The cyclical nature of life is unavoidable, the rhythm is irresistible and the movement is inherent. Sal’s journey detailed in “On The Road” is one that reinforces these ideas, the true nature of man lies outside of societal convention. The journey of life is one where you will always be on the road, forging new friendships, experiencing what’s new, dealing with loss and, most importantly, going with the “flow”. Life in motion outside of society is the cure for the suffering of consciousness; it is the essential therapy of life.
In order to understand this point of view, one must first understand where and what type of society these views come from. The author of this book, Jack Kerouac, is known to be a leader of and even considered the founder of the “Beat Generation”. This self-titled generation emerged as a group in the 1950s and proceeded to reject the American middle class values. Essentially, they were America’s first version of a group that would be known as “hippies” in later decades. The movement was characterized by its spiritual and sexual liberation, rejection of censorship, drug use, musical appreciation, and its opposition to the laws of society and civilization. These pillars of the Beat movement and the entire Beat generation are fundamental in gaining an understanding of “On The Road”. In order to emphasize these values, Kerouac wrote this novel in a unique way. Rather than writing and rewriting a novel with the ability to edit, Kerouac wrote the novel as a continuous piece on a 120-foot manuscript. The writing, pace and tone of the novel reflect the “flow” with which Kerouac was writing. This writing technique allowed him to build characters that followed his own rhythm, and the events of the novel match the spirit of the author’s mood. Fatigue, depression, hope and happiness, a full range of emotions that are necessary in this novel of the Beat generation. This method of writing relates to the constant movement and dissatisfaction of Sal throughout the story. Much like how Sal travelled the country with no longing to turn back, Kerouac was able to write what he desired without fear of censorship. It was always about the next destination; much how Kerouac was always longing for that next perfect word with which to craft his novel. The story and the author share a genuine connection in their appreciation for rhythm and motion, and these things are the outlets for their desires and the ideas that lift life’s pressures from their consciousness.
The novel starts with the main character Sal Paradise. Sal is a writer living in New Jersey but he is bored and depressed. Staying home writing is just not what he thought it would be, and he hears about a man named Dean Moriarty. At the instant Dean’s name is introduced into the book, Sal becomes more active. Something about this name intrigues him without actually knowing the man himself. It is this blind desire that drives Sal throughout the course of the story. It is not long before Sal has a strong desire to travel west, and to meet his new friends in Denver. This is the moment where the title begins its ascension in significance to the reader. This is where Sal begins his journey “On the Road”; this is the moment where his obsession begins. Sal leaves a comfortable, stationary situation for the life of a hobo on the road and never looks back. Once bored and depressed, Sal now has purpose and the entire West Coast in front of him. A journey is ahead of him and he begins to feel alive.
There is a noticeable change in the tone and pace of the novel during the segments where Sal is on the road. The novel seems to pick up a quicker pace, and seems to have more energy in its use of long, drawn out sentences. Once he leaves New York, the pace is furious with people entering and leaving the story, girls rejecting him at multiple bars, or him switching to numerous different means of transportation as he attempts to get to Denver. The pace is lively and packed with energy, and in these same segments Sal is lively and packed with energy on the road even though he may be tired and starved for food. Sal’s and the novel’s tone changes for the better as well. An example of this is when Sal reaches Iowa for the first time. In Des Moines Sal says that it is the home of the most beautiful girls in the world. Everything he eats is absolutely delicious and it seems as though every feeling he feels is absolutely euphoric. Every object is described with a superlative and these details mark Sal’s apparent excitement and joy. The anticipation of what is to come has given Sal a reason to drive onwards and a reason to enjoy the subtle beauties of the world where he would ordinarily see none.
This excitement and jubilation contrasts with the feeling that Sal begins to feel once he reaches his destination. Once in Denver Sal is excited to be there, he finds a place to live and his friends but he does not find a purpose to be there other than to simply live. It seems as though as soon as he gets there he is once again restless and bored. He becomes stationary again, so he travels to Central City, back to Denver and then to San Francisco. At this point, one can begin to theorize that Sal is a man who loves the journey. It has always been said that the journey is greater than the final destination. Dreaming about going to a place, dreaming of reaching a place is always greater than actually being there. Everyone wants to see how a movie trilogy ends but no one ever wants to see it the end. Once the destination is reached, what else is there to dream about, what is there to do but to go on another journey? This is Sal’s philosophy. The moment a person is born into this society, they are told to go to school, to grow up, to get a job, with this job they earn money, with this money they will buy a house, once a house is purchased they must start a family to move in with, then they need to buy more things and continue to progress at their job, and they progress until they have enough money to retire. At this point they have completed their “journey” and are no long on the road, so to speak. Is it not true that this should be the happiest and most entertaining segment of their life? No, they had acquired society’s riches and played society’s game in order to finish the journey, but this is simply not the case. Retiring is the first step in resigning to the fact that death is inevitable, it is acknowledging the fact that death is apparent and will have an affect on oneself. Retiring from the journey is the act of preparing for death in a sense. People want to retire and travel the world to see everything and do everything they have wanted to do their entire lives, why? They do this because they have the money to do so, because death is encroaching, mostly they do it in order to create another journey to go on. But if asked, any old retired person would give the world to be young, poor and healthy again. On their deathbed, when they think back on their life, they will not smile at the retired years and be proud of the fact that they were able to do the things they desired to do. They
will be proud of the fact that they were able to earn enough money and have the journey to do those things, they will long for the journey. There is no life in idleness, only death.
Once Sal settles into San Francisco he finds another stationary life where he is neither able to keep a job nor to keep friends. After this he meets a girl that he claims to love but can not keep and then he travels back to New York. Three times more Dean will enter the life of Sal Paradise and twice more Sal will join him on a journey across the country to San Francisco and Mexico. With Sal becoming both increasingly closer and farther from Dean each time. They become closer friends but as Sal begins to mature, Dean begins to close into himself and regress. Dean is a part of Sal, Dean is his desires and he wishes that he could be a spontaneous and reckless as Dean. As Dean begins to regress and become more incoherent, Sal’s desire to be spontaneous, reckless and his desire to go on wild trips across the country fade away as well. The road is what defines Dean and Dean is the definition of the road in Sal’s mind. There is a journey where Sal plans to travel without Dean, and once Dean enters the crowd again the entire mood changes. Without Dean, Sal sees the world without restless apprehension and he is calmer in his observations. With Dean, Sal begins to have the apprehensions and regains that need to be on the move but without the earlier excitement. As Dean’s famous personality fades, so does the energy that surrounds being on the road.
The entire novel, these characters are on the fringes of society. They enjoy the lifestyle of hobos. They refuse to hold real jobs in order to earn money and will do whatever it takes for someone to give them money. They live by stealing and taking advantage of society form its fringes. They do this when they are on the road and in motion between destinations. Their journey is on the edge of society, with the hobos, drunks and drug addicts. Unsurprisingly, they become addicted to this lifestyle and find that the city, the civilization, and the society are not what they desire. Cities are only destinations between journeys; society is only a pit stop. In living life, there is no room for the troublesome rule and regulations of society, and when they are ignored it is much more pleasurable. Who cares where it is to go or how to get there, as long as there is a journey to be had, and as long as there is a purpose set forth, then there is an opportunity to, in a literal sense, pursuit happiness. While the world remains idle, those who are on the road have a clear conscious without societal judgments. Motion allows Sal to forget his worries and motion allows him to know that he is still alive.