Frenzied, effervescent and peppered with his “spontaneous prose”, Kerouac’s On the Road is occasionally akin to the rickety, death trap motorcars in which the characters crisscross the American expanse.
Moments of profound insight reveal an ideal not far from that of Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, albeit a little more drug-fuelled and carefree than Holden would possibly have ever allowed himself to be.
Kerouac’s road is one of life and life’s journey; travelled by all, well worn and eventually unveiling a universal epiphany, even if some fail to hearken to it or simply choose to ignore it.
While both an initially carefree journey of self-discovery and experimentation, in its most tender moments, On the Road is essentially a search for identity, an undeniably American pastime. Dean Moriarty’s search for his father reveals it also as a commentary on family, or the lack thereof, and the inherent challenges faced in either scenario. The novel is a search for family or the creation of your own; every human’s pursuit of happiness, or at least marketed notions of it.
Though touted as “life-changing”, it is possibly difficult for contemporary readers to fully appreciate the impact this classic made when first published. Nonetheless, once absorbed, its memory and accompanying experience is wholly indelible.
On the Road is yet another novel that promotes America and that American sense of adventure to the foreigner – a vastness of heat, wonder and endless possibility, a horizon that never will, and seemingly cannot, end.
It revels in an adventure and attitude we all wish to embrace, but the reality of such an approach to life overall comes crumbling down in its final farewell pages.
Sal Paradise, the tag-along, becomes its true protagonist, possessing just enough of the lost Dean Moriarty, the embodiment of Beat, but none of his inherent, irreparable flaws.
Originally posted to Shelfari.com, 1 June, 2010.