Jack Kerouac's On The Road is the most uniquely American novel of its time. While it has never fared well with academics, On The Road has come to symbolize for many an entire generation of disaffected young Americans. One can focus on numerous issues wh en addressing the novel, but the two primary reasons which make the book uniquely American are its frantic Romantic search for the great American hero (and ecstasy in general), and Kerouac's "Spontaneous Prose" method of writing.
On The Road is an autobiographical first-person book written in 1951 and based on Kerouac's experiences of the late 1940's. At the time, America was undergoing drastic changes and the sense of sterility brought on by a mechanized Cold War era society resu lted in a feeling of existential dislocation for many. Numerous Americans began to experience a sense of purposelessness and the air was rife with disillusionment. Kerouac was one of these restless postwar young people and he longed for...something. A n ew kind of hero? A return to a Romantic tradition and simpler days? When Kerouac met Neal Cassady, he knew Cassady was the kind of hero he had been seeking. Eventually, as Robert Hipkiss notes, "Kerouac began to see Neal as an 'archetypal American Man' "....and, in fact, when Kerouac created Dean Moriarty out of Neal, "he created a new symbol of flaming American youth, the American hero of the Beat Generation" (32-3). Indeed, as Hipkiss argues, Dean Moriarty
is the most singular hero of the road America has ever had.
Mixing the individualism of the freeborn American with that
great present-day extension of this freedom, the motor car,
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...opeless and yet be determined to make them
otherwise.... On The Road is an example of such a test's
being taken -- and passed.... (132)
Kerouac, like Bellow and Plath, sees that things are hopeless but he remains determined to go on, and on, and
Bartlett, Lee, ed. The Beats: Essays in Criticism. Jefferson, C.: McFarland, 1981.
Bartlett, Lee. "The Dionysian Vision of Jack Kerouac." Bartlett 115-26.
Dardess, George. "The Delicate Dynamics of Friendship: Reconsideration of Kerouac's On The Road."
Hipkiss, Robert A. Jack Kerouac: Prophet of the New Romanticism. Lawrence: Regents P of Kansas, 1976.
Hunt, Tim. Kerouac's Crooked Road. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1981.
Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. New York: Signet, 1957.
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