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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402

The highway to Paris is backed up until traffic is almost completely stopped and no one knows why. Rumors fly through the streets as roaming people come up with new stories—two cars colliding or two different cars hitting each other only to spiral into a bus or an airport bus turning over. However, people don't have any assurances that it's going to end soon or any idea what to expect as the hours and days pass, as they are still trapped in their cars.

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Slowly, the engineer in the Peugeot 404 gets to know the people around him. He debates the situation with the people in the Ariane and the Taunus. He falls for the girl in the Dauphine. He's friendly with two nuns in a 2CV and two boys in a Simca (though he dislikes them at first). They form a little community with some of the others around them and, together, work to determine what to do, how to get food, how to avoid falling ill, and how to take care of one another—especially the children.

The farmers refuse to sell them food, citing laws about sales to private people. They can't leave the highway without being attacked. They can only slowly move forward, hoping to get to Paris and off the highway. Even when the man in the Caravelle kills himself, they can only continue forward. They seal him in the trunk and someone takes over driving his car to keep the highway clear.

The engineer's group comes together and decides that they need to take stock of their provisions and use them for the entire group to get through the unending traffic jam together. They share blankets, give the women cars to sleep in, and use the Simca's inflatable mattress for one of the nuns and the girl from the Dauphine. They form different communities that have official transactions with each other. A doctor roams between groups and treats the ill.

Traffic starts to clear eventually, though. The engineer realizes that he's losing sight of the people he'd spend so much time with. He starts to panic and doesn't want to let go of the people he survived the hardships with, but they're already gone—lost in the flow of traffic. He thinks that it's strange to be driving so quickly with everyone looking ahead and not knowing anything about the people in the cars around them.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 838

“The Southern Thruway” begins with a traffic jam on the main highway back to Paris from southern France, on a summer Sunday afternoon. It seems to be a perfectly ordinary occurrence as cars slow to a crawl, stop, and start up again. The drivers and passengers look irritably at their watches and begin to exchange comments with those in neighboring cars. As the traffic inches along in increasingly infrequent moves forward, the same group of cars stays together and their occupants gradually become acquainted. Although written in the third person, the story focuses on the experiences and thoughts of an engineer in a Peugeot 404.

Rumors circulate as to the cause of the traffic jam:No one doubted that a serious accident had taken place in the area, which could be the only explanation for such an incredible delay. And with that, the government, taxes, road conditions, one topic after another, three yards, another commonplace, five yards, a sententious phrase or a restrained curse.

The drivers stay in or near their cars, sweltering in the sun, waiting for the police to dissolve the bottleneck, impatient to move along and get to Paris. The cars continue to move ahead as a group, their drivers chatting to pass the time as they suffer “the dejection of again going from first to neutral, brake, hand brake, stop, and the same thing time and time again.”

By the time night falls, the new rumors brought by “strangers” to their group seem remote and unbelievable. The...

(The entire section contains 1240 words.)

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