Herman Melville, Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Edmund Wilson, and Paul Theroux are only a few of the writers whose works Caesar examines. But his focus is informed by more comprehensive notions of both noncanonical figures, such as Marietta Holley, John Gunther, James Baldwin, S. J. Perelman, and Mary Morris, and the marginal practices of African Americans and women.
In the tension between fact and fiction implicit in the American romance genre, Caesar finds parallels--across time and place--in the dualities that characterize American travel writing. Although the overarching purpose of American travel writing is to enable the representation of home and the authentication of our culture, says Caesar, "the experience of some primal condition of homelessness has never finally offered sufficient reason to go abroad." That the experiences travel writers presume to represent might be worthless, pointless, and either inferior to or no different from those in the land they already know leads to an intense skepticism that complicates and subverts notions of home and abroad, difference and sameness, self and other, British and American, representation and representativeness, and innocence and sophistication.
Caesar attempts to historicize the sustaining interplay between romanticism and travel writing, but also emphasizes that his understanding of American travel writing has more to do with narrative form, epistemology, and cultural inheritance than particular historical shapings. Whether we travel to England or Brazil, he concludes, and whether we choose to represent our journeys as fact or fiction, our need to be Americans has never precluded our need to be other than ourselves--and yet our need to be other than ourselves has ultimately only functioned to enable us to be more completely American.