Jack Kerouac is the first to explore the world of the wandering hoboes in his novel, On the Road. He created a world that shows the lives and motivations of this culture he himself named the Beats. Kerouac saw the beats as people who rebel against everything accepted to gain freedom and expression. Although he has been highly criticized for his lack of writing skills, he made a novel that is both realistic and enjoyable to read. He has a complete disregard for developed of plot or characters, yet his descriptions are incredible. Kerouacs novel On the Road defined the post World War II generation known as the beats.
The motivation behind the beat movement was their thirst for freedom. They desired freedom from almost everything we take for granted today. Central to the beat writers, though little noticed, is the desperate flight from the lower middle class life and its culture of anxiety (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 14, 305). The beats also had trouble dealing with the social aspects of living. In both On The Road and The Dharma Bums this fugue, or flight, is portrayed on the realistic level as an attempt to escape from an intolerable personal or social situation (Freied 253).
They couldnt deal with the values and expectations of society. These men and women reject existing social values largely through misunderstanding them; in the social sense, they are infantile, perversely negative or indifferent (Baro 281). Sometimes it was theirselves they needed to escape from. Freied states, Kerouacs hoboes are seeking escape- escape not only from the threats of a hostile society, but escape from their own inadequate personalities and unsatisfactory human relationships (295). What most of the need for escape amounts to is an outlet from life.
Their much touted ideal of freedom is in reality a freedom from life itself, especially from rational, adult life with its welter of consequences and obligations (Vopat 304). Vopat also says, Kerouacs characters take to the road not to find life, but to leave it all behind: emotion, maturity, change, decision, purpose, and, especially, in the best American tradition responsibility (303). They feel any kind of knowledge will be a restraint. They avoid anything- self-analysis, self awareness, thinking- that would threaten or challenge them, for with revelation comes responsibility for change, and above all they do not want change (Vopat 303).
Another more universal fear that they felt the need to escape was the red scare. In the great McCarthy hysteria, flight is the only means of expressing their dissent (Feied 293). They also do not want the commitment of a real relationship with the opposite sex. Free love is rather freedom from love and another route down that same dark death wish (Vopat 303). They feel if they can escape these bindings of life than will achieve a better way of living. Inwardly, these excesses are made to serve a spiritual purpose of an affirmation still unfocused, still to be defined, unsystematic (Millstein 279).
They want to just experience the joys of life to the fullest without worrying about any responsibilities. They seek to make good their escape in moment to moment living, digging everything, pursuing kicks with a kind of desperate energy that passes for enthusiasm (Feied 295). They want for everyday experiences something that will give them an exalted, intensified sense of life- that will make them live, that will make life real; they want to transcend, not their actual limitations, but their sense of limitation (Baro 281).
The beats were looking for an easy way out of dealing with the pressures of having a real life. To gain freedom from the restraints of life they rebelled against everything that seemed normal to regular citizens of society. Kerouacs novels are more readily summarized than Ginsbergs poetry or the Beats innovations in lifestyles, but all three manifest a rebellion against the establishment- the goals and habits of middle class America (Neil 306). Most see this as a combination of ignorance and stupidity.
These young haters of everything can seem nothing more than spoiled brats, rejecting a civilization they have not bothered to understand and done nothing to deserve, wrecking lives and other peoples Cadillacs with equal relish and for no reason at all, sponging on relatives they despise, pretending a superiority which is only a big bag of loudmouthed nastiness (Champney 285). One of the major parts of being a beat is constant movement from place to place. For Kerouacs hoboes the very act of going on the road amounts to a kind of turning of ones back on society as constituted (Feied 293).
Some say they arent just making a statement, but actually trying to separate themselves. Champney states It has been says this group is not so much in revolt from society as in permanent secession (285). Beats also rebelled not just against society, but deeper things. Bowering states, The beat writer and/or character rebels not against anything so sociological and historical as the middle class or capitalism or even respectability (299). They find fault in the character of people in general. Kerouac retreats to such atavistic rebellion as that against the crushing of the human soul, sensitivity, and communication (Bowering 299).
Through their rebellion they wanted a change or a means to escape, but all they gained was the loss of any respect. They tried to express themselves through their abnormal actions. The beats . . . saw themselves as outcasts, exiles within a hostile culture. . . rejected artists writing anonymously for themselves (Gussow 310). They tried to gain recognition through any means necessary. Their frantic flights across country, their rootless and disaffected behavior, but above all their profound sense of disaffection, testified to a growing spirit of discontent (Feied 293).
Feied relates that In going on the road they gave expression, in the clearest and most direct way possible, to all the repressed longing and vague dissatisfactions abroad in the populace at large (293). Their goal is to live as unpredictable, fun, and careless as possible. Outwardly these may be summoned up as the frenzied of every possible sensory impression, an extreme exacerbation of the nerves, a constant outraging of the body. (One gets kicks; digs everything, whether it be drink, drugs, sexual promiscuity, driving at high speeds or absorbing Zen Buddhism) (Millstein 279).
They are also described similarly by Baro as the Sexually promiscuous, drink and drug ridden, thieving, lying, betraying, they belong to volatility, to movement, to sensation (281). They try to show what they are about so the rest of the country will be awakened by them. The beat generation and its artists display readily recognizable stigmata (Millstein 278). They make judgments about each other not by their achievements, but by how reckless they are. They measure themselves against one another: the maddest and the least predictable is most admired (Baro 6).
It would seem that this lifestyle would drain them of anything they had, but they manage to survive as bottom feeding parasites. They get by on pickings from the imprisoned relatives, while they shout obscenities at the horror of it all (Champney 286). This behavior is what really makes the otherwise tolerant citizens enraged at the beat generation. There is irony in the fact that it is our lush abundance which enables a beat generation to avoid imprisonment in the system of work, produce, consume (Champney 286).
They beats lifestyle is one of an immature, cowardly, parasite who cant handle the everyday values and pressures of living a normal life. They flee any responsibility to live a careless life, and then sponge off of people who work for a living. Kerouacs Characters in On The Road definitely explain the beats as a culture, but he has taken considerable criticism for his writing style. To fully understand Kerouacs writing one must look at the circumstances of his writing along with his beliefs. Millstein states, There were four choices open to the post world war writer . . . e course I feel Kerouac has taken- assertion of the need for belief even though it is upon a background in which belief is impossible and in which the symbols are lacking for a genuine affirmation in genuine terms (279). He has an original style for the time period which is misunderstood and criticized. On the Road belongs to the new Bohemianism in American Fiction in which an experimental style is combined with eccentric characters and a morally neutral point of view (Dempsey 279). In looking at Kerouacs mind the reason behind the actions of beats can be seen. Curley assertes: Reason is the formal principle of human vitality.
But in Kerouacs vision, reason is subservient to time. Thus all uncertainties, morals, scientific, and metaphysical, become slaves of process. That is why people in On The Road drink and eat, fornicate, marry, divorce and dance in chaos of mechanical ecstasies. (280) With this in mind one can greater understand how Kerouac thought and will be able to look at his novel with a more open perspective. As a key figure of the . . . beat movement . . . Kerouac coined the term beat meaning both beaten down, or outcast, and beatific or full of spiritual joy, to describe the condition of his generation (Jack Kerouac.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 277). With the knowledge of his opinions of the movement it is easier to analyze his writing style. He has been criticized, however; there are many positives of his writing. His novel has opened the eyes of some people to exactly what beats are. On the Road depicts the counter culture lifestyle of the Beats, which was marked by impulsive traveling and experimentation with sex and drugs (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 278). With this kind of analysis of the people comes great impact.
The nation looked at this book as one of the definitive works on an important counter culture. Millstein says, On the Road is the most beautifully executed, and most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac named years ago as beat and whose chief avatar he is (278). This shows how people were effected by Kerouacs work, and to have such an affect proves the quality of his writing. One of the more interesting points of his mechanics was his use of a new experimental style of writing. Some passages in this book are considered early examples of the spontaneous prose method . developed in an effort to escape the strictures of grammar and syntax (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 277). Some say he sat down at his desk with one giant piece of connected paper and typed the entire book in one three week block. It is easy to believe this with the ease of how the story flows. Considerable interest has been shown in Kerouacs spontaneous prose method as a variation on the stream of consciousness technique favored by the modernists (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 278).
With this style, however; comes a lack of the basic components of literature. The plot directly suffered as a result of giving little thought to the writing as he went. Kerouac has written an enormously readable and entertaining book, but one reads it in the same mood that he might visit a slide show (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 278). The book is still fun to read with some natural plot derived from his prose. Champney states, There is built in conflict in Kerouac’s writing as he celebrates pure sensation, timeless absorption in the living NOW, and direct mindless experience (286).
He sees every situation while he writes and makes decisions based on how he feels which offers a naturalistic view. It is in the remarkably flexible style as Kerouac improvises within each episode seeking to adjust his sound to the resonance of the given moment (Krim 304). Even with his ability to create a book with an interesting story, his plot is weak. Curley states: Lewis wrote that America of the atomic era was not a place but a time. That explains Kerouacs lack of plot. In Kerouacs vision, man does not control time, time controls man. (280)
This can help the reader understand why Kerouacs writing has a poor plot. Since he feels controlled by time he lives a in the present, do things now kind of life and so do his characters. Champney related, People who really live in the present dont write books, so Kerouac meets this dilemma by writing badly: meanings are ignored, syntax is garbled, and form sprawls (280). With these problems it still stands as one of the great novels of all time. This is a testament of his ability to capture something so vividly that people cant help but be fascinated with it.
Some say it is the downward spiral of literature in general that leaves this book seeming to be greater than it is. Dempsey states It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so called beat generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend on the bizarre and the off beat for its creative stimulus (279-280). Many feel On the Road is about the state of America as a whole at the time. Kerouac wanted to show the pull the open road had on the mind of people and the negative response people who followed that pull received.
Neil states, It all seemed to be a Whitmanesque celebration of the open road, that peculiarly American joy in moving for its own sake (306). In America we have the unique attraction with hopping on the open road for no reason other than to go. On the Road is a metaphor exposing the pointlessness of American enchantment with a kind of progress that involves constant, compulsive movement, occasionally spiced with wistful notions of relaxing and enjoying life (Neil 307). With this love captured in Kerouacs novel, he shows the feeling of exile displayed by the people who follow.
On the Road ends with an elegy for a lost America, for the country which once may have been the father of us all, but now is only the land where they let the children cry (Vopat 306). It is a sad feeling for those who dont see themselves as a problem, but are disowned by society. Along with the plot, the character development in On the Road is heavily criticized. They are not well thought out and easily disregarded. Dempsey states: Unlike Wolfe, Nelson Algren, or Saul Bellow (there are trace elements of all three writers here), Mr. Kerouac throws his characters away, as it were.
His people are not developed, but simply presented; they perform, take their bows, and do a hand spring into the wings. (280) Many critics feel this lack of ability to give characters depth most clearly shows Kerouacs poor writing ability. If he is unable to make a simple character, how can he be considered one of our greatest writers? The non sequitors of the beat generation become the authors own plotless, theme less technique- having absolved his characters of all responsibility, he can absolve himself of the writers customary attention to motivation and credibility (Dempsey 280).
It is Kerouacs spontaneous prose that most likely led to him ignoring the need for well mad characters, but that is no excuse. On the Road moves with the same frenetic energy as its characters, chronicling numerous road trips and drunken episodes without extensive characterization or plot (Jack Kerouac. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 61, 277). Kerouac tried to defend his character development by bringing up the problems in America. Kerouac points out the shortcomings of his characters parallel the shortcomings of the country to which they are so intimately connected (Vopat 305).
This explanation is not widely accepted and his lack of development remains a key point of his critics. Kerouacs weak character development is counteracted by his amazing descriptions. He is able to capture a seen in a way that captivates the reader. Champney states, Kerouacs writing is intended to be larger than simply rational and didactic, and it often succeeds in what Dempsey called a descriptive excitement unmatched since the days of Thomas Wolfe (286).
Millstein agrees saying, There are sections of On the Road in which the writing is almost breathtaking (279). These descriptions are the strongest part of his writing. They are powerful enough to out weigh all the negativity from his other areas. Millstein offers examples from the book to show this: There is some writing on Jazz that has never been equaled in American fiction, either for insight, style, or technical virtuosity. There are details of a trip to Mexico (and an interlude in a Mexican bordello) that are, by turns, awesome, tender, and funny.
There is a description of a cross-country automobile ride fully the equal, for example, of the train ride told by Thomas Wolfe in Of Time and the River. (279) Without these descriptions On the Road would never have become as popular as it is. They are a major part of the novel and give it the necessary edge to put it in the category of our top books. Another major plus in Kerouacs writing is its sense of rhythm. It moves along with an almost musical beat that is unique to his writing.
Ginsberg says, Kerouac was the first writer I ever met who heard his own writing, who listened to his own sentences as if they were musical, rhythmical constructions, and who could follow the sequence of the sentences that make up the paragraph as if he were listening to a jazz riff (306). Kerouacs love for jazz music gave him a background for flowing rhythmically in his writing. So it was a definite rhythmical squiggle that he was hearing when he was writing prose sentences, a funny body rhythm, a breathing rhythm, and a speech rhythm that he was conscious of when he was writing prose (306).
This rhythm made the book much more enjoyable to read, and gave his writing a superiority to others. Jack Kerouacs On the Road followed the lives of the beat generation and in doing so defined them as a people. His writing is criticized for its poor plot and weak character development, However; its descriptions are incredible. His spontaneous prose method and rhythmical writing gave it a uniqueness that helped make this one of our great novels. It is an educational and enjoyable book to read.