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Jack Kerouac's Rejection of Traditional Values in "On the Road"

Jack Kerouac's Rejection of Traditional Values in "On the Road"



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Published by IhateMLA
Research paper about "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
Research paper about "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

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Published by: IhateMLA on May 11, 2007
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Jack Kerouac's Rejection of Traditional Values in On the Road
One of the most notable aspects of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, is the author’s willingness todescribe his own behaviors and attitudes in ways that reject traditional values, but enable himto make observations about America. These range from things like excessive drinking, whichwould always be viewed negatively, to an interest in jazz and racial mixing, which would have been viewed negatively in the 1950’s but not today. Also, Kerouac was part of a literarymovement – the Beats – whose rejection of traditional values was well known. BecauseKerouac rejected traditional values, On the Road was very controversial, but it was alsoinfluential.On the Road is a clearly autobiographical book, in which “Kerouac makes no attempt toseparate himself from his narrator” (Bartlett 125). On the Road is based on Kerouac’s actualexperiences, and the characters are based on actual people who he knew. (Bartlett 120;Latham; Charters 410-411). Therefore, Kerouac admits to doing anything that the narrator, SalParadise, did.One form of behavior that would be always be viewed negatively is excessive drinking. Saloften admits to drinking, but Kerouac uses this to make some interesting observations. For example, there is the time when Sal is with his friend Terry, and her brother Rickey andRickey’s friend Ponzo. Since Ponzo is in the business of buying and selling manure, they planto spend the say looking for manure, but they end up spending the day drinking (Kerouac,Road 92-3). At the end of the day, they go to a crossroads saloon, and Sal observes that“Americans are always drinking in crossroads saloons on Sunday afternoon; they bring thekids; they gabble and brawl over brews; everything’s fine. Come nightfall the kids start cryingand the parents are drunk. They go weaving back to the house” (Kerouac, Road 92-3)Another example of Sal’s negative behavior is when he stays with Remi in Mill City. He gets a job as a guard but does not take his job seriously. He is surprised that he gets hired in the first place (Kerouac, Road 64), which shows that he does not actually care much for being a guard.He calls the other guards “bastards” (Kerouac, Road 64) even before he meets them, whichshows his lack of respect for the guards. Once he gets the job, Sal realizes that he simply cannot perform it because he “gulpsat the prospect of making an arrest”( Kerouac, Road 65). He cannot arrest people because of his general attitude; he does not feel that they deserve to be arrested even if they are being loudand are not following orders. His feelings about arrests explain why Sal describes the guardsas “a horrible crew of men, men with cop-souls” (Kerouac, Road 65)
2 Not only is Sal a bad guard, he actually drinks while on guard with the people he is supposedto be guarding (Kerouac, Road 66). Even worse, he and Remi actually steal from the barracksthat they are supposed to protect (Kerouac, Road 70). Sal tells the reader, “I suddenly began torealize that everybody in America is a natural-born thief” (Kerouac, Road 72). Even thoughthis attitude and these actions are generally considered negative, Sal makes no attempt to hidethem from the reader. He does not even hide it from the other guards. Soon, Sal quits his job asa guard (Kerouac, Road 76).During his stay with Remi, Sal makes some observations about Remi and his girlfriend LeeAnn that are good social observations about how people pretend to be successful when they arenot“His girl Lee Ann had a bad tongue and gave him a call-down every day. They spent all week saving pennies and went out Saturdays to spend fifty bucks in three hours.“Remi wore shorts around the shack, with a crazy Army cap on his head. Lee Ann wentaround with her hair up in pincurls. Thus attired, they yelled at each other all week. I never saw so many snarls in all my born days. But on Saturday night, smiling graciously at eachother, they took off like a pair of successful Hollywood characters and were on the town”(Kerouac, Road 62)What is interesting about On the Road is that Sal could have described his visit to Remiwithout admitting to stealing, but Kerouac’s writing method was to write without “shame”“In an essay called ‘The Last Word,’…Kerouac wrote that shame seems to be the key torepression in writing as well as in psychological malady. If you don’t stick to what you firstthought, and the words the thought brought what’s the sense of bothering with it anyway,what’s the sense of foisting your little lies on others? What I really find ‘stupefying in itsunreadability’ is this laborious and dreary lying called craft and revision” (Bartlett 125).The examples of drinking and stealing are examples where most people would view theauthor’s admitted behavior in a negative way. There are other examples where the author’sadmitted behavior may be more socially acceptable, but still a rejection of the values of thetimes. These are the rejection of money and material comfort, and the desire for experience.Sal clearly rejects the importance of money and material comfort. For example, in order to besure of getting to Chicago, he spent most of his money, and “didn't give a damn, just as long asI'd be in Chicago tomorrow” (Kerouac Road 11). He did not worry about whether he wouldhave enough money to make it across the country.He then mostly hitchhikes across the country because he cannot afford buses, and there aredownsides to hitchhiking. “One of the biggest troubles hitchhiking is having to talk to
3innumerable people, making them feel that they didn't make a mistake picking you up, evenentertain them almost, all of which is a great strain…” (Kerouac Road 14). If Sal cared moreabout money and material comfort, he could have saved more money before the trip, butinstead he prefers to be traveling. (Kerouac Road 14)During the trip he also describes staying in a cheap hotel room (Kerouac Road 15).“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, thestrangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was -- I was far away from home, hauntedand tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside,and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and Ilooked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strangeseconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was ahaunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between theEast of my youth and the West of my future.”( Kerouac Road 15)Sal does not mind the cheap hotel room, because what he is really seeking is experience.Of course, the search for experience is really what going “on the road” is all about. Sal talksabout the “mad” people who are “desirous of everything at the same time”“They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing allmy life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, theones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the sametime, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulousyellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the bluecenterlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” (Kerouac Road 5-6)In On the Road, Dean Moriarty is the “mad” person who was “tremendously excited with life”and “wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay noattention to him” (Kerouac Road 4), and who “raced in society, eager for bread and love”(Kerouac Road 7). Dean is the one who convinces Sal to go “on the road”, and experience newexperiences.It is obvious from the beginning of the book that Dean and his attitudes are in conflict withtraditional values. For example, he was in jail for stealing cars. Also, Sal mentions that hisaunt did not like Dean. “She took one look at Dean and decided he was a madman” (KerouacRoad 3)Later in the book, Sal describes how Dean makes fun of some people who are trying to live bymore traditional values

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