Dr. Juniper Ellis
March 22, 2015
“On the Road to Understanding: Kerouac and Gateway School”
Sal Paradise begins his American Road trip as an aimless wander seeking purpose. However, Sal’s intentions get misunderstood from the attractive Terry. She misunderstands his role as a male hippie as that of sexually exploitative delinquent. “Don’t stand there and tell me that six-foot redhead ain’t a madame, ‘cause I know a madame when I hear one, and you, you’re just a pimp like all the rest I meet, everyone’s pimp” (Kerouac 84). Sal, after recently getting divorced, travels with his intellectual and substance-using friends only to be debased because his status as a white, college age male with a young Mexican woman. Sal states, “ ‘Terry, listen to me and understand, I’m not a pimp.’ An hour ago I’d thought she was a hustler. How sad it was” (84). The misunderstanding and prejudice is mutual. Both thought the other one was trying to exploit the other one. Sal thinks she wanted his money; whiles, Terry thinks he wanted her sexual, reproductive organs. Sal sees the tragic in this modern, jazz era of free love combined with mistrust. Sal goes onto to describe the scene. He states, “Our minds, with their store of madness had diverged. O gruesome life, how I moaned and pleaded, then I got mad and realized I was pleading with a dumb Mexican wrench and I told her so” (85). Sal frustrated at the situation takes his anger out on Terry, whom he has reduced her to the otherness label of “Mexican wrench” that mirrors his detested label of “pimp”.
As a student teacher at Gateway School for children with communication disorders, I work in Room Z that has 6 students, who are between the ages of 10-12. The one student “Y”, who needs one-on-one teaching, is also the student who smiles the most. He tries the hardest to participate. He cannot connect the symbolic meaning of words to images, but rather he simply repeats whatever the teacher and I say. When prompted, he expresses this pattern of echolalia. For example, we were doing the morning announcement and answering the question on the board that required “Y” and I to write the date and month on a worksheet. He kept interchangeably reversing “Monday” and “March”. When he insisted he could not do it, I prompted “Y” with syllables. I asked politely, “ ‘Y’ what day start with “Mon” […]”. From there, he replied, “Monday! Monday means School! I laughed and told him, “See what you can do it! Great job!” He seemed very content and was rewarded by one of the teachers with class, incentive gold. The main teacher later informed me that twelve-year-old year “Y” cannot read. I immediately felt awful. I tried to force an answer out of him and he got frustrated and even deliberately told me he could do not it. I attribute his not answering the question as a lack of effort not an absence of ability before the teacher informed me otherwise.
Similarly, Sal and Terry had both made assumption without considering the other person’s purpose for journeying. They judge each other’s intentions and assume rather than observed what truly was there. As a result, both had a moment of discrimination and otherness. When both recognize their mistake they come together and Sal can see Terry’s story etched into her body structure. Sal states, “I saw her poor belly where there was a Caesarian scar; her hips were so narrow she couldn’t bear a child without getting gashed open. Her legs were like little sticks” (Kerouac 85). Although it ends up as a sexual embrace, Sal see this embrace and recognition of her vulnerability and limitation as part of Terry’s reality not his own imagination of what he fears she is. Terry is a mother whose body bore too heavy a weight, yet manage to give birth through her enduring stick like body. Like Sal, I came to recognize “Y”’s potential after observing and listening to views that were not my own projected onto him. The teacher told me, “ “Y” can recognize letters, but cannot connect them or structure them into full words” His handwriting is illegible and most of the worksheets on his desk had been scribbled through. The teacher also revealed, “That if they were to formally classify “Y” ‘s grade level it would be 1st grade”. Considering he mainly utilizes gesturing, body language, and repetition to participate in the classroom with an teaching aid”, I am guessing student “Y” has some intellectual disability accompanied by a lower functioning ability on the Autism Spectrum. Through dropping my preconception, I began to see “Y” for who he was, not what I what I thought that his role as a student should be. Like Sal and Terry, I, “found the closest and most delicious thing in life together”, which is understanding one another, in a day’s journey to Gateway School.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. London: Penguin, 1976. 84-85. Print.