Walking Parramatta Road: Reading the City Street in Anthony Macris' 'Great Western Highway'
(2014) 3.2 New Scholar: An International Journal of the Humanities, Creative Arts and Social Sciences 1
11 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2018
Date Written: 2014
Anthony Macris’ recent novel, Great Western Highway: a love story, provides a most true-to-life account of the city street in contemporary Australian fiction. The novel takes for its setting a stretch of Parramatta Road around Strathfield, in Sydney’s West, as it would have existed in the mid-1990s. This article will examine the presence of Parramatta Road in the novel through the twin lenses of ‘environment’ and ‘landscape.’ The word ‘environment’ will be used to denote the objective physical purlieu of Parramatta Road. While primary focus will be on the Parramatta Road presented in the novel, some reference will be made to the ‘real’ Parramatta Road as it has existed in Sydney’s West since the late eighteenth century. The term ‘landscape,’ on the other hand, will describe the characters’ subjective impressions of the Parramatta Road in the text. The use of this distinction between environment and landscape will allow this essay to reveal how the urban road in the novel is structured and perceived to limit the free movement of the pedestrian characters. On the basis of this analysis, the ‘scene’ of the urban road in the novel will be read as a microcosmic illustration of the twenty-first century city; a place where the individual has been reduced to a passive recipient of directions. My reading of the road in the novel aligns Great Western Highway with contemporary critical accounts of the city – like those of Michel De Certeau and Henri Lefebvre – that view it as a place limiting individual freedom of movement and encouraging conformity. Such accounts, however, often leave room for resistance to the oppressive force of the city and Macris’ novel offers just this possibility. In the final part of this essay, I will demonstrate how Great Western Highway offers walking as an act by which the individual can exercise a degree of freedom, express individuality and carve out their own personal understanding of the urban road. Walter Benjamin’s idea of the flâneur will be drawn upon in this regard.
Keywords: Anthony Macris, Australian fiction, flaneur
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