On the Road Essay

On The Road Essay

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Jack Kerouac was born in Massachusetts, in 1922. Kerouac quit school and joined the Merchant Marine, starting the travels which would become ‘On the Road’ his most acclaimed novel. It is said to be an account of Kerouac's ("Sal Paradise’s") travels with Neal Cassady ("Dean Moriarty"). According to Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac typed the first draft of On the Road on a fifty-foot long roll of paper.

On the Road gave an outlet of release for the dissatisfied young generation of the late forties and early fifties. And although it has been fifty years since the events in On the Road, the feelings, ideas and experiences in the novel are still fresh as expressions of restless, idealistic youth who need something more than the dull harmonies of the generally prosperous society.

During the winter of 1947, the reckless and joyous Dean Moriarty, recently out of another term in jail and newly married, comes to New York and meets Sal Paradise, a young writer with a sharp group of friends. Dean fascinates Sal, and this friendship begins three years of journeys back and forth across the country.

Sal had heard all about Dean from Chad King, who Dean used to write to from jail, and was intrigued. Dean spoke formally, in long rambling sentences and Sal's first impression of Dean is that he was like a young Gene Autry.

He likes Dean because of his exuberance, eagerness, uneducated intelligence, and what he sees as Dean's Western spirit, which is much different from Sal's other friends, "intellectuals" or criminals.

On the Road is a novel centered on characters, moods, places, visions described, and above all, the unceasing movement of the characters more than of plot. It is all focused on the hero, Dean Moriarty. The scene is established, with descriptions of Sal's life before he met Dean. Sal after splitting up with his wife and recovering from a serious illness feels depressed, tired and motionless. Sal has always dreamed of the West, which he has never experienced, when Dean, the personification of Sal's dream of the West, arrives and sparks everything into motion.

Throughout the novel there is a clear division of ideas of the East (intellectual, stagnant, old, saddened and critical) compared to the ideas of the West (passionate, young, exuberant and wild).

The characters in "On the road" ;are often described with the attributes of the places which they are from, or rather, Sal's idea of that place.

Sal thinks in descriptive and needless to say long, rambling sentences, like the way Sal and Dean and Carlo talk. The sentences have an abundant quality, cleverly incorporating the excitement and energy of the characters and events.

Sal describes his friends as earnestly as he can, yet seems to sometimes depict himself self-deprecatingly. He is the observer, often a little behind and at a distance. He's late starting west, and can't hitchhike and travel as easily as he thought, and ends up having to take the bus all the way to Chicago. While, the others, he imagines, are already there, having great fun.

The descriptions of the places he passes through are full of exuberance. The long sentences and paragraphs convey the feeling of constant motion. The only respite occurs, briefly, when Sal is in the Des Moines hotel and wakes up not knowing who or where he is. He says he is halfway across America, "at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future." This statement reflects Sal's emotions. He is opening up, giving substance to what were just ideas and dreams. As he goes west, even his dish of apple pie and ice cream is getting bigger and better. Every character he meets is not only an individual, but also a summary of a region.

Everything is described in superlatives. "Incredible," the best, the hugest, the sweetest, "the prettiest girls in the world", Denver is the Promised Land, San Francisco is an even greater "vision", the Nebraska farmlands are like the Nile Valley.

Sal envisions the people and places around him in grand terms, but he is quite modest about himself. Mostly, he seems to be almost disbelieving, that he is finally living the adventures of which he dreamed. He pictures himself stumbling into Denver like a prophet, mysterious and ragged from his adventures, although he is in fact far too self-conscious, earnest, and infatuated with everything around him, to get this kind of cool distance.

Strangely the opening section introduces Dean as a "holy con-man". The combination of adoration and truthful recognition is a manner central to the entire novel. In On the Road, the idea of a trickster hero-saint applies to both Dean and the events of the novel. Sal's appreciation of Dean's careless childlike nature and seeming ease is strengthened by Sal's desire to have these qualities himself.

Sal knows that eventually, Dean may disappoint and desert him, but he loves him anyway and naively goes along for the adventure. Dean is saint and con man at once. It's a kind of faith Sal is describing, making reason and sensibility irrelevant. Likewise, the adventure may later prove to be a hollow forgery, but at this point in time, for Sal, it’s exactly what he needed.

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