Jack Kerouac’s On The Road - Ranting of a Maniac or Precise Interpretation of Reality?
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Jack Kerouac's On the Road: Ranting of a Maniac or Precise Interpretation of Reality?
Jack Kerouac's On the Road is considered the bible of the Beat Generation, illustrating the wild, wandering, and reckless lifestyle chosen by many young people of the time. Despite all of Dean and Sal's partying and pleasure-cruising, On the Road ends up being a sad and disturbing story. During all the trips, through the good times and the bad times, there is a sense of darkness and foreboding following in the wake. Kerouac's point was not to put on display the wild and good times the Beats were having, but rather to expose their way of life as a simple flight from reality and responsibility. The sadness of this novel is due to the accumulation of consequences stemming from the characters' irresponsibility and general lack of direction. Dean and Sal, however, never fully admit this to themselves. Part of the story's beauty is Sal's non-judgmental narrative. To preserve this, Kerouac must carefully incorporate these views while leaving Sal somewhat oblivious to them. This is done using other characters to implant the notion of looming responsibility and reality into the story, and to communicate to the reader that life really is more serious than Sal admits in his narration.
While Dean's home base is a wife's house throughout most of the story, Sal has his aunt, a dependable and caring woman who vocalizes her opinions of his lifestyle and friends. Chapter Five begins with Sal's brief discussion of her feelings. "My aunt said I was wasting my time hanging around with Dean and his gang. I knew that was wrong, too. Life is life, and kind is kind. (129)" Here Kerouac uses Sal's own commentary to get his point across. While Sal ...
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...een set aside. Carlo continues his speech:
"The days of wrath are yet to come. The balloon won't sustain you much longer.... You'll all go flying to the West Coast and come staggering back in search of your stone. (130)"
Is this the ranting of a maniacal typist, or a precise interpretation of reality cleverly inserted by the author? Kerouac's method of inserting ideas through Sal's narration allows him to incorporate an important differing point of view that Sal is incapable of until the very end of the story. Had Kerouac not wanted to communicate these ideas, Sal could just as easily have not mentioned these instances, or described them in a different light. Without the opinions of these other characters, the book would be one-sided, and quite a bit more shallow in its message.
Kerouac, Jack.On the Road. New York: Penguin Books, 1975.