggests the shadowy bodies inside are brains as humans have more freedom of movement than the automobile.

However, humans also depend on cars for transportation. And, if automobiles represent technology, then we could be the guts, dependent on technology.

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You have correctly identified the central question in this poem.  Do we control our cars or do they control us?  But really, the question is about more than cars -- it is about whether we control our material possessions or whether they control us.

Many people (mostly intellectuals) would argue that we are controlled by our possessions.  This has been going on at least since Henry David Thoreau posed a similar question in "Walden" around 150 years ago.

People who make this argument would say that we spend our whole lives working in order to get things that we really don't need.  They would say that we are slaves to our cell phones, etc.

But you have to decide which argument resonates with you more.  Do our material posessions help us or do they make us slaves to them?

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