Analysis Of Themes In Jack Kerouac’s On The Road

Among the various Beat Generation writers, Jack Kerouac was the most influential. Being published in the year 1957, the novel On the Road, raised him to a higher level of fame as portrayed by the New York Times. It made Kerouac to become the face and voice of the Beat Culture. He was made to give interviews in television in the mass-market publication. Though the novel On the Road has been appreciated for its evolution of culture, it was also criticized and blamed that seemed wrong in America. As it speaks about a group of young people in America, who travels everywhere in search of living in liberation and finding the true meaning of life. On the other hand Civil rights opponents claimed that book has glorified the African American culture. This work of Kerouac became an inspiration for many student movements of that time and he was also an inspiration for the singers who wrote songs of protest during that time. Fortunately, after many critical opinions and oppositions, On the Road remains a part of the American culture which helped to confirm to a conventional lifestyle.

In the classic and pop culture companionship was a foremost thing which the narrator, Sal and his friend esteemed to go on. As a bonding between two men, they loved sharing travel experiences for miles which made them to go deep far beyond friendship as comrades and brothers. Dean’s folly attitude embraces Sal and Dean was also ready to make humdrum things to a bizarre level for the sake of Sal. The integrity and immorality in everything they did helped to stiffen their companionship which rarely happens in a common amity. Importance of amity was greatly portrayed by Kerouac in his novel On the Road by the character named Sal which was his own reflection in the work. Sal only experiences the vitality in life only when he was with his friends. In their absence, Sal felt depressed and lonely. He seemed inactive to the world and longed to go to San Francisco for that he could experience the real meaning of life while he travelled happily by leaving back the real life in which they live. These travel experiences which the narrator with his friends made the novel to a more adventurous level. As a destructive tool, the same friendship was portrayed in the novel by Kerouac. The narrator was gradually able to realize his diminishing level in closeness with Dean. The attitude and behaviour showed by Dean and Sal’s other friends in their life was to portray the destruction or abolition of traditional values of the society of America, mainly in family and relationship. Sal was also portrayed as a character with subversive nature. Because, Sal was the same person who enjoyed and loved to travel with his friends and enjoy the life as Dean did in his life. Also he was the same soul who got more worried in seeing Dean as a man with destructive nature who spoiled his own life without worrying about others which had great consequences for him as well as the people surrounded around him. Madness was the reason for the development of friendship between Dean and Sal. Sal got impressed by Dean’s madness and the same happened in the case of Dean. But the same madness was the reason which later became as a barrier between each other. Various evolution of madness happens in Dean such as the religious element, drugs, sex and also in travelling to different places. This madness was also the reason for making Dean as the hero of his novel. Also the narrator knows well that he cannot imitate him. So he wishes to follow and watch him in all the occasions. It brings up the novel to various levels with the bonding between Sal and Dean and also with the narrator’s admiration for Dean though the narrator had clear ideas about the plans and attitude of his acquaintance. This novel examines from a different aspect that what happens when a hero fails to meet the expectations of the reader and behaves as a normal human being. Another theme which the author had handled in this novel was about the exploration of Western part of America.

Over many writers in American literature, the Western America had been portrayed well when compared to the Eastern side for its township and the beauty of nature. On the Road also deals with the exploration of the Western side as Sal felt mesmerized in the beauty of the nature which made him feel crazy for adventures. When he worked in the cotton fields he himself felt as he was a Western American worker. Sal also realized that the modernity and technology can be developed in the West of America but still there could be many unexplored places hidden which is to be discovered. He has portrayed the West as a place for the childhood dreams, cowboy heroes and havens. He thinks that by travelling to the Western part of America, he could also become a hero himself. He had contrasted the Eastern and Western part of America as holy and empty respectively. The same place which made them feel happy also made them to feel depressed as they were worried about the destruction of their culture as the road gets developed towards the West. The people who dwelled under the Beat culture desired for freedom in every phase of their life. According to Sal Paradise Dean Moriarty was the person who represented freedom. The attitude of Dean was to be a natural man though it seemed to the world as foolish and pathetic. Though all other Sal’s friends had a opinion over Dean that he was a man of immorality who was not to be trusted, Sal had a different view that Dean was the man who was living higher phase of life with complete liberation when compared to others. Sal, the narrator, who met Dean as a person accused in jail for stealing cars in Denver, did not find faults in him. Instead, he saw the urge in him who longed for happiness in everything. The narrator has portrayed Dean as a character who is to be pitied with sympathy. Because, according to the narrator, all the actions which Dean did was due to his thirst for living a pure life and so Dean was not responsible for the views from other people of the world who viewed him as a criminal or an irresponsible person.

According to Sal and Dean, leading life in liberal manner, without bothering about the views from the society towards them is the only way they could find the real meaning of living a life, which they mentioned as IT throughout the novel. As per the views of Jack Kerouac, men who fall addicted for drugs or obsessed for stealing others’ properties or getting themselves indulged in sexual activities with women younger than them were only natural appetite of men who wish for living a pure life. Usage of drugs and alcohol has also been promoted in this novel at various occasions. As both Sal and Dean saw each other in a different role when they got highly drunk and even prioritized it before food. One could see the scenario of America in the 1940’s in which the people lived. He encourages such behaviour by saying that they are natural instincts and it must be done with first preference than worrying about the limitations. The sole reason that the novel was more criticized was because of the portrayal of the men and women relationship. Through this novel and its characters Kerouac tried to portray was the development of technology was the reason that kept human beings far from enjoying the true nature of life. But he failed to withstand over the side of women who faced troubles because the behaviour and attitude of men towards enjoying life. All the men characters in this novel were portrayed in a manner that they never bothered about the emotions and situations of women because of their decisions in life. Women in this novel were used only for the needs of men and for helping men with their journeys to various places under different conditions. The characters Sal and Dean’s view towards women was the fact that they were the only force which kept them away from enjoying the worldly life. They used women only at every end of their trips for the sake of food and shelter. But they did not wish women taking part in the journeys which they carried. Throughout the novel women were ill treated in all aspects. Also dissatisfaction plays a major role in this work because the narrator and his friend travelled everywhere only when they felt dissatisfied about their life. This attitude also reflected in case of women. They expected varieties in living with women too which made them to avoid and add any women to their life. Dean who was married thrice to different women divorced everyone leaving them to suffer all alone with their children. Ed Dunkel who was married to Galatea left her all alone in San Francisco when he came to know that she has no money for him to spend anymore. Though Sal and Dean were aware of the troubles faced by women because of their lifestyle they did not take any steps to solve or help them to overcome from the terrible depression and only used them whenever they wished and wanted to. The characters in this novel fail to know the variation between sex, love, marriage and lust. Dean was characterized as a person who wished to marry the girl he lusted for. Whereas the narrator wished to marry a girl only if he could find an element of love in her soul. The novel promotes the habit of having sex without getting them committed with each other. Dean who ran behind all young girls expresses the attitude that he did so because of his appetite as a young man. The next thing which the author promotes in this novel was about the African-American and Mexican culture for which Sal and Dean were mesmerized for. This novel was published in a situation when then African people were trying to get themselves recognised over the society in which they lived. But the same situation was used in a positive manner by Sal and Dean as they felt that being marginalized was a freedom that they could do anything they wished to and not to be worried about the limitations and rules they had to face in the society. This idea of having freedom based on the sufferings of such people was a twist in this novel by Jack Kerouac. Sal and Dean had a freedom which was restricted in the white male American culture. They enjoyed jazz clubs and mambo songs as per the African American culture. Sal and Dean saw freedom and adventure in the culture of the Mexican people when they went to Mexico.

Though Mexican culture was not marginalized in Mexico they felt in such a way because of the fact that they were outsiders and only had a little amount of knowledge about that culture. Sal, who lived with his Chicano girlfriend Terry by working in the cotton fields and taking care of her son, he himself felt that he was a Chicano worker. But when he suffered for living due to lack of money, his aunt in New York was there to send him money which the native Chicano workers lacked in their living. Both Sal and Dean loved to know about new cultures and also they adopted themselves to every culture they faced in various places and situations, but they were not able to be stable and stay forever in the conditions of such cultures. Throughout the novel, both the characters Sal and Dean wished to live free from rules and restrictions. Dean never bothered about the law and the conventions of the society. This can be clearly seen in the situation when Sal and Dean where in Washington, they were forced to stop during the military parade which they did not wish to be in part of. Also they were harassed by the police and they even wished to arrest Dean as Marylou, who was his wife was a prostitute and he was taking her everywhere beyond the regulations. But in Mexico, they were let free by the police as they paid for having sex and they even guarded the whorehouse. They also permitted Dean and Sal to sleep in their cars. But in the same case American police could have suspected them for staying in a car for no reason. Kerouac has portrayed America in various aspects such as the usage of Alcohol, sadness in the life of people, American Jazz music, relationship between men and women and the poverty which he saw helped him to portray the culture of America during the 1940’s. He also gives the variation of culture, lifestyle and rules and regulations between Mexico and America. From one aspect, one could say that the characters in the novels have violated the rules and regulations. But the real fact was that they were warned and stopped and at various occasions in the novel by the authorities for the behaviours of the youngsters. Rejection of the authority was also portrayed in this novel. From Sal’s view, he could see sadness in the people, places and even in his dreams, almost everywhere in America. The narrator longs for a companion in his life for having deep conversations but he felt sad and helpless when there was none to share his feelings and emotions through words. The same thing was also the reason for the relationship between men and women as the narrator longs for a soul mate as a woman but not for physical pleasures. It also plays a major role because of the fact that it denotes of being beaten or being beaten down. Spirituality was also a part of the Beat culture. In this novel, Sal searches for the holiness in the soul whom he wished to marry. But Dean had the attitude that sex was the only thing which was to be praised and followed up in life. Also Dean had a view that the musicians who performed in the jazz clubs as holy persons and even he portrayed them as equal to Gods as they knew about time very well than others. Kerouac has mentioned the Rainy Night of America in various occasions in the novel of On the Road which was to symbolize the passing of time in the country in which he was living.

The circulation of water from rain to its evaporation from sea is compared to the travelling and changing of the time and culture. It was also a metaphor of life and the history. It symbolizes the fact that the things which had happened already would happen again and it was the reality of life. Time is a major thing which the novel speaks about. Because of the attitude of the characters about fearing of time, fear for death and running faster in order to beat time, as it was the major concept of the Beat culture. Kerouac also glimpses his own life with this as he had lived a life of impermanence as he travelled all over different place with his friend Dean Moriarty. He compared his life, especially his life on the road with the life of the water which begins from a rainy night to its travel through river and then to sea and again its life as water back to the form of rain.

10 December 2020
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