Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

College is about trying new things.  So far my adventure into this realm had only extended to booze and boys, until a moment when I found myself actually interested in what a “hipster” had to say.  So, I decided to break down stereotypes by reading what has been called the Bible of the Beat Generation, On the Road.

This novel is more or less Kerouac’s memoir.  He is portrayed as Sal Paradise, who goes on road trips across America and Mexico with Neal Cassady, portrayed as Dean Moriarty.  It was written as a reaction against the popular culture of the 1950’s, which I sadly realized too late.  Kerouac’s goal of trying to convince readers that he and Dean alone have truly lived life to the fullest falls short, yet he succeeds in portraying himself as pretentious and pedantic.

Although Sal is the protagonist and narrator, On the Road revolves around Dean.  There remains little doubt that Sal and the readers should idolise this man.  It seems that Dean represents the American Dream and a ‘Vision’ of true freedom.  Yet, Dean’s redeeming qualities can be stated in one word: none. His tendency to abandon his children, beat women, and his exploitive behaviour makes him the true image of men to loathe. Kerouac is an idiot for thinking that this man has anything to offer people; society would have been better off if Dean was in a penitentiary.  He is not alone in being hateable and unrelatable; all the main characters possessed these wonderful qualities.

Sal lacks all sympathy for the pain of those afflicted with mental illness.  In fact, if you don’t suffer from some sort of insanity, Sal will have nothing to do with you.  He boldly writes, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, … but burn, burn, burn”.  This admiration of insanity is partly the reason he clings on to Dean, and here Sal’s supposed best friend can exploit him.

To make matters worse Kerouac employs an overabundance of self-pity, particularly for a white man.  How pitiful: “I Wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a white man disillusioned.” Wow. I can’t even.

It is hard to believe that this started the Beat Generation.  A generation which, judging by their Bible, must be so self-indulgent that they forget every human value. After finishing this novel, my disillusionment and the Irish rain weighed me down heavily.   I understand that this novel was a reaction to popular culture and appeals to those who want to be ‘different’.  Yet there was no sense of morals in this novel idolising a culture of debauchery and social deviance. I now take the stance that trying new things are okay, unless it’s a downgrade. Hopefully this will pass over to my life of booze and boys.

Katherine Ware


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