The Search for Self and Identity in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road

The Search for Self and Identity in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road

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 Quest for Identity in On the Road                 

In Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, the author tries to convey to the audience that everybody is naturally dishonest and morally deceitful. Morals are defined by one's religion, the laws of the country, or some combination of the two. One's identity captures and plays out that individual’s moral. My morals follow the Christian beliefs, Texas state laws, and the laws of the United States. Although one's own morals can change, basic things such as stealing and murder are wrong and illegal by federal law. Numerous characters performed many acts proving this point such as Montana Slim, who says in order to get money, follow a man down an alley and rob him, or Dean, who never feels remorse for beating Mary Lou after a fight. These along with other characters display such actions that show that everyone is morally deceitful.

In Part 1, Chapter 4, Sal tells Montana Slim that he only has enough money to buy some whiskey. Slim says to Sal,

"I know where you can get some."
"Anywhere. You can always folly a man down an alley, can't you? ...I ain't beyond doing it when I really need some dough." (27)

At this early point in the novel, Sal is still figuring out who he is and what life is like on the road. He seems like a young naive schoolboy being bullied by an older, wiser kid. Slim knows what he is talking about because he has been on the road for some time now. He has probably robbed quite a few people throughout his experience on the road. This act is, by law, wrong and dishonest.

In Part 2, chapter 6, while Dean, Mary Lou, Ed Dunkel, and Sal stopped at a gas station on the way to New Orleans, Dunkel casually steals three packs of cigarettes. The way the narrator says it is that he stole them without even trying. He then justifies it by saying that they were fresh out (139). The language used is just so "non-chalant," as if stealing was no big deal. Stealing, like robbing, is illegal and morally wrong. The part that is most disturbing is that Dunkel feels that stealing cigarettes is okay, that it is necessary for survival just like food or water. Stealing food or water in order to survive can be justified, but not cigarettes.

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Related Searches

Cigarettes are not part of a necessary diet.

Although Dean does many things throughout the novel that is dishonest or morally wrong, beating Mary Lou during a fight sticks out in my mind the most. The way that Dean used and abused the many women who passed in and out of his life is repulsive. Most parents teach their children that it is not okay for boys to hit girls. However, Dean's mother was never around to teach him this basic lesson of life that is very apparent. The men in this novel talk about and treat women so poorly. It is not illegal, per se, to do some of these things, but it is morally wrong to hit a woman, especially to the point of making her black and blue.

Sal and Terry's relationship was a good and honest one. Sal did not want Terry to work because he wanted to be the sole "breadwinner." They truly cared about each other and loved each other's company. Sal thought she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. Initially, however, he probably wanted to meet Terry for selfish, sexual reasons. Many times before, Sal (and other male characters) used women for one night in order to be sexually satisfied, why would this woman be any different from the others? Sal did not realize that he was getting into a real relationship. He fell for her because he wanted to be with someone. She just happened to be beautiful, and there, on the bus, when he needed to be with a woman. As good as the outcome was, the initial reason for pursuit was wrong.

In Part 1, chapter 11, Sal and Remi are working as guards in the barracks to get money for food. Although he is making fifty-five dollars per week, Remi convinced Sal that President Truman wanted them to steal when President Truman's actual statement was, "We must cut down the cost of living." Remi manipulated that statement to fit his needs. Sal makes a statement to himself:

I suddenly began to realize that everybody in America is a natural-born thief. I was getting the bug myself.

This statement made me reconsider my previous argument that everybody is naturally dishonest. Sal thinks that it is some kind of contagious bug, implying that it is not an innate action, but one that can change depending on the situation that one is in. I think that Sal really wants to be a good person and does not want to be part of a life of crime like his friends. In other words, depending on the situation, or experience, a person can choose to "catch the bug" or not.

These examples have all been rhetoric appeals to character. Everyone who reads this novel generally has a sense of what is morally right or wrong. Again, most people want to be "good," but because of certain situations that one can be put in, poor choices of moral dishonesty can be made. The majority of people who read this novel must continuously resist these impure thoughts and temptations.

In conclusion, the rhetoric appeal to character used in this novel is a very effective one because this sort of appeal helps to draw the audience into the book. It is up to the individual reader whether or not the characters are performing morally wrong acts or not. I personally believe that in the situations that these characters were in made them be morally wrong. It seems that Sal changed from the beginning of the novel to the end, for both the better and the worse. He grew as a person and really found out who he was, but he did do some wrong things in order to get to that discovery. Ultimately, the novel is trying to tell us that our own identity is very personal and quite malleable. Every day that we live, we change a little bit and grow a little bit. Some morally dishonest acts may help to round out a flat and boring personality, but it is not absolutely necessary.
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