Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On the Road - Jack Kerouac

On the Road
Another American hits the 100 Best Novels list! For a list saturated with imperialist Brits, American books are always a breath of fresh air. 

Jack Kerouac published this classic novel in 1957, although he formed the idea in the late 40s and wrote most of it out in the early 50s. It chronicles the Beat generation, a unique subculture in American history. The book is largely autobiographical and several key figures of the time appear under pseudonyms.  

I loved the start of this book. At the beginning, narrator Sal Paradise had not yet reconnected with Dean Moriarty and he kept eating pie. Seriously. I don't know if the pie thing was intentional on Keroauc's part, but I noticed an abnormal number of slices in front of Sal in those early pages. Any character who loves pie, or really food in general, starts out well with me. 

The book certainly kept my attention. Sal and his gang of friends were continually getting themselves into some sort of scrap. As Sal traveled around the country and even into Mexico, we see a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and freedom. Keroauc portrays it as a desirable life, at least at first. The manifestation of this existance is his friend Dean Moriarty. 

I hate Dean Moriarty.

To me, Dean demonstrates the worst aspects of this lifestyle and how it affects others. He runs around the country at his whim, maintaining loose relationships with several different women and never supporting the children he creates with them. He even struggles with loyalty to his "friend" Sal. At first, his character is fun and lively, but he quickly wore down on me and I found him irresponsible and frustrating. One of the characters, Galatea, puts it best,
"For years now you [Dean] haven't had any sense of responsibility for anyone...You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks. All you think about is what's hanging between your legs and how much money or fun you can get out of people and then you just throw them aside. Not only that but you're silly about it. It never occurs to you that life is serious and there are people trying to make something decent out of it instead of just goofing all the time." 
Galatea's rant against Dean was one of the truest moments in the book for me. Perhaps because I am a woman, I became more and more upset by the way women were degraded and left behind in this book. They are treated as no more than objects, playthings to be used for a time and then discarded when they are far away or you find a different model. Their treatment was the ultimate example of how the free lifestyle of these wandering men had serious consequences. 

I recognize that perhaps I simply cannot understand their desires and motivations to live as they did. I have grown up in a very different time and with very different values. I understand the desire to travel and to be free, but to do so with no responsibility, no commitment, and no plan is a foreign concept to me. I simply cannot connect.

That being said, the book was still enjoyable for me. The story is mostly light-hearted and filled with amusing moments as Sal and company get into ridiculous situations. I am glad to have read it, particularly since it seems to be a bastion of American culture. If you pick it up, I encourage you to enjoy the story, but not stop there. Think about the ramifications of the best lifestyle and how it affected others. Was it really a time to be looked back upon and idolized? 

Pages: 307
Date Completed: July 21, 2014

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