John Lennon maps the rise and demise of the political hobo from the nineteenth-century introduction of the transcontinental railroad to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Intertwining literary, historical, and theoretical representations of the hobo, he explores how riders and writers imagined alternative ways that working-class people could use mobility to create powerful dissenting voices outside of fixed hierarchal political organizations. Placing portrayals of hobos in the works of Jack London, Jim Tully, John Dos Passos, and Jack Kerouac alongside the lived reality of people hopping trains (including hobos of the IWW, the Scottsboro Boys, and those found in numerous long-forgotten memoirs), Lennon investigates how these marginalized individuals exerted collective political voices through subcultural practices.
"By advancing a more nuanced account of the range of political possibilities on offer in the U.S. hobo subculture, Lennon certainly develops the coordinates for a significant contribution to Americanist literary and cultural studies."—Mark Simpson, author of Trafficking Subjects: The Politics of Mobility in Nineteenth-Century America
"One shining achievement of this book is the way Lennon expertly weaves the story of Scottsboro into the narrative of hobo history and the history of transience and its representations in Great Depression America. The author treats the central issues of race and gender, as well as class, with great clarity and intelligence."—Todd DePastino, author of Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America
"Lennon provides a unique discussion of the 1931 case of the Scottsboro nine as he presents both black men accused of rape and the white women who denounced them as representative of little-discussed subgroups within the larger hobo narrative, which has largely been the story of white males."—Journal of American History
"Insightful . . . this is a well-researched and well-written study. It is of use to anyone interested in American labor history, the history of U.S. transportation, and the Great Depression. It also contains nuanced insights into a wide array of fiction, music, and film concerned with the depiction of the American Hobo. Boxcar Politics is a valuable and recommended study."—American Studies
"Lennon's book reminds us how pervasive the hobo figure was in American life, surfacing not only to beg at the backdoor or work the fruit harvest, but also in the latest literary journal."—Grand Prarie Union News