Blue Highways is ostensibly a travel diary born of a need for the “tonic of curiosity,” but it is also meditated history and a vehicle for the author’s dissent from some of the norms of American society. Heat-Moon’s principal accomplishment is to have given to his audience a broad and appealingly idiosyncratic perspective of the social landscape of a particular era. At the same time, in explicitly merging the “inner” journey of self-discovery and the “outer” journey of geographical investigation, he has produced a literary work related to ancient as well as modern sources. The journey of Odysseus, who ventures abroad to find his essential self in the challenges of experience, is the prototype in Western culture for this hybrid journey; as Heat-Moon observes of ordinary travel, “passages through space and time becomes only a metaphor for a movement through the interior of being.”
If Heat-Moon’s wit, humor, and irony were less abundant in Blue Highways, one might be tempted to imagine that its subjective, philosophical element was more a literary convention than a documentation of a season in his life, though in interviews following the book’s publication he gives ample reason to accept the authenticity of this aspect of the work. In any case, the textures of social history are perhaps more vividly rendered from the critical perspective of an unresolved personal situation. As in Mark Twain’s Roughing It...
(The entire section is 506 words.)