On The Road Again

By Kimberly Richardson

[singlepic id=249 w=320 h=240 float=right]I experienced Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road late in my life as a reader. For some reason, the thought of reading about a young man’s travels across the United States did not seem all that interesting. Thanks to an exhibit that recently opened at the National Gallery of Art featuring photographs by Allen Ginsberg with his fellow Beats, I decided to read the infamous work with eyes and mind wide open.

After reading the book, I now understand the influence the Beat Generation had on society with American youth as its core. This novel broke the boundaries of life yet still maintained a sense of style and grace that cannot be matched today.

Within the 307 pages are the travels, mistakes, and discoveries made by the two main characters, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Sal, a soon to be college student and author of a novel, tags along with his Midwestern buddy Dean in their search for something greater and more meaningful than the life they were shown to live. Reading this work as a woman living in the year 2010, I could not help but wonder if such an adventure could be duplicated now? Could a group of people with hardly any money or food drive from one coast to the other, all the while focusing on the world around them and what it had to offer? Could any of us, in our day-to-day lives, ever stop to ask the question, “What if?”

Kerouac’s writing style adds to the overall tone of the novel: a rushing feeling to get to the next place, the next sensation, and achieving the next stage of enlightenment. During their travels, Sal and Dean experience the cities of Denver, San Francisco, New York, New Orleans (my personal favorite scene), and others. They even dip into Mexico pushing the envelope further. While Sal takes these experiences all in with an air of wonder and general curiosity, Dean inhales them like cigarette smoke and refuses to breathe it out. Dean descends downward into a pool of maniacal madness while still trying to take everything in and asking for more. There is never a sensation too rough, a feeling too extreme, or an adventure too exotic for him. Dean lives simply to live, and that is enough. For example, while in Denver after accepting a ride from a gay man, Dean says in a fit of frustration, “You see, man, it’s better not to bother. Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.”

What Sal and Dean want in life is given, and they take it without question, a concept that not everyone could understand or share during their time. Kerouac along with other creative minds that made up the Beat Generation asked the question “What if?” and decided to find their own answers in their own way. The answers came with a heavy price, but in the end, one must wonder if it was worth it. Kerouac died of his addiction to alcohol in 1969 at the age of 47. Were his experiences enough to justify his death? In my own opinion, I say yes. While some read of adventures wondering about life, they lived. As Kerouac puts it so well in the first chapter, “Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”


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