Essay on On the Roads optimism

Essay on On the Roads optimism

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     In Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, the narrator, Sal Paradise offers up to us what seems to be a very optimistic view on life. He is forever singing the praises of how wonderful his adventures will be and his high expectations for the future. To Sal, the novel is defined by youthful exuberance and unabashed optimism for the new experiences that he sets out to find. A deeper look into the novel, as well as a look at some of the critics who have written on it, reveals a much darker side, a more pessimistic and sad aspect that Sal simply fails to realize until the very close of the action. Whether Sal is hopped up on the optimism of jazz music, secure in his belief that he is off to find ‘IT,’ or just excited about the promises of a night out in a new city, he is consistently selling the reader on the positive nature of the situations. To be more honest though, On the Road is a novel in which Sal, and the people with whom he surrounds himself, find themselves steeped into a near constant cycle of enthusiastic optimism for the future, which is then followed by a disparaging pessimism for the situation’s reality. While Sal might note that he desires the freedom and happiness of the open road, Ann Douglas says that "this is the saddest book that I’ve ever read" (Douglas, 9). While Sal attempts to show a exuberant and triumphant story of youthful optimism, critics and the actual events of the novel alike seem to point towards the fact that this same optimism turns the novel into a pessimistic story showing the actualities of life.
     Sal’s optimism can be defined by hopeful, often unrealistic, ambitions for the future. Without any real knowledge of what they will encounter, since the road often lands them in cities and towns where they have never been, the characters almost exclusively hope for the best, think everything will work out just fine – never considering the clear possibilities for disappointment. High expectations for parties or a hope to make it across the country using only one road are just two example of the blind optimism seen throughout the novel. While the headstrong characters of the novel run about the country thinking that everything will be all right, the actuality remains that most situations end in sorrow or adversely affected lives. Picking up hitchhikers who ultimately f...


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...nts and characters are masked by the early optimism that is laid down time and time again through Sal Paradise’s narration. This is not to say that the whole novel is defined by pessimism, for Sal and his crew do have fun and do experience a great deal of the American landscape. Sal even seems to find IT when he connects with the intense wilderness of the swamp in Mexico. But in the end, Sal’s discovery of IT only lasts momentarily and he returns to a world that shows little remorse for a disillusioned college kid crossing the continent, underlining the general criticism of this novel as sad. Kerouac’s novel, and the cycle of early hopes to frenzied excitement ending with depressing conclusions, seems to serve as a cautionary tale to warn readers of the sorry state of the world. Kerouac himself supported this idea when he decided to draw away from the world of "beat" of which many consider him the creator. Kerouac’s movement in his life away from the beat lifestyle seems to suggest that, much like Sal’s departure from the life of Dean at the end of the novel, he has experienced the depression of the world and if others do not realize it, he can no longer be a part of it.

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