Date of Award

Summer 2023

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

David Luis-Brown

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Wendy Martin

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Mark Eaton

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

James Morrison

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2023 Diana Luu


affect, anxiety, postwar United States, road films, road literature, women

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


In this dissertation, I examine how anxiety, identity formation, and driving come together in women’s road narratives. Women’s varied experiences and anxiety on the road indicate the difficulty of challenging gendered expectations in a postwar era. Some women go on the road and work through their anxiety to imagine new roles for themselves where they reject patriarchal control to establish their own agency, embracing opportunities to exert control over their lives. Yet, others struggle to transform themselves on the road. They suffer from a lack of resources, patriarchal laws, and abuse, often from men who attempt to control them. As women question the gendered expectations associated with “the good life,” such as marriage, motherhood, and the home, going on the road does not necessarily free women from the concerns they have at home or the sociopolitical and economic circumstances that shape how they navigate the world. Women’s intersectional, sociopolitical, and economic issues contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, and trauma, limiting women’s self-expression and the ability to create new identities on the road. My project explores how women’s road narratives can serve as feminist critique, exposing the contradiction between the freedom and escape often associated with the road genre and the reality of women’s gender-based constraints. Anxiety can help us understand a culture’s values, and consequently, how characters respond to their anxiety while on the road reveals the interests and personal values at stake. Rather than viewing anxiety as a detrimental quality related to carelessness, anxiety could be viewed as a feeling rooted in caring, whether too much, too often, or about the wrong things. Because anxiety frequently accompanies women’s road narratives, this dissertation examines the paradox that anxiety, which we experience as painful and disconcerting, can prove to be a productive emotion for breaking out of rigid gender and sexual roles for women. As women work through their anxiety on the road, they encounter new perspectives on their lives and emotional, intellectual, and personal growth. Considering the varied outcomes of anxiety in women’s road narratives—agency, passivity, and empathy—highlights the sociopolitical importance of anxiety as well as demonstrates how anxiety can create opportunities for feminist action and woman-centric communities on the road. I apply affect studies and an interdisciplinary approach to examine postwar filmic and literary texts through the lens of anxiety. The first half of my project focuses on how women’s experiences of anxiety encourage women to challenge gendered expectations and embrace new identities on the road. I pair Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt (1952), and John Sturges’s film, Jeopardy (1953), to show how anxiety can compel women to embrace their sexuality. Next, I consider Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Psycho (1960), alongside Thomas Pynchon’s novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), to investigate how anxiety encourages women to question the roles for women that constitute “the good life” and create new identities based on self-worth. I shift the discussion from women’s agency to women’s passivity on the road, delving into the sociopolitical and economic factors that limit women’s ability to sustain new identities on the road in Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays (1970) and Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970). Lastly, I analyze Sandra Cisneros’s short story, “Woman Hollering Creek” (1991), along with Ridley Scott’s classic road film, Thelma & Louise (1991), to demonstrate how sharing anxiety promotes empathy and feminist action on the road, fostering a community for women. Anxiety serves as a throughline that connects agency, passivity, and empathy, creating an affective chain in women’s road narratives. In reconsidering anxiety as a productive emotion rooted in a feeling of care, I contend that anxious feelings can both spur women to create new identities, redefining themselves according to their own desires, and prompt women who feel powerless in oppressive systems to choose passivity, prioritizing self-preservation. In addition, acknowledging women’s intersectional experiences of gender-based violence on the road and speaking out about women’s anxieties can encourage care in the form of empathy, feminism, and community building.



Available for download on Friday, October 10, 2025