Loren’s conclusions

I started out this week hoping that On the Road would become one of my favorite novels of the 20th Century. It hasn’t. In fact, I found that I prefer Dharma Bums, the only other book I’ve read by Kerouac, to On the Road. The two works are written in a very similar style, and both focus on the narrator’s relationship to another person. In my opinion, Japhy is more interesting than Moriarity, and that makes the difference between the two books. My biggest objection to On the Road, though, is that I learned too little about either of the main characters. I wanted to know more about both Dean and Sal. I’ve met too many “Dean’s” in my teaching career, and I would have loved to gain more insight into their character. I didn’t, though. Nor did I identify with, or find much to admire, in either of the characters. Simply put, I’m relieved I haven’t lived my life the way they did, especially since I’d be dead by now.

I’ve never really wanted to live “on the road,” but if I were attracted to that life the television series Route 66 would have been much more likely to have drawn me to this kind of life. It offered a much more romantic, though probably less realistic view, of life on the road.

The biggest problem for me, though, is simply that there are better books out there than Kerouac’s On the Road. Hemingway does a better job of describing a lost generation, and at least he offered his Code as an alternative to the values that his generation has lost. As far as I can tell, Kerouac offers no such alternative, though I looked for it throughout the novel. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is a more shocking, and raunchy, novel, and, stylistically, Miller is a probably a better writer than Kerouac. Catch-22 does a better job of attacking and destroying American culture than On the Road ever does, if you’re looking for a counter-culture statement.

I asked Jeff Ward of Visible Darkness to offer another perspective on Kerouac, and he's done an excellent job of providing an alternative perspective in Spirit of the Age 3/02/02. Great stuff, take a look.


This doesn’t mean I’ve given up reading The Beats. It’s an important literary phenomena that I’m sorry I missed. I just bought Kerouac’s some of the dharma, which focuses on his studies of zen Buddhism. In fact, it appears it could serve as the basis of an awesome blog, following a very similar format. I also plan on reading Big Sur which Pagecount suggested was his favorite Kerouac work.

Diane’s going on vacation for a month, but when she comes back we will resume examining the beat poets by looking at Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others.


Diane’s Conclusions

Some glimpses through sixty year old eyes---

This novel was read by young people in the 50s and should have served as a warning more than as an inspiration to lead a counter-culture life style. I know now I gave it a very superficial reading in 1959 and dug through only one level of the book.

To me now, the two main characters Dean and Sal appear as two broken halves that will never make a complete and positive friendship. Dean comes by his misery legitimately as the son of an alcoholic out-of-work father, but Sal is middle class and semi- educated. Their lives deteriorate rapidly when the two are together. Sal wants Dean to have the answers to life’s difficult questions, and he may, but his frantic searching to communicate his understanding defeats him.

Too, there is way too much drug use and disrespect for women. I know I’m tipping my hand when I say these guys need education, a job, a family, stability--exactly the things they abhor even though I think that’s what they are seeking, they just haven’t identified it as IT. The unanswered question remains, Is it possible to lead a productive, compassionate life, caring for a family and friends and be happy? The boys seem to say no; I say yes.

Or think of this: Perhaps they could become true mystics, in which case they must remove themselves from the world they have created.

By the end of the novel Sal is well aware of how destructive his way of life is. He just hasn’t found a better way. Should there be an alternate alternative life style?

In real life neither man, Neal Cassady or Jack Kerouac found IT. Both died in their 40s in alcoholic hazes.

Their legacy was the recounting of their struggle to make sense of life, to find purity. Sadly most of us don’t come close to IT on earth; sadly neither did they.

Maybe that’s the point: there is no answer, no IT, no salvation at the end of earthly road. As Sal says “The road is life.”

A word about Sal’s last name which may make this whole novel clear. Try this. In the beginning of the book Sal says we will all find paradise but only after death. Sal Paradise is then the pilgrim, the everyman who searches for his name on earth, a search that will continue all of his life, and he will find what he is searching for only when he dies. Remember Kerouac was raised a Catholic. This makes the whole novel an allegory more akin to Pilgrim’s Progress than a book about counter-culture living.

Shoot me if you want to.

There are a lot of Kerouac and Beat sources on the net:

Jack Kerouac at the Blue Neon Alley is a great source of information.

Atlantic has an interesting article on Kerouac

Another Atlantic essay.

The Neal Cassidy Experience

2 thoughts on “Loren’s conclusions

  1. i think people approach this novel in different ways, looking for what they want or expect out of it. and i guess when the reality of the story and the characters fall short of pre-conceived notions, the novel itself seems to be a small failure. i however was not disappointed and very impressed and inspired by this book. people can’t expect the characters to be stable and highly educated and proper. and that could be what they’re searching for. that could be IT. but sal says ” that last thing is what you can’t get…we keep on living in hopes of catching it once and for all”. i think they’re just searching for their little slice of heaven. i’m not quite sure about the purpose of this novel, but in my opinion i doubt that kerouac aimed at producing the counter-culture novel of the century. he just wrote as it came and thats what’s beautiful. i think the description and the poetic accounts are just brilliant and maybe thats why i enjoyed this book so much. i haven’t actually gotten through dharma bums yet. i can’t put my finger on whats stopping me. anyways, i hope i didn’t offend you in anyways. i just thought i’d off my two cents. thanks

  2. I’m certainly not offended and would encourage people to offer differing opinions on anything I write.

    I was well aware when I wrote these conclusions that a lot of people adored the novel. I’m just not one of them and tried to get others who did love the novel to offer a different opinion when I offered this one.

What do you think?