ad essaysOn the Road: Carefree? Utterly and completely carefree they are, blowing and twisting on the maelstrom of their whims, each lunging twinge of a mental process reflected in miles.
A laughing blue sky waiting to swallow you alive above, a gleefully roaring engine burning hungrily in front, the road and its devils grinning wickedly below, Jack Kerouac’s characters go flying off randomly along the twisted contours of their lives in his autobiographical epic On the Road. But what is the meaning of the book, with all its casual deviations- -what is Kerouac trying to say without saying? To answer this question, a reader must scour the book’s passages for rhetorical appeals. For example, in Part I, Chapter 11, page 63, when Paradise/Kerouac abandons his screenplay in order to find a job, a “shadow of disappointment” crosses Remi Boncoeur’s face; even though no words are spoken at this point, the look on poor Remi’s face is quite enough to form a rhetorical appeal. The look conveys the sentiments of the central characters of the book that trivialities such as everyday jobs should be cast aside in favor of following one’s dream (and clearly writing is one of Kerouac’s driving passions). For one, this is an appeal from character; Remi, crestfallen that Sal has turned his back on his dream, is a person who has no qualms about stealing couches, or food, or stripping a ghost ship of its valuables. In this way, his desire to live the moment is connected with his questionable morals–a problem somewhat relieved when his general goodness is illustrated by having him try to organize an evening out in order to put his father at ease.
When Remi wants something, he takes it, but he’s a decent, big-hearted person overall–almost childlike, really. It should be observed that he has the amorality of a little kid. Therefore, this appeal from character should be seen as a cry for living one’s dream– an almost naive way of thinking of things, seen from the childlike eyes of Remi Boncoeur. Second, this passage contains an appeal to emotion. Remi’s facial expression intends to prod that part of Sal, and the reader, that would like to continually live on and for the moment, chasing dreams, and never for a moment surrender to the mundane. This is the message that the book chiefly promotes: do what you want to do when you want to do it, and have the most fun possible.
Time and again, the characters shift across the blazing heartland of America, yearning for release, for wonder. They live in the thrall of today and now. Of course, there are exceptions, moments where the restless lustings encounter resistance. In Part I, Chapter 13, page 96, at the time when he is living with Terry, there is a passage wherein Sal describes picking cotton, and he says “I thought I had found my life’s work”.
He and Terry and her boy live together, and Sal temporarily forgets his friends and his wanderlust. Short-lived though this period might be, Sal becomes a “man of the earth” and returns to the “simple life”. Eventually, though, he tells Terry that he has to leave and is on the road again. Two pages later he speaks of the American landscape and how “every bump, rise, and stretch in it mystified my longing”. Apparently, the wanderlust has returned. Not long after, though, he settles down with his aunt for an extended period of time.
He actually spends a year living the normal life, an odd exception to this Book of the Road. All it takes, however, is Dean roaring up in a beat-up Hudson to send him back in full force to the road. For most of the rest of the novel, he and his ever-shifting company of friends roam ceaselessly around the continent. In the first chapter of Part III, Sal moves to Denver, where he thinks of living the normal life–“I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch. I was lonesome.” This last sentence is the key, of course. Separated from his friends, most particularly Dean, Sal gives in to the stereotypical American mindset.
But when he finds Dean again, and Camille kicks them both out, they embark on another series of excursions, the only binding elements being the road and the mislaid faith in reaching Italy. The pivotal time in the course of their relationship, this is when Dean and Sal make their friendship concrete. Of course, they never reach Italy, but they travel and party and live for the moment, and have seemingly little regret when it’s over. They go their separate ways for a while, then reunite and, with the company of friends, head out again on the road, this time ending up in Mexico. Here arrives another critical point; Sal falls ill and Dean abandons him there, in Mexico.
Sal, dejected, eventually recovers and returns home. It is here (Part V, page 305 and 309) that Kerouac describes the continent as “awful”–not once, but twice–an emotional appeal to the reader that fairly screams his loss and rage, and as this is the last adjective describing America in the novel, it is important in that it relates Sal’s mindset at the end of his travels with Dean. It is not wonderment he feels anymore, but sadness. This too is a theme that can be traced throughout the book, entwining itself with the dual theme of freedom. It seems that everywhere Sal goes, he loses a friend or a lover, from Terry to Remi Boncoeur to Dean Moriarty.
Apparently, Kerouac seems to be insinuating that freedom brings pain as well as joy, for when you do what you want to do when you want to do it, your bridges are in eternal danger of burning around you, leaving you severed, forsaken, and alone. The book finally ends at the parting of Sal and Dean in New York, the final repeated thought being “I think of Dean Moriarty”. It would seem that living life for the moment exposed Sal to great ecstacy and torment, but it is the torment that rings the clearest in his prose, the bittersweet quality that echoes through even the happiest passages. “Love is a duel,” rages Sal when he leaves Terry.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his love for the road, where the conflict between pleasure and sorrow escalates awkwardly until the very end, when Sal, weary and sad, watches his best friend disappear around the corner of Seventh Street.