Blue Highways Essay, Research Paper
In his traveling diary, Blue Highways, William Least heat Moon takes a trip to various destinations around the United States. His journey is both literal and spiritual. While circling the nation, he gathers history and personality from all corners of America. More importantly, Least Heat Moon sets out to fully explore and find himself.
Before his expedition around the country began, William Least Heat Moon experienced two significant life-changing events. His wife abandoned him after being separated for nine months, and he lost his job teaching English at a college in Missouri, due to declining enrollment (3). In essence, his life was going no where. Being in a situation where many people may find their life hopeless, William Least Heat Moon decides that, “a man that couldn’t make things go right could at least go” (3). By go, he did not want to walk out of life; he wanted to start a new beginning. Moon felt that if he started all over again, he would find some meaning to his life.
Throughout Blue Highways, the circular travel Moon took around the nation happened in a van. He named this van Ghost Dancing, that he interprets to, “a symbol alluding to ceremonies of the 1980’s in which the Plains Indians danced away the new life and brought back the fervor of the old” (5). They are often referred to as “a resurrection, a delusion, and all that remains of a person”
(5). With the usage of Ghost Dancing, Moon comes to symbolize his ancestors, the Plains Indians. His circular path, in a way, can also be described as a Ghost Dance.
As a person of mixed ancestry, William Least Heat Moon wishes to seek the history and experiences of his past in his travels. He is especially interested in the Native American element of his heritage due to the fact that he had no knowledge of his ancestry as he was growing up. Several times in the book, Moon relates episodes of the history of his Native American ancestors’ lives and experiences. Moon explains that, “My father calls himself Heat-Moon, my elder brother Little Heat-Moon. I, coming last am therefore Least” (4). He took this name in order to identify with his ancestry and to honor his Native American ancestry.
Moon focuses on the life styles of Native Americans and the way they lived and respected the land in which they lived. He commonly expresses how they did not waste the resources of the land, and explains how they did not abuse or change the environment as people do today. In addition, Moon tells how the Native Americans were forced off the land or made to change their ways. A character named Tomlins, whom Moon comes across on his journey, tells that, “The breed gets its name from the Palouse. Indians invented the Appaloosa and white men discovered it. The strain almost died out after the Nez Perce were forced out of there in the eighteen seventies and the army sold off their horses” (250). He relates how the Native American way of living was not
harmful to the land. Nevertheless, their ways were quickly overtaken by the dominating white ways of today.
On his journey along the blue highways of the road maps, Moon discovers the forgotten people of America as well as tampers with his own morals and beliefs. Avoiding the large cities, he focuses his attention on the forgotten civilizations. He encounters many towns, one being Nameless, Tennessee. Moon comes to capture the cordiality of the people here. He learns that “it’s always those who live on little who are the ones to ask you to dinner” (31). While crossing across the Texas desert, he picks up a dirt-poor Mexican hitchhiker who speaks almost no English, but has no trouble communicating. With the little English that he knows, he mentions how his father was a “vaquero,” or real cowboy. He kept gazing off into the distance muttering, “It’s a pretty good country,” over and over (146). When Moon stopped the van to let the hitchhiker out, he watched as the man strolled on his way. Thinking to himself, he realizes that, “A year earlier, had I been where he was, I would have believe I’d accomplished nothing. Now, I didn’t see it that way. Not at all.” (148)
Moon’s most compelling experience springs from his stopover in Selma, Alabama. Here he encounters a part of life that never wants to change. At the beginning of the chapter, Moon comes to Selma to see whether Martin Luther King’s famous march has changed anything. In a bar, he encounters a white woman and man, Bernita and Ray. He learns from them that the only thing that has changed is the way they do business. Their views on the changes in Selma are surprising, yet uncommon. White people still view black people negatively.
Bernita gives the most truthful view of the problems by stating, “Don’t get the wrong idea, Selma’s a nice town Only thing I don’t like are two-faced – friendly at first, then you see the truth” (96). On the other side of town, another man Moon meets, known as James Walker, states as well that nothing has changed, and explains that Selma may never change (98). However, Walkers friend differs. He believes that, “things are gonna change” (100). Hearing this, he realizes that being the wrong color on the wrong side of town makes him a target. As a white man with northern license plates, Moon is indicted as being a drug dealer. It is in Selma that Moon realizes his trip may have some negative aspects, although it was primarily to be a learning experience. He hoped this visit would answer his questions about change. Thus, Moon left, “feeling marked. I was suspicious. Just paranoia of course And I hardly took my eyes off the rear view mirror. What a way to go” (103).
Moon begins to make sense of his journey with the spiritual words of Smokey the Monk, a New York policeman. Smokey had become fascinated with intense spiritual experiences of one kind or another. At the age of seventeen, he had thought about becoming a monk but did not realize this dream until twenty-five years later. He had felt incompleteness in his life. “That’s when I started traveling. I learned to travel, then traveled to learn. Later, when I was riding a radio car in Brooklyn, I began to want a life – and mortality – based not so much on constraint but on aspiration toward a deeper spiritual life” (84). Moon learns that he will discover for himself the right time before he becomes spiritually involved in his liveliness.
Through his journey, William Least Heat Moon gains the knowledge and wisdom he began searching for at the beginning of his trip. His circular journey around America on its country back roads allowed him to find some of the people that he believed America had forgotten about or even lost. He had been able to find himself. By the end of the book, his circle had come full turn, but he had not. Moon states that, “I can’t say over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn’t known what I wanted to know. But I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know,” (411). In a sense, William Least Heat Moon’s adventure allowed him to become a full Moon.