On The Road



Jack Kerouac: On the Road
Jack Kerouac is the first to explore the world of the wandering hoboes in his novel, On the Road. He created a world that shows the lives and motivations of this culture he himself named the “Beats.” Kerouac saw the beats as people who rebel against everything accepted to gain freedom and expression. Although he has been highly criticized for his lack of writing skills, he made a novel that is both realistic and enjoyable to read. He has a complete disregard for developed of plot or characters, yet his descriptions are incredible. Kerouac’s novel On the Road defined the post World War II generation known as the “beats.”
The motivation behind the beat movement was their thirst for freedom. They desired freedom from almost everything we take for granted today. “Central to the beat writers, though little noticed, is the desperate flight from the lower middle class life and its culture of anxiety” (“Jack Kerouac.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 14, 305). The beats also had trouble dealing with the social aspects of living. “In both On The Road and The Dharma Bums this fugue, or flight, is portrayed on the realistic level as an attempt to escape from an intolerable personal or social situation” (Freied 253). They couldn’t deal with the values and expectations of society. “These men and women reject existing social values largely through misunderstanding them; in the social sense, they are infantile, perversely negative or indifferent” (Baro 281). Sometimes it was theirselves they needed to escape from. Freied states, “Kerouac’s hoboes are seeking escape- escape not only from the threats of a hostile society, but escape from their own inadequate personalities and unsatisfactory human relationships” (295). What most of the need for escape amounts to is an outlet from life. “Their much touted ideal of freedom is in reality a freedom from life itself, especially from rational, adult life with its welter of consequences and obligations” (Vopat 304). Vopat also says, “Kerouac’s characters take to the road not to find life, but to leave it all behind: emotion, maturity, change, decision, purpose, and, especially, in the best American tradition responsibility” (303). They feel any kind of knowledge will be a restraint. “They avoid anything- self-analysis, self awareness, thinking- that would threaten or challenge them, for with revelation comes responsibility for change, and above all they do not want change” (Vopat 303). Another more universal fear that they felt the need to escape was the red scare. “In ‘the great McCarthy hysteria,’ flight is the only means of expressing their dissent” (Feied 293). They also do not want the commitment of a real relationship with the opposite sex. “Free love is rather freedom from love and another route down that same dark death wish” (Vopat 303). They feel if they can escape these bindings of life than will achieve a better way of living. “Inwardly, these excesses are made to serve a spiritual purpose of an affirmation still unfocused, still to be defined, unsystematic” (Millstein 279). They want to just experience the joys of life to the fullest without worrying about any responsibilities. “They seek to make good their escape in moment to moment living, digging everything, pursuing kicks with a kind of desperate energy that passes for enthusiasm” (Feied 295). “They want for everyday experiences something that will give them an exalted, intensified sense of life- that will make them ‘live,’ that will make life ‘real’; they want to transcend, not their actual limitations, but their sense of limitation” (Baro 281). The beats were looking for an easy way out of dealing with the pressures of having a real life.
To gain freedom from the restraints of life they rebelled against everything that seemed normal to regular citizens of society. “Kerouac’s novels are more readily summarized than Ginsberg’s poetry or the Beat’s innovations in lifestyles, but all three manifest a rebellion against the establishment- the goals and habits of middle class America” (Neil 306). Most see this as a combination of ignorance and stupidity. “These young ‘haters of everything’ can seem nothing more than spoiled brats, rejecting a civilization they have not bothered to understand and done nothing to deserve, wrecking lives and other people’s Cadillac’s with equal relish