Explore the depiction and the significance of the journey in Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’
In Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” Sal Paradise, an intelligent and romantic idealist narrates his journeys across America in a conversational and frenetic style; one that reflects the impulsive ideology that he and his “beat” friends lived by. He journies with his best friend, Dean Moriarty, “a young jailkid shrouded in mystery”, who arguably epitomises the ‘beat generation’ with his perpetual desire to keep moving, mimetic to the breath-taking rapidity at which the plot moves. Dean arrives in the opening of the novel like a “manic angel” to rescue the narrator from depression and boredom with the promise of a journey. Furthermore, as is the case for much of the rest of the novel, the powerful bond between Sal and Dean drives the story and ultimately becomes the foundation for their aimless ‘ping-ponging’ across America . The journey is also a search for Sal’s self-identity which is arguably fulfilled at the end of the novel after he leaves Dean.
You could argue that Dean and Sal’s journey is hedonistic. The purpose of the journey is to achieve true happiness rather that enlightenment or spirituality, whether that be through intoxication or genuine ‘pure’ thrills. An example of this manner of ‘pure’ pleasure can be seen when Sal is travelling to Cheyenne where they are seemingly addicted to the intoxicating environment of being “On the Road”. The journey is very quick and Sal feels “like an arrow that could shoot all the way”; “We [Sal and the rest of the hobos] zoomed through another crossroads and returned to the tremendous darkness”. The dynamic verbs, “shoot” and “zoomed” convey a restless, constant enthusiasm, creating a momentum similar to the impatient movement of the constantly travelling “beat” characters of the book. This is a pure example of the energy and joy of movement at the heart of the novel. Through the thrill of the ride and the camaraderie and narratives of his fellow travellers Sal achieves a sense of joy and selfhood, feeling close to ‘the American Dream’. In the end of the novel, it is revealed that Sal and Dean’s idea of the Promised Land is Mexico because there, they could enjoy cheap alcohol, sex and tobacco, “We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed of the extent of the magic”. This shallow and materialistic attitude shows that ultimately, their only way to achieve happiness is to give in to their addictions. Moreover this is exactly what they had been doing before, but far cheaper, making their journey both pointless and bathetic. However, this manic and frenetic journeying means that they do not truly experience America. Sal and Dean travel at a fast pace, “rushing through the world without a chance to see it”, demonstrating the true difference between seeing something and truly living and experiencing it. This is also reflected in the manic and the destructive way that Dean drives, “He took the wheel and flew the rest of the way across the state of Texas, about five hundred miles, arriving at dusk and not stopping”.