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Jack Kerouac’s On The Road – The American Quest

On The Road and the American Quest

Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is the most uniquely American novel of its time. While it has never fared well with academics, On The Road has come to symbolize for many an entire generation of disaffected young Americans. One can focus on numerous issues wh en addressing the novel, but the two primary reasons which make the book uniquely American are its frantic Romantic search for the great American hero (and ecstasy in general), and Kerouac’s “Spontaneous Prose” method of writing.

On The Road is an autobiographical first-person book written in 1951 and based on Kerouac’s experiences of the late 1940’s. At the time, America was undergoing drastic changes and the sense of sterility brought on by a mechanized Cold War era society resu lted in a feeling of existential dislocation for many. Numerous Americans began to experience a sense of purposelessness and the air was rife with disillusionment. Kerouac was one of these restless postwar young people and he longed for…something. A n ew kind of hero? A return to a Romantic tradition and simpler days? When Kerouac met Neal Cassady, he knew Cassady was the kind of hero he had been seeking. Eventually, as Robert Hipkiss notes, “Kerouac began to see Neal as an ‘archetypal American Man’ “….and, in fact, when Kerouac created Dean Moriarty out of Neal, “he created a new symbol of flaming American youth, the American hero of the Beat Generation” (32-3). Indeed, as Hipkiss argues, Dean Moriarty

is the most singular hero of the road America has ever had.

Mixing the individualism of the freeborn American with that

great present-day extension of this freedom, the motor car,

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…opeless and yet be determined to make them

otherwise…. On The Road is an example of such a test’s

being taken — and passed…. (132)

Kerouac, like Bellow and Plath, sees that things are hopeless but he remains determined to go on, and on, and


Works Cited

Bartlett, Lee, ed. The Beats: Essays in Criticism. Jefferson, C.: McFarland, 1981.

Bartlett, Lee. “The Dionysian Vision of Jack Kerouac.” Bartlett 115-26.

Dardess, George. “The Delicate Dynamics of Friendship: Reconsideration of Kerouac’s On The Road.”

Hipkiss, Robert A. Jack Kerouac: Prophet of the New Romanticism. Lawrence: Regents P of Kansas, 1976.

Hunt, Tim. Kerouac’s Crooked Road. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1981.

Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. New York: Signet, 1957.

Jack Kerouac and The Beat

Jack Kerouac and The Beat

Jack Kerouac, was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, as the youngest of three children. Jack decided to be a writer after his brother Gerard died at the age of nine. From the life and death experience of his brother’s death, and the Catholic faith of his childhood, he developed a spiritual tendency in his character that would last throughout his life. The fact that Kerouac was a spiritual “seeker,” may be the most vital aspect of his life. In post WWII, Eisenhower America, Jack Kerouac came from a poor rustic industrial community to change the face of American Culture forever. He chronicled the wild rebellious culture of “the Beats” in the late 50’s and early 60’s, paving the way for a more accepting American Society and the tolerance of alternative lifestyles enjoyed today.

As a Roman Catholic who grew up in Calvinist New England, Jack took in a double dose of guilt and sensitivity to sin. In his book Dr. Sax his first “bout with sexual desire, masturbation, is interrupted-in a virtual parody of crime and punishment- by the news that his dog had been hit by a car.” Jack probably could have handled this “double dose” trebled by the death of his brother. Jack gave up Catholicism early on, but carried inside him the “sad peasant mystery of Quebec Catholics “(59 Kerouac). The Catholic association of Kerouac’s thought are as plain as an idea of his total incompatibility with Catholicism, but sometimes mistaken for it” the idea that the suffering oppression are saintly”(17, Victor-Levy). Kerouac rejected materialism and liberalism of middle class America; for example he was not political or religious but emotional (Rumsey).

Jack r…

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…the Beats” in the late fifties and early sixties, paving the way for a more accepting American society and the tolerance of alternative lifestyles we enjoy today.


II.America Prior to the Beats

A.Puritan Culture and Calvinism

B.Post WWII Culture

C. Consumption

D.Sacrifice for the Common Good

III.Kerouac’s Impacts on the Fifties and Sixties Through his Writings

A.Glorified Individuality

B.Promoted Cultural Diversity

C.Romanticized Alternate Lifestyles

D.Acceptance of Recreational and Personal Substance Abuse

IV.Society’s Alteration as a Result of Jack Kerouac

A.More Accepting American Society

B.the Romantic Vision of the American Rebel

C.Teen Rebellion

D.Popularized Aspects of Classic Literature


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