On the Road
Portrayal Of Women in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”
Through diving into Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, one is given the opportunity to relive the culture of the Beat generation as if experiencing it first-hand. Though, with this comes reliving many viewpoints of the time period. One such view that would likely shock most modern-day readers is the portrayal of women. This essay will explore Kerouac’s depiction of women in his book, “On the Road”, including their objectification/degradation and the contrast between the ideal woman (being portrayed as a quiet and obedient housewife), and real women (portrayed as bothersome to the male agenda).
Throughout the book, the reader becomes acquainted with the female characters through a male point of view – namely, through the eyes of Sal Paradise. From this angle, it is evident that the female characters in the book are objectified and their characters are left incomplete. They are not given complete personalities and characteristics as the males but, instead, are described according to their appearances and lack of intelligence, with little other description. Few women are even referred to by their names – removing their human identities and making them out to be sex objects meant for being looked over for male pleasure. In an example of this, upon seeing his temporary lover, named Terry, for the first time, Sal couldn’t help but to mention that the first thing to catch his eye were her breasts that “stuck out straight and true” and that he thought “her little flanks looked delicious”.
This description of Terry takes away her human identity and brings her down to the level of a tender, juicy steak being drooled over by a famished onlooker. Instead of being described by their personality traits or the way in which they conduct themselves, women in “On the Road” are identified by the sexual functions their bodies can provide to the male onlookers. And when they’re not being described as sexual objects, they’re often labeled as having a lack of intelligence. For example, Sal describes Marylou, the wife of his good friend named Dean, as “a pretty blonde”, but “awfully dumb”. And after just meeting a girl and describing the “beautiful sun-tan on her breast tops”, Sal describes her as “dull” when she would not engage with him in conversation about boyfriends and sex. It appears that men in “On the Road” are quick to label women as unintelligent and uninteresting. If they make out the women to be sexual objects that are otherwise tiresome, perhaps they find it easier to leave them when their sexual cravings drive them elsewhere.
In adding to the insults cast upon female characters in the book, women are commonly and casually referred to as whores despite the actions of the accusers – that may make them a more fitting example of the term. Marylou is referred to as a whore several times, including when Sal sees her taking off with several friends and she leaves him alone in San Francisco. In his state of anger, he says that he “saw what a whore she was”. Despite the fact that she had not done anything to accurately embody the meaning of the insult, Sal sees it as a fit label. Later on, after Marylou and Dean had been living apart with new partners, Sal reports that Dean had become obsessed with her once again and “wanted absolute proof that she was a whore”.
Although Dean had previously been the one cheating on Marylou, he felt absolutely certain that it was she that was the whore. Exemplified by this instance, it is notable that a standard is held for women in “On the Road” that is not held for men, which is to abstain from such wild sexual activity as is acceptable for men to partake in. In another example, while Sal claimed to be searching for a pure woman to marry, he himself became involved with numerous sexual partners and used drugs throughout the book. When he finds a woman suitable to his standards, he describes her as having “pure and innocent dear eyes”. Regardless of the fact that he himself had lived a wild life, he felt that the only type of woman fitting for him to marry would be virtuous. In this, Sal illustrates to the reader that he finds it acceptable for men to engage with as many “whores” as they please, but that the only women suitable for marriage are those who remain pure.
In following the trend of high standards held for women, the ideal female partner, according to the male characters in the book, would be quiet, submissive, and without a mind of her own. She would serve only to satisfy a man’s stomach and sex drive, with all smiles and no complaints. When Sal and Dean were welcomed into a man named Walter’s home late at night, his wife simply smiled and did not ask questions. Sal notes, “she never asked Walter where he’d been, what time it was, nothing… She never said a word…”. To this, Dean says, “Now you see, man, there’s a real woman for you. Never a harsh word, never a complaint…”.
Among themselves, the men praise Walter’s wife for her submissive behavior, which they find ideal. In another example, a house wife prepares a large spread of food for her husband and their visitors, and she is described as apologizing for the peach ice cream not being exactly prepared to her liking. This image paints a picture of a meek woman, whose sole purpose lay in preparing food for men. Her apologies for the peach ice cream seemed to serve as an indication that her main desire in life was to prepare food and do the housework according to the satisfaction of men, as it was her only dialogue. On the opposite end, Sal criticizes Remi Boncoeur’s girlfriend, Lee Ann, for being too outspoken and calls her an “untamed shrew”. Again, this goes to show that the men in “On the Road” do not want to hear the opinions of women. Instead, they ideally expect them to be at home taking care of the house without a single opinion – that is, unless it is to do with perfecting a recipe of peach ice cream.
In contrast to the image of the ideal woman, real women in “On the Road” are illustrated as being controlling and bothersome, and who ruin all the men’s fun. While the motley crew of Sal, Dean, Ed, and Galatea are traveling to Arizona, Galatea (Ed’s new wife) is portrayed as a nuisance who “kept complaining that she was tired and wanted to sleep in a motel”. Concerning this behavior, Sal said that “if they kept this up they’d spend all her money”, and when this did occur, Ed and Dean “gave her the slip in a hotel lobby and resumed the voyage alone”.
In another example, Camille (Dean’s second wife), was described as continually throwing tantrums and not allowing him to go out as he pleased. The way in which both Galatea and Camille are depicted as restricting male characters gives off the notion that real women act as a bother. A majority of the women in the book are depicted in ways that illustrate them to be hinderances to a man’s joy, where the men would prefer them to stay quietly at home while they’re free to run wild on the road as they please. Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” depicts women in an objectified and degraded manner – reducing them to objects only useful for sex and maintaining a household. Furthermore, the female characters are underdeveloped – being described by only their physical features and lack of intelligence, they’re casually labeled as “whores”, and they’re depicted as controlling nuisances to the male agenda.
Absolute Truths and the Narrator’s Perspective in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
A book is a literary composition handwritten or printed usually on sheets of paper bound together, it can be separated in different sections like fiction or nonfiction. The word book, comes from “Old English bōc of Germanic origin; related to Dutch boek and German Buch” (Dictionary). Books were invented with the purpose of record people’s stories and discoveries, so people could document their ideas and make them an available source for others. Nowadays books are the most important reference of information, evidence and entertainment that allow a huge number of people that have access to it to explore the history registered of different countries, people, places or events. The books had served to educate a lot of different generations of human beings by increasing their knowledge about diverse matter topics. Many researches from prestige schools had demonstrated that reading a book helps to develop more effectively different parts of the brain. Books are considerate signatures or footprints of their writers to the humanity. The book “On The Road” (Jack Kerouac) tells the story of a passionate young writer called Sal Paradise from New York City that is looking for a change in his life and that it turn meets Dean a young man with a special and different point of view about life but most importantly, they share a common desire, the desire to explore, experiment, and live on the road.
“On The Road” (Jack Kerouac) is a distinct piece that convey the base of absolute truths from the strict point of view of the narrator. The school Post-Modernism express that by identifying the margins of someone’s knowledge they are able to portray different qualities and features of there own self. It is attempt to interpret the chapters of the book by clarifying in detail the summary of what happens in the story and explaining the author’s experiences. The author tries to motivate its audience to experience the road.
The book “On The Road” (Jack Kerouac) start with the narrator Sal Paradise, who is a young writer from New York City bored, depressed after his divorce lives in his aunt’s house and surrounded by just intellectual friends meets Dean Moriarty. Dean had just arrived from Denver and had just gotten out of reform school, and married a pretty young lady called Marylou. Dean is a frenetic young man full of ideas and with the desire to become a “real intellectual.” Sal likes Dean madness and his uneducated intelligence. Sal finds in Dean the motivation that he had always been looking for to head to the west part of the country that had always called Sal’s attention. In spring of next year everybody set a place to go and start their adventures, Dean leave, back to Denver and Sal promises himself that he will follow Dean to the west soon. The next July of the same year, with fifty dollars in his pocket, having written half novel and left it on top of his desk, with a thorough plan, maps and a path traced by Route 6, Sal decides to start his trip to west. After several failed plans, hitchhiking and several life lessons, Sal head to his different destinations where in each one he experience a new love, friendship, and start working in several jobs in order to survive. The narrator explains extensively the details of the people he met, and the places he visited and the overall characteristics of his trip. After multiples moments and events Sal comes back to New York. In Christmas season of the same year Sal is celebrating holidays with his family in Virginia but few unexpected visitors appeared at the door of Sal’s relatives to help turn upside down Sal’s Christmas. It was Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel. Dean offers to deliver some furniture to Sal’s aunt’s house for the relatives. It took them two trips to complete the deliver. Back in New York, Dean and Sal gets reunited with their old friends and party all New Year weekend. The four of them, Sal, Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel decide to go to New Orleans to look for Ed’s wife. Sal starts to communicate deeper to Dean about his desire to marry a good woman a settle with her forever; although Dean respected Sal’s ideas he didn’t feel the same way. Sal’s gets influence by Dean and he starts to question himself by feeling confuse and “madness.” Then Ed stay in New Orleans and they head to San Francisco this trip make things really abstract between Marylou who tries to flirt with Sal who doesn’t understand the why but enjoys the joy of having a pretty blond girl interested on him and Dean, who can’t decide what he wants from Marylou. After getting to San Francisco Dean comes back to his other wife, Marylou start dating a new guy by the second night they gets in San Francisco and Sal remains alone in a huge and magnificent city. In spring Sal goes to Denver to work in a wholesale market for a while but with not friend around he start to feel lonely, he envy the people from his neighborhood. After, Sal spends the night with a rich woman he knows, and in the morning she gives him money to go to San Francisco. Dean and Sal meet again, Dean have a terrible fight with Camille and live the house. Dean and Sal decide to stick together; Sal proposes to go to New York and then to Italy because they belong to be moving on the road; however, once in new york Dean manage again to stick with another girl and she gets pregnant. Then after certain circumstances Sal manage to sell his book and embarks on a new journey but this time to Mexico. At the end Sal realizes the limits of his friendship with Dean but at the same time he accepts him because is just the way he is. Their positions changed because Sal becomes stronger and more confident and Dean incoherent and lost. What Dean represents for Sal is the magnificence and wildness of a landscape of a new place that hasn’t been explore for him yet, the courage to try new things, and the inspiration to always try to follow your dreams, even if that means staying on the road.
Sometimes the author provides important lines that makes it’s audience create expectations about what’s going to happen in the story. The author is able to gives a summary of its main point in just one line. “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up,” (On the Road, Jake Kerouac). In the book is clear how important and what represents Dean for Sal. It is incredible how the author whit this quote in specific reveals what’s going to happen and about whom our main character is going to focus. The author opens up the first chapter by announcing to its readers the importance of the character Dean, it also expressed that in someone way or the other Dean will impact Sal’s life. In this quotes the key words that make the reader have a deeply understanding and the meaning of this sentence in specific. One of the is the word “Met,” is the past of the word “Meet,” original from Old English metan “to find, find out; fall in with, encounter; obtain,” and other word from Proto-Germanic. It means to come upon; come into the presence of; encounter. “After,” comes from Old English æfter “after, next, throughout, following in time, later,” from Old English of “off.” It means later in time than; in succession to; at the close of. “Split,” Middle English, probably from a Low German source such as Middle Dutch splitten. It means to divide or separate from end to end or into layers.
The school of Post Modernism criticism stays that there exists no unified truth. This relays on if we take the book “On The Road” (Jack Kerouac) and we change the point of view of the text by changing the narrator and focusing in another character of the story then the scenario would be completely different. This book it remains mostly on the experiences of the narrator Sal Paradise and his adventures to find a purpose and balance in their lives with his dear friend Dean. If for example, we take the character Marylou one of the wives of Dean and one of the main feminine characters of the story and provides her the opportunity to express her experience during this process called life and that she part of, then people will have a different prospective of the story, like what it feels to have a relationship with someone who is considered crazy, stable and volatile on what he wants or what he feel for others what it feels to have someone with a strong deficit of responsible parents to take care of him or what she had learned or appreciate during her trips with Sal and Dean, what was her thinking at the moment she decided to embrace her different attitudes to others; or if we take Sal’s aunt who always provided him a home where to come back and money when he needed it, what will be her story that wasn’t told in the text what it feels to be a constant help for someone or to wait uncertain amount of time to receive letters or a call from Sal to know if was alive and alright; however, the author of the story left the story of Sal’s aunt out because he’s main focus was in the memories that Sal had with his friends and the lessons about life and how that helped him to grow inside and outside and how everything that he lived allow him shaped a new part of his personality that was compressed because of his life style of before. The author might omit her because maybe she is her relative and normally family always will be there to help each other and encourage their loves one to complete their goals in life. In this book is more important how the main character learns and feels about everything around him from love and to the view he has about himself.
“Trough deconstruction we can identify the in between and the marginalized to begin interstitial knowledge building.” So if this book is taken and analyzed it and per chapter the reader try to understand what the author is trying to portray then a person or in this case the reader is able to build knowledge base on the author experience expressed on his work. Truths are what people consider their absolute definition about something but what in reality is that truth is what people had been taught from others generations and believe and present their own point of view and apply this in their lives. Accepted truths are the absolute point of view of something that society has created and has planted on people’s thinking. In this book “On The Road” (Jack Kerouac) the author has contradict different general accepted truths. For example, it has been establish that in order to have a productive and happy life people must born, study, work and have a family is people follow this process they might have a perfect happy ending. However, the author expresses reality in his writing. That how out there, there’s different stuff that can turn upside down our reality. For example, the narrator Sal Paradise set his path going through a process to assimilate what he wanted from life and to try to fulfill his dreams and expectations, he decided to travel around the country ad experience the unusual things that he was used to and develop parts of his personality that he did not know. Although, he wishes to have what society has impose is the right thing to have Sal at least decided to follow a different path to obtain what he wanted and after discover the difference he share with another and his dear friend Dean.
“Post-structuralists assert that if we cannot trust language systems to convey the very bases of truth, then the truth is unreliable.” Truth can be change any time depending on the circumstances and the person tells it. In the book the author left out the deep story of many characters except of Dean, Sal and Marylou; if he had express the story of the others characters in deeper mention then the work might undermine it’s goal that was present the development of young man during that years by taking a different path of live different to was is dictated in society and how people around others can impact their lives and ways of thinking or perceive things as Sal did. Or how to have a really imbalance live without a goal and try to drag others in this confusion and discomfort might affect negatively their own self. The author focuses in few characters because he also might lose the attention of the reader on the main idea of the book. The ideology that the text does try to promote is the idea of self-concentration and interest. When someone decides to discover his limits and their own direction of life many things can change to perhaps more positive actions and situations.
In conclusion, the book “On The Road” falls under the criteria of the school of criticism Post-Modernism because this work characterizes for develop and express people’s own truth about certain things. It can also be interpreted really easy when it comes to outline and to get the main point of the message of the author. Highlighting important moments and key words that helped the reader to intertwine with the experiences of the narrator. In the book its clear how the author through his own experiences shows to the reader the type of life style of his era and the way of thinking of that time, its expressed as well what he had learned different and significant lessons by challenging his truth or reality and believes. Dean is a key part of the story because with him is when Sal get to attend the call of his sense of adventure and madness. Since the beginning the author awakens in the reader interest in Dean. In his own sense the narrator get obsessed to be and experiment like Dean that get lost on his way but then he grows and become stronger and more self- confident giving place to anew person. The road is where just they belong since the beginning because they were met for it.
On the Road: a Journey Through the Evolving US Landscapes
Having been amongst the first and most profound post-war, counterculture novels written, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, provides an interesting insight into the changing landscapes in the United States, and the extent to which America was undergoing a new paradigm. Kerouac’s novel outlines the anti-establishment lifestyle through the lense of the two primary characters, Dean and Sal, who are seen traveling around the country on their various escapades. However, the novel takes careful measure to display the extent to which America was becoming a capitalist and corporate nation, as reaping the benefits of such a massive war jump started the economy. The marginalization and racially-divided society that existed is a major theme throughout the novel, however, not in the traditional manner. In doing so, Kerouac tends to adopt a romantic appeal to the low-income and oppressed communities, without grasping the understanding of the privileged position he is in. In analyzing the extent to which Kerouac depicts a romanticized view of underprivileged and oppressed communities, it is apparent that he provides insight into the inherent issues of white privilege, subconscious suppression, and cultural appropriation that continues to plague American society in the modern day.
Perhaps the foremost notion of white privilege that may not be inordinately explicit is the fact that Kerouac’s characters are enabled to do what they want, when they want. Not to say that they are not confined by the same social structures that others in society are as well, but rather, to provide the notion that their ability to uptake other ventures or ideas is more open to them, than it is for the racial minorities they are constantly in contact with. One specific instance of this can be seen in the cotton-picking times that Sal went through, when he realized that his money was running low and needed to undertake work in order to survive, although only temporarily. Sal’s privilege reigns evident in the perception he holds towards cotton-picking, the people that worked around him, as well as his understanding of hard labor as a whole. This idea is summed up in Sal’s statement while working, in that, “there was an old negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama; they moved right along their rows, bent and blue, and their bags increased. My back began to ache. But it was beautiful kneeling and hiding in that earth.” (Kerouac, ) This romanticization of cotton-picking provides the racial prejudice and white privilege that was, and continues to be, overlooked. Given their ideals of living a subculture and anti-society lifestyle, Kerouac’s main characters see cotton-picking as beautiful and rich given the historical significance, and the fact that it is off-beat from mainstream society. However, this is only an indication into their apparent privileges as white individuals in America, in that they do not understand the inherent racial divide that has suppressed minorities into this position, and the reality that it is not such a dream that Sal and Dean seem to perceive. Rather, the circumstances of the black citizens in America at the time was not of their own accord, as Kerouac attempts to portray, but out of sheer necessity and survival. This is another aspect of the privilege that is shown in the novel, in that the white characters remain unaware of the fact that cotton-picking is a life or death situation for the minorities, whereas it is merely a game for Sal. The entire time Sal is working, he attempts to make comments of extremity, claiming that he will starve to death if he is not able to provide himself a means of subsistence. Despite the fact that this is an outright fabrication, Sal constructs a false narrative in his mind in order to romanticize the work he does, and pursues it only to the point where he is no longer having fun in his own imagination. This is apparent upon the scenes where Sal is actually working, as he is conducting it in a manner of amusement and identity exploration as opposed to realizing that those around him do not have the same luxury. His nonchalant mentality to the work, constantly taking breaks, and thinking of it as a means of expression is a clear example of his privileged position, and his perception of the black workers as enjoying their labor is misunderstood in that he is putting himself in their position. In reality, Sal is never in any real danger of starvation or impoverishment, in that his privilege affords him the luxury of making a few phone calls, and getting money from his family upon request. Thus, this ties in significantly to the overall idea of white privilege in society at the time, as well as in the modern day. In the same way that the laborers shown in Kerouac’s novel were essentially forced into these menial positions, those who struggle similarly in the modern day are victims of the continued oppression that existed previously. In doing so, while minorities suffer to find employment, pay their bills, be approved for housing, and other institutional necessities, white citizens are not often faced with the same hardships that minorities are. Given the same extent of effort, jobs, housing, social welfare, and other such social constructs are generally more likely to approve white applicants, thus providing this safety net subconsciously. Kerouac’s characters, constantly in search of the beat culture ideal that was fueled by this sense of anti-establishment, never truly grasp an understanding of the inherent difficulties and hardships brought on by racial oppression.
In further understanding this romanticized view of marginalization and privilege, it is crucial to examine the extent to which Sal and Dean disregard economic and social realities, as it is overshadowed by their misunderstanding of impoverished reality. Again, coupled with the fact that they are never truly struggling to survive, they are able to visit a variety of underprivileged areas in search of the counterculture identity they so desired. Yet, in doing so, they attempt to internalize the cultures and identities of marginalized individuals, romanticizing it as the exact type of living they are looking for. However, not being able to experience this in its depth provides insight into the recurring white privilege not only in Kerouac’s novel, but in American society. Kerouac’s misunderstanding of racial divide is so significant that he believes working amongst a minority group gives him the justification to take on their identity. In doing so, “the greatest extent of Kerouac’s racial confusion and inappropriate identification as a Mexican laborer was when he made the mistake of specifically referring to himself as Mexican. Kerouac specifically writes, “they thought I was a Mexican, of course; and I am’ (Kerouac, Scroll 198). He incorrectly assumes that by mimicking the lifestyle and customs of the Mexican community he has installed himself in, he can claim a Mexican identity.” (Collopy, BohemianLives) This false implementation into the Mexican culture is not only incorrect, but it portrays the extent of privilege that Kerouac and like-minded individuals held. Rather than relating with the culture on a deeper level, they were unable to see society in the lens of the minorities, but only through the eyes of their own privilege.
In analyzing this adoption of another culture or identity for means of personal growth is seen in the concept of cultural appropriation. Specifically, cultural appropriation refers to the, “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine…It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed and exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive.” (AboutNews) In recent decades, this concept has become a major issue in regards to marginalization of racial groups, as the stripping of cultural identity and accrediting it to white ideals not only gives false praise, but ensures that the group being exploited remains subjugated. Kerouac’s novel provides a proper example of the privilege which leads to appropriation, as the main characters are constantly seen internalizing and, essentially, demeaning minority hardships. Despite the fact that their privilege is seemingly subconscious to themselves, they desire this life of being casted out by the rest of society, and being able to live your life as a human. However, as Kerouac’s characters believe that this is what life truly is about, they also seem to credit their culture for the ideal living that it has given to minorities. Sal and Dean see Charlie Parker, the African-American jazz artist, as an iconic and near-prophetic epitome of the beat counterculture. This fascination with jazz musicians and ideals, although not depicted in a negative way, provides detrimental connotations and the inherent problem with cultural appropriation. It is true that they idolize the artists, but in a manner which states that, if not for the oppression faced by white majorities, minorities would never be in such a position. In doing so, “He attributes the talent of these bop musicians to the hardships that his position of dominance has forced on them, only to rob them of their culture and take it as his own.” (Collopy, BohemianLives) Rather than realizing the painful places where this music is derived from, and attributing it to the struggles of African-Americans, Kerouac replaces this mentality with that of the dominance of white people, and that such art has been derived by oppression set on by the white population. This cultural appropriation provides insight into many issues that remain today, in that the misunderstanding of oppression, and inability to truly internalize another racial group’s position can never rightfully be done.
Three Cities and the Construction of Sal’s Identity
Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road follows Sal Paradise on journeys through America. Sal spends most of his time traveling by foot or car; however, the novel focuses on his time spent in three American cities: New York City, Denver, and San Francisco. Kerouac elaborates his presentation of Sal in these cities in order to show how the character holds a separate identity and self-perception during each of his city stays. New York City acts as a home base for Sal and his writing, while Denver and San Francisco provide a more masculine interpretation of the character.
Sal begins and ends each of his continental journeys in New York City. This city acts a place of congregation for Sal and his friends as well as an occupational foundation for Sal’s writing. All of these aspects included in New York City establish a basic identity for Sal which the rest of the novel builds upon. Sal’s first journey west begins in winter, 1947. He lives as a writer and a social outsider. Dean Moriarty is drawn to Sal’s personality as a writer, which surfaces primarily during his time in New York City. Conversely, Sal admires how Dean departs from qualities found in Sal’s existing New York City crowd. Dean’s arrival inspires Sal to search for a new identity which opposes the general, New York City atmosphere he describes in this passage:
Besides, all my New York friends were in the negative, nightmarish position of putting down society and giving their tired bookish or political or psychoanalytical reasons, but Dean just raced in society…he didn’t care one way or the other. (7)
Sal’s description of these New York personalities signals his identity as a self-proclaimed outsider. He places distance between himself and the group when he uses the label “all my New York friends.” The absence of “we” when classifying his status in the group implies a separation from these characters. The word “friends,” however, indicates a close camaraderie of some sort even if Sal disagrees with their attitudes. Sal’s position as a social outsider is criticized by his colleague, Carlo Marx, on his return to New York City on New Years, 1948-1949:
The balloon won’t sustain you much longer. And not only that, but it’s an abstract balloon. You’ll all go flying to the West Coast and come staggering back in search of your stone. (121)
Carlo Marx comments on Sal’s desire to leave his home base of New York City. He doubts the journey’s necessity. His use of the word “abstract” to describe the search for a new personality categorizes Sal’s New York identity as being more concrete and natural those in other cities. Despite Sal’s efforts to distance himself from New York City attitudes, Carlo claims that Sal will return to his home base and occupation as a writer at the end. In addition, Carlo associates New York with a “stone.” This contrasts with the abstract nature of western American cities and places a redemptive, philosophical knowledge available in New York. Moreover, the balloon represents blank, airy thoughts. It acts as an aimlessobject whose fate ends in deflation. Carlo compares Sal with a clownish, childlike view of life that changes and becomes more philosophical when Sal returns to New York City.
In New York City, Sal is a self-proclaimed outsider. In Denver, however, he becomes a dominant male pioneer. His presence in Denver begins in July, 1947. Sal’s initial comments as he enters the city create a co-dependence on others and how they perceive him. He associates his travel experience with the legacy of Christ or Moses:
… and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!’. (32)
This passage shows how Sal’s attitude shifts from being an outside observer on the fringe of the social world to a perspective that places him in the center. Sal believes he is a leader instead of a bystander.
During his time in Denver, Sal obsesses with perceptions from other people. This contrasts with his critique and separation within the social world of New York City. Instead of opposing the existing social attitudes of Denver, he creates a patriarchal presentation of himself in order to participate in the society. Denver offers Sal a fresh environment and inspiration for an identity shift. He continues this distinct outlook when he returns to Denver in 1949: “I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch” (169). The words “patriarch” and “Prophet” suggest a hierarchy in lineage. Sal views himself as the leader on a biblical journey. These two male-identifiable words imply that those who follow Sal’s example will derive their energy and inspiration from his travel experience. His patriarchal attitude relates to his own admiration of Dean Moriarty’s character that initially sent him West. Moreover, Sal’s transition from “prophet” to “patriarch” traces his maturation between trips. He escapes from his dependency on outside perceptions and gains confidence in himself. His first comments about the role he wants to take in Denver become an actualization on his return in 1949.
Sal continues to enhance his masculinity when he reaches San Francisco. Sal’s identity in San Francisco involves a confirmation of his masculinity and heterosexuality through the role of an enforcer. Until his time in San Francisco, Sal’s interaction with people occurs on a non-physical, intellectually-based level. In this city, however, communication is shown through force and violence. Sal describes this communication when he carries a gun:
Several times I went to San Fran with my gun and when a queer approached me in a bar john I took out the gun…I knew queers all over the country. It was just the loneliness of San Francisco and the fact that I had a gun. I had to show it to someone. (66)
This passage illuminates Sal’s need to be masculine and heterosexual. San Francisco’s “loneliness” creates this attitude in Sal. He does not clarify what makes San Francisco lonely, but he indicates a sexual loneliness because of his rejection of male advances. This is the only city where Sal carries a gun. The gun is a symbol of his masculinity. Sal uses this visual and the word “queer” to reaffirm his heterosexual dominance. His action of showing off the gun corresponds with his Denver vision as a patriarch. Each association refers to qualities of dominance or male hierarchy within a system.
San Francisco’s revolution around male-centeredness is reinforced in the relationship between Sal’s friends Remi and Lee Ann. In one scene, Remi and Lee Ann have an argument with gun involvement: “Remi pushed Lee Ann. She made a jump for the gun. Remi gave me the gun and told me to hide it; there was a clip of eight shells in it” (168). Remi asks Sal to hide the gun as Lee Ann tries to grab it. This action symbolizes the transfer of power between men and the focus on maintaining masculinity that colors Sal’s San Francisco experience.
San Francisco, Denver, and New York City each offer Sal a location to explore various aspects of his identity and worldview. One connection between each of the cities is the use of dream-related images in these environments. In a previously mentioned passage regarding New York City, Sal uses “nightmarish” to describe the city and its people. This word suggests that he feels confined in a frightening, yet prophetic, situation in that part of the country. Sal’s perception of himself in Denver continues this dream imagery: “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream” (38). This dreamlike impression of Denver carries a different weight than his thoughts on New York City. The word “dream” to describe Denver holds a surreal, calm meaning, whereas “nightmare” to describe New York City creates frightening, ghost-like images. Sal continues these nighttime references on his first trip to San Francisco: “I spun around till I was dizzy; I thought I’d fall down as in a dream, clear off the precipice” (72).
Sal imagines himself becoming a character of his dreams in San Francisco and Denver. Carlo Marx criticizes Sal’s transitions between cities with the example of an abstract balloon. He claims Sal’s identities are abstract and unnatural; however, Sal spends time in these cities learning more about himself. At the novel’s end, Sal returns to New York City. Despite the changing identities and self-perceptions, Sal’s participation on this journey instills a greater self-knowledge in his character. Each of these cities combines to color and create Sal’s worldview. The distinct identities become one as he returns home with a greater appreciation for traveling and new experiences.
Kerouac’s Style in “On the Road”
Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road is a hallmark story of the Beat Generation, a movement defined by its rejection of conformity in favor of a search for deeper meaning. It is this search that serves as a catalyst for the majority of the action of the narrative, as the protagonist Sal Paradise travels across the country with a host of companions, the chief among them being Dean Moriarty. The story revolves around a series of excursions including trips to Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Mexico. Sal and Dean both seem incapable of settling down, especially Dean, who oscillates among three different relationships and is married three times in the course of the plot. In the end however, Sal becomes disillusioned with Dean’s thoughtlessness when he is deliriously ill in Mexico and Dean leaves him. He moves back to New York and elects to live a more sedentary lifestyle with a stable girlfriend. Dean visits, but he is no longer able to enchant Sal with his impulsive behavior and philosophical musings. A rift forms between the two, as Sal remains stationary and content and Dean continues to drift in his travels with reckless abandon, searching for the intangible meaning that will give purpose to his life. Throughout the novel, Kerouac’s unique writing style helps to portray an era and the complex web of relationship that drive the story.
One of the primary elements of Kerouac’s narrative is his use of characterization. Kerouac’s cast forms a band of multifaceted individuals whom he describes in the context of their individuality and dynamic energy, the essence of his Beat Generation. Dean is immediately established as a scattered character who enjoys rambling and discussing metaphysical ideals. Kerouac depicts a conversation between Dean and his first wife Marylou, in which Dean is restlessly pacing in his apartment, disturbed by a lack of activity. He tells her “In other words, we’ve got to get on the ball darling, what I’m saying, otherwise it’ll be fluctuating and lack of true knowledge and crystallization of our plans” (3). He speaks in a way that makes the words seem to pour out of him in a stream of consciousness style. Dean is constantly eager to move and go, but it is never clear where he wants to end up. He simply does not want to remain in a single place too long, and often expresses this in extended and nonsensical sentences that portray his inner agitation and confusion. Kerouac also describes Dean’s inconsistency through other character’s opinions of him. Marylou laments that Dean will “leave you out cold anytime it’s in his interest” (159) and Galatea scolds him for “having no regard for anybody but yourself” (183). Dean himself acknowledges his own discrepancy and characterizes himself as a constantly restive individual, saying, “my trunk’s always sticking out from under the bed, I’m ready to leave or get thrown out” (239). The trunks serve as symbols of their traveling lives, and while Sal manages to figuratively and literally shut his away, Dean’s is omnipresent and constantly inciting him to move. All of these revelations foreshadow the novel’s conclusion, when Sal becomes painfully aware of Dean’s true nature after he is abandoned in Mexico during his time of need.
Kerouac also uses charged descriptions to portray the frantic and searching atmosphere of the novel. Sal explains that he pursues people who are interesting and “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” (5). The use of repetition and figurative language convey a sense of how the people in Sal’s life whom he values are the ones who transfix him and possess multiple dazzling elements, managing to eclipse the other facets of his life. Sal and Dean are also endlessly seeking meaning in their journeys, and Kerouac compares the promise of the end of the road to an anticipated treasure. The ideal of San Francisco sparkles “like jewels in the night” (13). Before one of his and Dean’s trips, Sal declares that he “suddenly saw that the whole country was like an oyster for us to open; and the pearl was there, the pearl was there” (129). Again, repetition and simile highlight the promise of the journey and the destination, even though the pearl and the meaning that it represents remain elusive.
Kerouac also utilizes lyrical diction and syntax to express the action and mood of the novel. His words echo the short and flowing improvisational style of jazz music. His method employs a choppy synthesis of long and abrupt sentences, like when Kerouac describes a wild night in Denver, saying “everything swirled. There were scattered parties everywhere. There was even a party in a castle to which we all drove-except Dean who ran off elsewhere- and in this castle we sat at a great table in the hall and shouted” (152). The narration may be interrupted by brief explanations, but it maintains a steady rhythm that reads almost like poetry. Kerouac also adds characteristic slang, describing his friends as “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time” (5). Kerouac’s word “mad” becomes a motif that he uses to characterize his group for their probing and hectic nature. Kerouac also intersperses words like “kicks” (116) to label the action that he and Dean seek, and “Beat” (184) to label their movement. Kerouac’s diction and sentence structure make the novel unique and underscores the feverish excitement of the piece.
In On the Road Kerouac’s use of characterization, description, and syntax help to define the originality of the work. He uses these elements to explain the wanderings of Dean and Sal, who travel with an irregular but constant pace that mirrors the progression of the text. In doing so, Kerouac defines a personal journey for meaning in the midst of a confused and muddled period of life.
Jewels in the Night: Sal’s Identity in New York City, Denver, and San Francisco
Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road follows Sal Paradise on journeys through America. Sal spends most of his time traveling by foot or car; however, the novel focuses on his time spent in three American cities: New York City, Denver, and San Francisco. Kerouac elaborates his presentation of Sal in these cities in order to show how the character holds a separate identity and self-perception during each of his city stays. New York City acts as a home base for Sal and his writing, while Denver and San Francisco provide a more masculine interpretation of the character.Sal begins and ends each of his continental journeys in New York City. This city acts a place of congregation for Sal and his friends as well as an occupational foundation for Sal’s writing. All of these aspects included in New York City establish a basic identity for Sal which the rest of the novel builds upon. Sal’s first journey west begins in winter, 1947. He lives as a writer and a social outsider. Dean Moriarty is drawn to Sal’s personality as a writer, which surfaces primarily during his time in New York City. Conversely, Sal admires how Dean departs from qualities found in Sal’s existing New York City crowd. Dean’s arrival inspires Sal to search for a new identity which opposes the general, New York City atmosphere he describes in this passage:Besides, all my New York friends were in the negative, nightmarish position of putting down society and giving their tired bookish or political or psychoanalytical reasons, but Dean just raced in society…he didn’t care one way or the other. (7)Sal’s description of these New York personalities signals his identity as a self-proclaimed outsider. He places distance between himself and the group when he uses the label “all my New York friends.” The absence of “we” when classifying his status in the group implies a separation from these characters. The word “friends,” however, indicates a close camaraderie of some sort even if Sal disagrees with their attitudes. Sal’s position as a social outsider is criticized by his colleague, Carlo Marx, on his return to New York City on New Years, 1948-1949:The balloon won’t sustain you much longer. And not only that, but it’s an abstract balloon. You’ll all go flying to the West Coast and come staggering back in search of your stone. (121)Carlo Marx comments on Sal’s desire to leave his home base of New York City. He doubts the journey’s necessity. His use of the word “abstract” to describe the search for a new personality categorizes Sal’s New York identity as being more concrete and natural those in other cities. Despite Sal’s efforts to distance himself from New York City attitudes, Carlo claims that Sal will return to his home base and occupation as a writer at the end. In addition, Carlo associates New York with a “stone.” This contrasts with the abstract nature of western American cities and places a redemptive, philosophical knowledge available in New York. Moreover, the balloon represents blank, airy thoughts. It acts as an aimlessobject whose fate ends in deflation. Carlo compares Sal with a clownish, childlike view of life that changes and becomes more philosophical when Sal returns to New York City.In New York City, Sal is a self-proclaimed outsider. In Denver, however, he becomes a dominant male pioneer. His presence in Denver begins in July, 1947. Sal’s initial comments as he enters the city create a co-dependence on others and how they perceive him. He associates his travel experience with the legacy of Christ or Moses:… and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!’. (32)This passage shows how Sal’s attitude shifts from being an outside observer on the fringe of the social world to a perspective that places him in the center. Sal believes he is a leader instead of a bystander. During his time in Denver, Sal obsesses with perceptions from other people. This contrasts with his critique and separation within the social world of New York City. Instead of opposing the existing social attitudes of Denver, he creates a patriarchal presentation of himself in order to participate in the society. Denver offers Sal a fresh environment and inspiration for an identity shift. He continues this distinct outlook when he returns to Denver in 1949: “I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch” (169). The words “patriarch” and “Prophet” suggest a hierarchy in lineage. Sal views himself as the leader on a biblical journey. These two male-identifiable words imply that those who follow Sal’s example will derive their energy and inspiration from his travel experience. His patriarchal attitude relates to his own admiration of Dean Moriarty’s character that initially sent him West. Moreover, Sal’s transition from “prophet” to “patriarch” traces his maturation between trips. He escapes from his dependency on outside perceptions and gains confidence in himself. His first comments about the role he wants to take in Denver become an actualization on his return in 1949. Sal continues to enhance his masculinity when he reaches San Francisco. Sal’s identity in San Francisco involves a confirmation of his masculinity and heterosexuality through the role of an enforcer. Until his time in San Francisco, Sal’s interaction with people occurs on a non-physical, intellectually-based level. In this city, however, communication is shown through force and violence. Sal describes this communication when he carries a gun:Several times I went to San Fran with my gun and when a queer approached me in a bar john I took out the gun…I knew queers all over the country. It was just the loneliness of San Francisco and the fact that I had a gun. I had to show it to someone. (66)This passage illuminates Sal’s need to be masculine and heterosexual. San Francisco’s “loneliness” creates this attitude in Sal. He does not clarify what makes San Francisco lonely, but he indicates a sexual loneliness because of his rejection of male advances. This is the only city where Sal carries a gun. The gun is a symbol of his masculinity. Sal uses this visual and the word “queer” to reaffirm his heterosexual dominance. His action of showing off the gun corresponds with his Denver vision as a patriarch. Each association refers to qualities of dominance or male hierarchy within a system.San Francisco’s revolution around male-centeredness is reinforced in the relationship between Sal’s friends Remi and Lee Ann. In one scene, Remi and Lee Ann have an argument with gun involvement: “Remi pushed Lee Ann. She made a jump for the gun. Remi gave me the gun and told me to hide it; there was a clip of eight shells in it” (168). Remi asks Sal to hide the gun as Lee Ann tries to grab it. This action symbolizes the transfer of power between men and the focus on maintaining masculinity that colors Sal’s San Francisco experience.San Francisco, Denver, and New York City each offer Sal a location to explore various aspects of his identity and worldview. One connection between each of the cities is the use of dream-related images in these environments. In a previously mentioned passage regarding New York City, Sal uses “nightmarish” to describe the city and its people. This word suggests that he feels confined in a frightening, yet prophetic, situation in that part of the country. Sal’s perception of himself in Denver continues this dream imagery: “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream” (38). This dreamlike impression of Denver carries a different weight than his thoughts on New York City. The word “dream” to describe Denver holds a surreal, calm meaning, whereas “nightmare” to describe New York City creates frightening, ghost-like images. Sal continues these nighttime references on his first trip to San Francisco: “I spun around till I was dizzy; I thought I’d fall down as in a dream, clear off the precipice” (72). Sal imagines himself becoming a character of his dreams in San Francisco and Denver. Carlo Marx criticizes Sal’s transitions between cities with the example of an abstract balloon. He claims Sal’s identities are abstract and unnatural; however, Sal spends time in these cities learning more about himself. At the novel’s end, Sal returns to New York City. Despite the changing identities and self-perceptions, Sal’s participation on this journey instills a greater self-knowledge in his character. Each of these cities combines to color and create Sal’s worldview. The distinct identities become one as he returns home with a greater appreciation for traveling and new experiences.
Idealism and the Road in the late 1940s vs. the 1960s in On the Road and Easy Rider
In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream.-Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”And I said, “That last thing is what you can’t get, Carlo. Nobody can get to that last thing. We keep on living in hopes of catching it once and for all.”-Jack Kerouac, On the RoadOne of the first American ideals was that of the rugged individualist: the explorer-hero, in the tradition of Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett, as well as the cowboy. America, especially the western part, was a new, exciting frontier yearning to be explored. However, once most of the continent had been explored and industrialization created large urban and suburban areas where people could spend their entire lives, much of the urge to explore was lost. Travel was not necessary to see the rest of the world; magazines and the radio made that possible. America was prosperous and complacent. However, after the Great Depression and especially after World War II, a new generation felt the urge to see America, to search for truth. They were disillusioned; an overwhelming anxiety swept the nation, evidenced, for example, in the film noir style of the late 1940s. Jack Kerouac, for many, symbolized breaking free from this anxiety, breaking free from the “feeling that everything was dead.” (1) He created an ideal that future generations of young people would follow in astonishing numbers.Between 1946 and 1952, Kerouac criss-crossed the United States with his friend Neal Cassady; the journey is documented (fictionalized only slightly) in his book On the Road, which was published in 1957. Kerouac (Sal Paradise in the book) was actually following Cassady (Dean Moriarty), a fact that is often overlooked. Much of the reason that Sal followed Dean was that Sal was a writer looking for new experiences. Dean, for Sal, was the embodiment of the American dream:As we rode in the bus in the weird phosphorescent void of the Lincoln Tunnel we leaned on each other with fingers waving and yelled and talked excitedly, and I was beginning to get thebug like Dean. He was simply a youth tremendously excitedwith life…(4)Sal also links Dean directly to a distinctly old-western ideal by describing him as “a young Gene Autrya sideburned hero of the snowy West.” (2) Dean is the antithesis of the pretentious intellectual culture in New York in which Sal feels out of place. He is perhaps a shady character given his past, but this matters little to Sal. Dean leaves for Denver, and Sal leaves several months later to join him in the West. Sal has some trouble getting there, but it is on the road, exploring, that he will discover his own inner confidence and joy. By the end of his first journey alone he is ecstatic: meeting exciting characters, seeing the changes in scenery; almost all of the words he uses seem to be superlatives. However, there are hints throughout On the Road that this new brand of idealism is not perfect; the West is not an unfettered paradise. In his poem, “Denver Doldrums,” Sal’s friend Carlo Marx describes the Rockies as “papier-mache,” (47) meaning that it could all collapse at any time. “The whole universe was crazy and cock-eyed and extremely strange,” Marx says. Sal soon returns to the East, which he describes as “brown and holy,” in comparison to his new idea of the West as “white like washlines and emptyheaded.”(79) He has to keep moving; there is no end. At the novel’s conclusion, Sal has found love, as well as confidence, but he is still moving, not yet completely satisfied. Sal has also come to realize that he cannot simply follow Dean, as Dean is more lost now than Sal was at the start of the novel.As Kerouac “shambled after” Neal Cassady when he was disillusioned with the world surrounding him, a generation later, young people began to “shamble after” Kerouac. On the Road was published in 1957, when America’s consciousness was again beginning to shift, and the book spurred this movement even further. William Burroughs recalls: The Beat literary movement came at exactly the right time andsaid something that millions of peoplewere waiting to hear. Youcan’t tell anybody anything he doesn’t know already. Thealienation, the restlessness, the dissatisfaction were alreadythere waiting when Kerouac pointed out the road. The Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, for example, took to the road; they were young people on the fringes of society who had just returned from the war. But while Kerouac was seeking spiritual fulfillment on his journeyhe called the Beat Generation “basically a religious generation”the Hell’s Angels were simply attracted to the hedonistic lifestyle that the road entailed. They were completely reckless and extremely violent. This corruption of Kerouac’s purpose colored much of the youthful rebellion of the 1960s, with an excellent example being the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper and produced by Peter Fonda, who both starred in the film, was released in 1969. The heroes of Easy Rider, Wyatt (also called Captain America) and Billy, take to the road on motorcycles, much like the Hell’s Angels, but their spiritual quest is more similar to Kerouac’s. The promotional posters for the film read, “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” Like the Beats, Billy and Wyatt were not saints; the movie starts with a cocaine deal and is followed by numerous scenes of LSD and marijuana use. However, the two, Wyatt especially, are introspective, intelligent, and nonviolent. Like Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp (for whom they are named), Billy and Wyatt are men of the free-spirited West. Mardi Gras is their apparent destination, but to them, the road is much more fascinating.While the Beats did not rebel against America so much as embrace all of its facets, Billy and Wyatt see themselves as being pitted against all those who are not like them. This is quite representative of the culture of the 1960s, when the line between young and old, radical and conservative, became increasingly distinct. Rage builds up in the rednecks whom they encounter in Texas. As George Hanson, the ACLU lawyer they meet in Texas says, “They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to emWhat you represent to them is freedom.” These rednecks who envy their lifestyle so much are the ones who eventually cause the deaths of Wyatt and Billy, in addition to George Hanson himself. Unlike the Hell’s Angels, Wyatt and Billy die because they are not out for revenge; like Kerouac, they (Wyatt in particular) harbor little initial fear or distrust of strangers.While Kerouac does make a move toward happiness and finality on the road, Wyatt and Billy are unable to do so. They encounter and subsequently reject various places where they have the opportunity to settlea ranch, a commune. The ranch is just not right for them, and the commune just does not live up to the ideals it has set forth for itself. By the end of the journey, they still have yet to find anything worthwhile on the road, as Wyatt says to Billy, “You know, Billy. We blew it.”Easy Rider does not just differ from On the Road in the fact that the soundtrack is rock and roll instead of jazz. It differs because the 1960s was a violent era that was heavily polarized, despite the fact that, like Wyatt and Billy’s journeys, it started out with an invigorating idealism. While On the Road provides hope for the future, Easy Rider clearly shows none.
Explore the presentation of music in On the Road and The Whitsun Weddings
This essay will focus on the tenorman passage from “On the Road” and the poem “For Sidney Bechet” from “The Whitsun Weddings” to explore how Jack Kerouac and Philip Larkin both use language to allow the reader to experience the music they write about. Their language is mimetic of music. However, whilst Kerouac is concerned only with an individual performance and the atmosphere of the night, Larkin comments on the more universal aspect of music and its ability to transcend sorrow and evoke happiness or, at least, relief.
Kerouac’s language is mimetic of the music heard in the bar. He lends instruments their own voice, with non-denotative dialogue like “EE-YAH!” and “EE-de-lee-yah!”. This provides the reader with a more pro-active experience of the trumpet’s music, and the modulation between capitalized and uncapitalized words mimics the dynamics of music, allowing readers to imagine the capitalized “YAH” as forte and the uncapitalized “yah” as piano. Furthermore, the dashes which break up the musical phrases (“ee-de-lee-yah”) convey the sense of a rhythmical beat to the trumpet’s music. Kerouac also uses onomatopoeic language (crack, rattle-ti-boom, crack”) to evoke the sound of the drums. The mimesis extends to the sung words later on in this passage, and Kerouac extends words to mimic the way in which the singer would hold on to a certain note (“Ma-a-a-ake it dream-y for dan-cing”). Again, dashes break up the words, providing the rhythm of the music.
Similarly, Larkin’s language mimics the jazz he describes. The first 12 lines of the poem are split into 4 stanzas, each of 3 lines in length. However, an examination of the rhyme scheme suggests that the lines would more naturally fit into 3 quatrains with an ABAB rhyme (“shakes, water, wakes, Quarter…quadrilles, shares, Storyvilles, chairs”). The dissonance between the visual structure of the poem and the aural structure of the poem mimics the dissonance frequently experienced in jazz music, such as in syncopated swing-rhythms in which a rhythm which is irregular is transposed on to a regular beat beneath. This idea of syncopation is continued in the poem’s meter. The poem is written in pentameter, with 5 clearly stressed syllables per line. However, the rhythm of each foot in the poem is irregular, with iambs (“That note”), anapaests (“narrowing”) and amphibrachs (“the water”). The irregular feet are transposed on to a regular pentameter, mimetic of the syncopation frequently found in the jazz music the poem is about. Larkin also mimics the musical idea of dynamics, but in a different way to Kerouac. Instead of using capitalization, he uses increasing length of phrases. “Oh…thing!” is half a line long; “mute…license” is a line in length; and “grouping…fads” is two and a half lines long. As the phrases build in length, they mimic the rising volume of a musical idea, with the cross-stanza enjambment of “price” emphasizing the musical flow of the language.
Kerouac also establishes the atmosphere of a performance in his extract. Initially, the atmosphere is frantic and excited, whilst the jazz band plays its erratic music. Kerouac evokes this through his use of present participles like “racing” and “yelling”, “bawling” and “clapping”. The use of asyndeton adds to the sense of chaos “crazy floppy women…bottles clanked”, and the omission of words like “the” (“in back of the joint”) adds to the sense of pace. Furthermore, colloquial language like “didn’t give a damn” deconstructs any sense of order or formality in the bar. However, as the style of the music shifts, so too does the tone of the language, evoking the change of atmosphere. The short statement “things quietened down a minute” marks this tone-shift, and the following sentences disrupt the flow of the narrative by digressing with a visual presentation of the “tenorman”. Kerouac interpolates the reported reaction of the audience with the song lyrics to present a real-time response to the music, as well as significantly slowing down the pace of the passage in doing so. The words “Close your eyes” would no doubt be sung in immediate succession, but Kerouac outs in the phrase “and blew it…and on out” to slow down the delivery and postpone the final “Ey-y-y-y-y-es!”, for a dramatic finish. The final two declarative statements confirm the more serious and calm atmosphere of the bar in the passage’s second half.
Larkin instead focuses on the universal effect of music, rather than its effect in a single finite venue. He attaches great importance to every single note, with similes comparing it to a reflection of an entire city (“New Orleans”) saying that music is an experience shared by “everyone”. The poem’s focus shifts after the 4th stanza to reflect this, no longer focusing on Bechet’s music but on its effect on the poet. He says that Bechet’s “voice”, his music, falls on him “as they say love should”. In this line, Larkin comments not only the romanticism of existence, but also suggests that music allows one to obtain that felicitous state to which love is fabled to grant us access. The iconoclastic simile “like an enormous yes” is interesting, as the word “yes” connotes the idea of freedom; music for Larkin provides him with a sense of liberty. The final stanza explicitly details the message that music is “good” and “scatters…grief and pity”, and it is a line shorter than all the others, mimetic of the idea that music allows us to break free, by breaking free from the poem’s structure.
Both writers therefore exploit the mimetic aspects of language to evoke a literary experience of music for the reader. But their presentations of music itself differ. For Kerouac, music is a facilitator which dictates the atmosphere of a company; for Larkin, it is a means by which we can transcend the constrains of sadness, and attain the emotional heights which even love fails to reach.
The Romanticism of a Bum Named Neal Cassady
Neal Cassady is the quintessential beat character who seems almost fictional because of how fantastical he is depicted. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac illustrate Cassady as if he is an unattainable concept. However, he is just as real as they are. They convince him to try his hand at writing so the world can see the same potential for greatness that they see in him. He is the beat-est of them all because he had the hardest, grittier life. To be beat, is to have struggled and come out the other side a stronger person. To endure life’s challenges and to still be able to enjoy the little things, is the only thing humans can hope for. It is the will to not give up on the world, even after seeing the worst it can do.
John Clellon Holmes was a fellow beat writer and observed many of the tales that Ginsberg and Kerouac told about the notorious Neal Cassady. He was a little older than them and was able to personally describe what the beat generation was like from the point of view of an outside insider. He defined the beat generation as “a generation of extremes . . . [but] no desire to shatter the ‘square’ society in which he lives, only to elude it” (Holmes 4). They only wanted to change the stereotypes and create a different form of communication. It was a period of emotionally overwrought memoirs that were meant to inspire a further discussion on human identity. Basically, there was a “lack of organized movements, political, religious, or otherwise, among the young” (Holmes 3). They were tired of using all their energy to fight for their beliefs when the government would just refuse to listen to them. They were considered a nuisance, even though they truly tried to stay under the radar. They chose to take the silent rebellion route instead by writing about their existential crises which many members of society, young and old, could relate to. It was not necessarily the active role in making change but it was their way of refusing to conform to anyone’s expectations. Another factor that made the writers of that time “beat,” was their “almost exaggerated will to believe in something” (Holmes 3). They had stripped themselves raw of all labels and clichés, and bared their emotions to the world. Thus, they craved a spiritual focus that would help them understand why they were so intensely affected by their surroundings.
Cassady was one of the beat-est members of that generation because his writings were erratic and full of dramatics, always trying to get his readers to raise their eyebrows. He was able to embellish his own experiences just enough that they did not seem fake, only absurd like human nature. He had lived more and exploited society far worse than most of the beat generation, “I been arrested 10 times and served an aggravated total of 15 months on six convictions” (Cassady 195), and most had occurred during his childhood on the streets. His ability to sustain the consequences of an unjust life and continue fighting for his own individuality is what raised him above the more memorable members of that period. The beat generation was a transformative period in a time that truly fulfilled Cassady’s lack of true human connections. He was Ginsberg’s and Kerouac’s greatest muse and how they made the writing movement so popular. Without his visions and unique commentary to guide the major beat writers, they may never have reached the level of fame they did by writing about the adventures Cassady took them on.
Cassady also tried to be more commercial in the beginning by striving to create pieces that were more formal and had a better chance of being published, but his soul was not in it. His real voice was exemplified in the personal letters he wrote to Kerouac. They were rambling messes but they demonstrated his spontaneity and emotional capacity to feel everything. One example of what he wrote about was: “I’m going to begin from the moment I left you & Frank & go to Now. This is such a gigantic task, I feel like Proust & you must indulge me” (Cassady 196). Cassady enjoyed sharing his story with Kerouac, and liked showing off his growing writing skills. He was only giving him a taste of his tale, but the way he delivered it was what influenced Kerouac’s spontaneous prose. They all played important roles in motivating each other to write and remain excited about the future. Cassady also did not let himself be a victim to his feelings, but rode them in the sea of inspiration.
His exaggerated lifestyle was his niche and the reason Ginsberg and Kerouac wanted him to write his experiences. For example, in one of his letters to Kerouac he stated: “I feel like a remembering of things past. So, here’s a brief history of arrests. A case history” (Cassady 193). His run-ins with the law were primarily in his past because he never had a stable home environment, and needed to find ways to support himself. Crime was the easiest job a boy living on the streets could start, and he happened to have a knack for it. Ginsberg and Kerouac were influenced by the adventures he took them on and created some of their best pieces because of their relationship with him. Therefore, they believed he could communicate their escapades even better because of his first-hand stories: “I became so engrossed in my eyeballs & what they brought me. . .that I looked out into the world as one looks into a picture” (Cassady 196). He utilized his mastery of spontaneous prose to illustrate private topics, from his turbulent sexual encounters to his childhood on the streets to drowning his thoughts in a neon-lit prison. He is the epitome of a poetical character because he lives on the edge of society’s expectations, never on the correct side but always able to pretend that he is. Cassady has a multi-faceted personality that makes it easy for him to fit into any social situation. He can transform himself into the persona that he feels everyone is yearning to be in that specific setting.
Underneath all of his facades, Cassady has a sensitive core that attracts men and women. He is also depicted as very egotistical, but that is only because he relishes in the attention, he does not solicit it. He is most himself when he is pretending to be greater than himself. When he is surrounded by people looking up to him for a joyride, he feels adored. Having lost his mother at a young age and then been rapidly forgotten by his father, he yearns for love. Even before she passed away, she had in a way abandoned him by letting his father have custody of him: “Little Neal went with his wino father into the lowest slums of Denver” (Cassady 218). Thus, began his life of desperation and the realization of his harsh reality. His father used his innocence to introduce him into a life of lying and stealing. He did not know better to resist and then it became his main focus. All he wants is to make people happy so they will want him, and not leave him like everyone else.
Cassady, Neal. “The First Third.” The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Group, 1992, pp. 212-9.
Cassady, Neal. “Letter to Jack Kerouac, July 3, 1949.” The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Group, 1992, pp. 193-5.
Cassady, Neal. “Letter to Jack Kerouac, September 10, 1950.” The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Group, 1992, pp. 195-7.
Holmes, John Clellon. “This Is The Beat Generation.” The New York Times Magazine, 16 November 1952.