On the Road by Jack Kerouac
In Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road, Sal is ready for adventure after going through a divorce and an illness. He has the pleasure of meeting Dean, who is carefree and excited to be alive. Going on a journey and getting close to Dean was a good thing for Sal, to help him get over the bad experiences he was facing. Dean gave Sal the privilege to start living an exciting and fun-filling life, rather than being stuck in his sad and depressing one. The road becomes Sal and Dean’s home; it is all they have, apart from each other. The lifestyle they have come to embrace is rejected by society and spontaneous, yet makes them content with life. The road is not only Sal and Dean’s home, but it is also a huge part of their lives.
What is the road? Is it Sal’s home? Or is it Sal’s escape? From the reading, it can be implied that the road is both Sal’s home and way of escaping his life. Being on the road means the people that once were in your life (family, friends, etc.) will no longer be in it (at least for when being on the road). The only person one has on the road is oneself (well, at least in the beginning of the journey). After awhile, it becomes almost automatic to become comfortable with the idea of having no one to rely on but oneself. Being alone will not last long. One encounters many people when they are on the road. Never knowing whom one will encounter next makes the road exciting. Never knowing what you will learn from the people one encounters is too an exciting factor of being on the road. One thing that is important to consider though is that one is on the road on ones own, to trust and rely on no one but oneself for anything and everything.
Living on the road, alone, puts a great amount of time on your hands. Having such a huge quantity of spare time, one gets to know who one really is, one-on-one, close, and personal. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the top level is self-actualization. Maslow said: “What a man can be, he must be.” Every human has the desire of becoming more and more what one is. To become everything that one is capable of becoming and to achieve everything that one is capable of doing. The road allows one to personally develop oneself and reach a state of self-actualization. Sal does not know where he is going. He may have an idea but he does not entirely know where he’ll end up. All he really pays attention or cares about is the journey. That is the reason why he hits the road in the first place: to find himself (Ewen 1).
The road gives one the opportunity to start a new life. To experience things one has never experienced before. Even though it might be hard at first to adjust to this lifestyle, it is a sort of liberation from the life one was stuck living in. Many people, at a point in their life, have felt the urge to disappear, or escape for a couple of months, or start their life over again. And that is just what the road has to offer. It could be the best or the worst thing that happens to anyone.
While on the road, Sal worries and cares about where he is going, but it’s not really his primary concern. In Sal’s unconscious, all that matters is the experience he gets out of this journey, not where he is going. The places he goes to obviously have some sort of influence on Sal, but the greatest influence he has is from the situation he is in.
Kerouac wrote this book after the Great Depression and World War II. Most of the soldiers that had just come back from being at war were looking to start new families in a new house and with brand new jobs. Even though the vast majority of soldiers wanted this, some probably grew tired of all the traumatic things they had experienced at war and wanted to take some time off to find themselves again. To take a break from life and hit the road; to have a lifestyle like Sal’s. These young men were on the edge of dissatisfaction. Even though it’s been about fifty years since the book was written, the ideas and experiences that Sal undergoes in the book are to this day very much alive. Expressions of restless youth who strongly desire something more than what society expects them to become or to be, something out of the norm, something different and dangerous, something not everyone has the courage to do.
Kerouac is known to be one of the most influential members of the “Beat Generation”. This movement began in the 1950s. It rejected the values of the middle class in America. Its members did not agree with how materialistic Americans had become. These people are now referred to as “hippies”. The “Beat Generation” was characterized by its “spiritual and sexual liberation, liberation of the world from censorship, decriminalization of some laws against marijuana and other drugs, musical appreciation, as evidenced by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, etc., and opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization.” These elements of the “Beat Generation” are important to consider when reading Kerouac’s book. (Beat Generation)
Considering the historical circumstances this book was written in, one could understand why Kerouac chose or wanted to write a book of this manner. Members of the “Beat Generation” were dying to liberate themselves from the unpleasant ways of society. Kerouac’s book actually is a true story of his. He renamed all the characters but the story line refers to events that happened in his life. Even though the story Kerouac tells in his book was real, the way he wrote On the Road was truly rare and unique. Unlike most writers, Kerouac wrote the book on a 120-foot manuscript, not giving himself the freedom of having the option of erasing something he had written.
Kerouac wrote his book going with the flow, which is how Sal traveled on the road, with no desire to turn back. For Sal, it was always about the next city, the next experiences he would face, and the next destination he was about to reach. The book and the author both share the appreciation for motion. For both Kerouac and Sal, motion acts as an outlet from society and plugs them into their true desires.
Francois Boschetti decided at age twenty-one to drop out of law school and make his life worth living. He grew tired of society’s expectations while he attended college and all the pressure that was being put on him by his teachers, colleagues, friends, family, etc. to succeed. He decided to hit the road and travel from Michigan to California on his own. He lived on the road for about a year, going from motel to motel, and meeting people of all kinds, experiencing life and living it the way he wanted to, being the person he wanted to be with no pressure or dilemmas.
The first time his mother ever saw him after the one year he spent missing in action, she could barely recognize him. He explained to her how he did not really know himself before he hit the road. He discovered his true purpose in life, his passion, and his new views on things like politics and religion. On the road, he met a guy named Roy Smith, who he spoke to me about greatly.
They traveled together for a long time before he decided it was time for him to go home, so they became extremely close with each other. Thanks to Roy, my uncle came to the realization of his true passion: painting. Roy somehow realized the invigorating love he had for it and made him embrace this. Francois, at first, thought Roy was crazy, but then realized that he was right. That he did not want to admit this to his conscious because being a painter meant disappointment to his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. Roy made Francois see that it was perfectly fine to want something in life. That doing what your parents want their kids to do is not only unfair, but stupid. They are not the ones to control their lives, they are. Francois completely changed his perspective towards this issue and began to think of enrolling himself into art school, which he did when he left the road. He is now a successful artist and is recognized nationally in Venezuela.
The road influences everyone that goes on it in many ways. For example, Dean came out of the road refusing to change. He still did not want to have responsibility in general, not even with women. Instead, Sal came out of the road wanting to move on from his old life. He had already experienced his freedom and irresponsibility and wanted to have a sense of commitment, like wanting to settle with Laura.
Depending on the type of person one is, being on the road may sound either scary or fun. It may be depressing or exciting, adventurous or boring. Regardless of how one feels, the road has the power to transform anyone into the person they are meant to be: oneself.
Whether the road makes you change in a good way or a bad way, it is a good journey to undergo. The multiple experiences one gets out of being in that situation are numerous. Having the liberty to do whatever one feels like doing or to go wherever one feels like going is superb. The road gives one the opportunity to get in touch with oneself and discover their purpose in life, to discover the reason why one was brought to the Earth to do. That is one of the biggest gifts the road offers its travelers.