Kerouac's On The Road

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Michael McClure, a poet in San Francisco who was involved with the Beats said that "the world that [they] trembling stepped out into in that decade was a bitter, gray one". In his article, "Scratching the Beat Surface," he describes the time as "locked in the Cold War and the first Asian debacle," in "the gray, chill, militaristic silence,...the intellective void...the spiritual drabness". This is the world in which Kerouac takes his journeys that become the material for On the Road. Sal Paradise, the narrator of On the Road and the character identified as Kerouac's alter ego, is a literate keeper of American culture. We become intimately aware of an elusive narrator, but fixated upon the epic hero of the novel, Dean Moriarty. The narrator tells us in the opening paragraph that "with the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of [his] life you could call [his] life on the road". Dean is the instigator and the inspiration for the journey that Sal will make, the journey that he will record. The characters are introduced to us in brief vignettes, in a way reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; New York City is the starting point, and Sal wants us to understand the people we will be dealing with. The arrival of Dean is the catalyst, Sal describes him as "simply a youth tremendously excited with life". He also sees "a kind of holy lightning...flashing from his excitement and his visions". When Dean meets Carlo Marx (a pseudonym for Allen Ginsberg), Sal's closest friend in the city, Sal tells us that a "tremendous thing happened", and that the meeting of Dean and Carlo was a meeting between "the holy con-man with the shining mind [Dean], and the sorrowful poetic con-man with the dark mind that is Carlo Marx". Sal remarks that it was in their meeting that "everything that was to come began then". Carlo tells Dean about the friends around the country, their experiences, and Sal is telling us that he is following them "because the only people for [him] are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live" and so on. Sal describes Dean's criminal tendencies as "a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy…something new, long prophesied, long a-coming". The early descriptions of Dean establish a religious motif; people and their personalities are regularly referred to as holy, or prophesied. Dean is "a western kinsman of the sun", and this pagan comparison is yet another supernatural moment in the description of Dean Moriarty.
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