Elle's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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's review
Apr 14, 2009

it was ok

** spoiler alert ** The danger of dreams and ideals become clear in this book. What I mean is, if you believe you know what something is, if you believe the myth of it, whether it's a country, romance, another person, who you're supposed to be or even a book, you may spend all your time looking for reinforcement of your ideas and none actually seeing what is.

This book does that, hopefully more than I do it to the book. The vision given in these pages reinforces and sees U.S. culture and ideals in a strange lopsided mix. The main character Salvatore/ Paradise [Save Paradise?:] begins a quest in the great "American" tradition--by road trip, trips actually. There's a longing in him for some deeper meaning or connection or understanding of life, American life, the country, a father, a home, the people sharing the same place and time, for love, to really experience life, to find himself. He often goes with or to be with his friend Dean Moriarty [Sherlock Holmes' nemesis/alterego?:]. He seems to seek a geographical solution to a metaphysical emptiness. He finds that the myth is hollow. When the white-haired prophet he has long awaited arrives, walking to him in the dark, the prophet says only, "Go moan for man." This book is the Ecclesiastes of a generation.

There is so much abandonment in this book. Neither of the main characters, Sal or Dean, have parents. None of the women Dean marries and has children with he manages to stay with, for long. They know lots of people but none of them well. They are constantly alienating people. using or being used by them, using everything up, including their lives. Everything breaks down--cars, relationships, bodies. They travel through so many places, drinking, listening to jazz, talking, talking, yet see so little of them. They pay attention to how they feel about each person, each moment, and that constantly changes and is lost.

"I realized these were the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance.... I gaped into the bleakness of my own days. I had an awful long way to go too."


Sal talks to a girl on a bus, and asks her, "'What do you want out of life?' I wanted to take it and wring it out of her. She didn't have the slightest idea what she wanted.... 'What are we all aching to do? What do we want?' She didn't know. She yawned. She was sleepy. It was too much. Nobody could tell. Nobody would ever tell. It was all over. She was eighteen and most lovely, and lost."

"'It's not my fault! It's not my fault!' I told him, 'Nothing in this lousy world is my fault, don't you see that? I don't want it to be and it can't be and it won't be."

Before I read it, I thought this book was about the 60s, but the narrative finishes before then. I hope I saw this book for what it was. It seems the hunger for meaningful lives runs deep through the literature we call classics, a human hunger embodied culturally. It's good to know how others have perceived and expressed the trap of cultural expectations. I think I understand a little why it spoke to so many people, and still does.

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