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On the Road Essay: The Motif of Inadequacy of the Language

The Motif of Inadequacy of the Language in On the Road

Henry Glass, a kid fresh out of a penitentiary in Indiana who takes a bus to Denver with Sal Paradise, tells him about his brush with the Bible in jail, and then explains the dangers of the phenomenon of signification (I firmly believe that Kerouac intended no deconstructionist subtext in the passage; nor is it likely to be an neo-Marxist attempt to explicate the class conflict between the signifiers and the signified):

Anybody that’s leaving jail soon and starts talking about his release date is ‘signifying’ to the other fellas that have to stay. We will take him by the neck and say, ‘Don’t signify with me!’ Bad thing, to signify–y’hear me? (256)

The use of the learned word by an eighteen year old jail-bird is truly funny. The comic effect here is based on the discrepancy between the standard meaning and contextual use of the word “to signify.” There is a number of episodes in the novel with the same kind of humor: in the opening chapter of the novel, which describes his first visit to New York, Dean comes up with some absolutely moronic tirades. E.g., talking to Marilou, he mentions the necessity to “postpone all those leftover things concerning our personal lovethings and at once begin thinking of specific workplans. . .” (Kerouac 5). Or, when asked directly by Sal, whether he needed to con him for a place to stay, he starts talking about “Shopenhauer’s dichotomy inwardly realized” (ibid.).

Dean’s (mis)use of language can be somewhat redeemed by his intellectual virginity and his genuine desire to be like his high-browed friend; indeed, being earnest is important, and can excuse almost anything. But what should one think about the way Carl…

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…rist–the heroes of the generation–never published (Krupat 407). Neither did Neil Cassidy, the silent genius behind the movement; but he by the example of his life provided the ideal which made Kerouac’s gospel true.

Works Cited

Ashida, Margaret E. “Frog’s and Frozen Zen.” Prairie Schooner 34 (1960): 199-206.

Blackburn, William. “Han Shan Gets Drunk with the Butchers: Kerouac’s Buddhism in On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Desolation Angels.” Literature East and West 21.1-4 (1977): 9-22.

Suzuki, D.T. An introduction to Zen Buddhism. Ed. Christmas Humphreys; fwd. C.G. Jung. London: Rider, 1983.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: Penguin, 1979.

Krupat, Arnold. “Dean Moriarty as Saintly Hero.” On the Road. Text and Criticism. By Jack Kerouac. Ed.Scott Donaldson. New York: Penguin, 1979. 397-411.

Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath

Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck is an author known worldwide for his compelling stories and novels. One such novel is The Grapes of Wrath. This novel was written to expose the plight of those dispossessed from their lands by the Great Depression. Steinbeck uses several literary elements to help relate the story to the reader. In The Grapes of Wrath, as in his other works, Steinbeck relies on the use of symbolism to strengthen and enhance the plot.

By far, the most involved example of symbolism is found in the character of the preacher, Jim Casy. Casy not only is a Christ figure but also embodies the belief of Transcendentalism. These are supported by many examples throughout the story. Some of these examples are easily noticed, others require more thought to be understood. The symbolism found in Jim Casy does a great deal to bring together the events that make up the story.

That Casy is a Christ figure can be shown in several ways. One obvious (or perhaps not as obvious as it may seem) similarity between Casy and Christ is that they share the same initials, J.C. It was not merely coincidence that Steinbeck chose the name Jim Casy. Initials, however, are not the only thing that Casy and Christ share. Another similarity is that both men went into the wilderness before coming back to the public life. Christ went into the desert for a period of forty days of intense prayer with the Father before coming into his public life of preaching. Casy follows a slightly different, but on the whole, similar pattern. Casy tells the reader that he had been a preacher, but had become unsure of what holy really means. He spent four years away from society, and after spending some time with the Joad family, has fu…

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… John J. “Steinbeck and Nature’s Self: The Grapes of Wrath.” John Steinbeck, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 125-140.

French, Warren. John Steinbeck. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.

Levant, Howard. “The Fully Matured Art: The Grapes of Wrath.” John Steinbeck, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 35-62.

Lojek, Helen. “Jim Casy: Politico of the New Jerusalem.” Steinbeck Quarterly, Winter-Spring 1982. 30-37.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1978.

Wallsten, Robert and Steinbeck, Elaine. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. New York: The Viking Press, 1975.

The New American Bible, Gospel of John. 23:34. New York: The Catholic Press, 1976.

Goetz, Philip (Editor in Chief). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1987. Vol 11, 894.

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