Race and Social Identity in On the Road and The Reivers Essay

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Race and Social Identity in On the Road and The Reivers

Whether around a group of friends or among total strangers, many people feel compelled to act in certain ways to please those around them; this part of our identity is labeled conveniently as social identity. A social identity can sometimes be very close to one's personal identity, but the differences between the two is caused by social pressures and obligations, and the extent to which it differs is based on many factors such as race, heritage, age, etc. Specifically, the pressures on minorities in a predominantly white society may cause them to behave in certain ways. Also, examining these pressures may help us further see the reasons for this behavior. Both The Reivers
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Even though Sal and Dean are in a predominantly black part of town, and in predominantly black establishments throughout the night, they never once face any sort of tension due to race. When Dean and Sal actually interact with the black tenorman, they seem to do it with great ease, i.e., when Dean invites him out the car, the tenorman exclaims "Yes! ain't nothin I like better than good kicks !" (Kerouac 199). Suddenly the whole issue of race in social interaction becomes superfluous, in fact, race seems to be more of an issue for Kerouac in his description of the setting than a social issue.

Sal's only true exploration of his race comes when he is Denver looking for his friends, and after not having found them, does a hard day's work. As Sal walks through a Denver ghetto, he describes his feelings of loneliness and despair about his identity:

I walked...among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered me was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night... I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a 'white man' disillusioned... I was only myself, Sal Paradise, sad, strolling in this violet dark, this unbearably sweet night, wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America. (Kerouac,
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