24 March 2015
On the Road
Kerouac’s On the Road details Sal Paradise’s multiple cross-country road trips with his friend Dean Moriarity. From the very beginning, the way that Sal speaks about America seems to suggest that he is not only traveling to see new places, but to discover new parts of himself. The type of travel encountered in this book is both physical as well as internal. Very quickly, there is a sense that America not only represents opportunity and a chance to move about for Sal, but also that his vision of America may in fact mirror his vision of himself. After World War II, America was very much coming into its own as a powerful and vibrant country that other powers around the world should pay attention to. There is a sense that Sal wants to be perceived in the same way, on a personal level.
At many times, Sal’s sense of identity takes on geographic tones. In the beginning of his very first journey across America, Sal has a moment in which this becomes very clear:
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen…I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future… (Kerouac 15).
In this scene, there is a sense that Sal equates himself to America. He is essentially chasing the American dream, and he is using the people of America to learn more about himself. New places open up new parts of himself that he wasn’t accessing when he was living with his aunt. By forcing himself to travel without any real plans, see new cities and meet new people, and confront the reality of a lot of these cities in America, he is able to satisfy the part of himself that was dissatisfied in the end. His multiple journeys not only allow him to see new places, but to discover new parts of himself that mirror the energetic and rapidly growing country that he lives in. His restlessness and desire to see what else is out there highlights a more general American mindset in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. It could be said that America was really at a defining moment in its history, proving itself as a force to be reckoned with in World War II. Now it just had to prove that it could remain such a formidable power in the world. These sorts of sentiments ring true for people in their twenties, who are only just starting to figure themselves out and prove to the world that they can handle being adults and all the responsibilities that entails. The American dream and mindset at this time not only mirrors Sal's sense of identity, but the general sense of identity of all young people trying to find themselves.