Essay about Jack Kerouac’s On The Road - The American Quest

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On The Road and the American Quest

Jack Kerouac's On The Road is the most uniquely American novel of its time. While it has never fared well with academics, On The Road has come to symbolize for many an entire generation of disaffected young Americans. One can focus on numerous issues wh en addressing the novel, but the two primary reasons which make the book uniquely American are its frantic Romantic search for the great American hero (and ecstasy in general), and Kerouac's "Spontaneous Prose" method of writing.

On The Road is an autobiographical first-person book written in 1951 and based on Kerouac's experiences of the late 1940's. At the time, America was undergoing drastic changes and the sense of sterility brought on
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(42)

Dean and Kerouac's alter ego, Sal, represent one of the three main types of character patterns seen in '50s literature: that of the Rebel. And while representative of the rebellious James Dean-like figures of literature, they are perhaps even more repres entative of '50s youth culture in their endless searches. For what? The quest is left open for debate. Tim Hunt suggests that Kerouac could be searching for several things in On The Road: a father (or brother) figure, the chance to regain lost joy, or a type of revelation (91). Hipkiss contends that Neal's

speeding dashes down the road are as much flights of panic,

the fear of never making it, the fear of losing all the life

he ever had, as they are quests for ecstasy, which is itself

an escape from fear and the frustrations of desire. (43)

Of course, elements of restlessness surface in earlier American novelists such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald,

but Kerouac's search for a type of identity in an era of increasing conformity sparked rebelliousness On The

Road-style and encouraged many to, as Tim Leary would put it several years later, "tune in, turn on, and drop

out."

As Kerouac's searches for the great American hero and ecstasy in general made On The Road uniquely American,

so too does his style of writing. Kerouac's "search for ecstasy naturally led to the exploration
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