The Chase: Means of Escape in Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Lonesome Traveler, AC Heinonen

Tags: America, Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler, the protagonists, Sal, Jack Kerouac, protagonists, materialism, everyday lives, Beat Generation, Mortenson, LT, travelling, Erik R. Mortenson, Mark Richardson, A. Robert Lee, Peter Lang, San Francisco, Sal Paradise, Kostas Myrsiades, New York, the Beat Generation, Pluto Press, Mexico, OtR, Critical Essays
Content: Estetisk-Filosofiska Fakulteten Ann-Christine Heinonen The Chase means of escape in Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Lonesome Traveler
English C-Essay
Date/Term: Supervisor: Examiner:
Spring term 2008 Еke Bergvall Mark Troy
Karlstads universitet 651 88 Karlstad Tfn 054-700 10 00 Fax 054-700 14 60 [email protected] www.kau.se
Jack Kerouac, probably the most well known author of the Beats, wrote On the Road in 1951 and Lonesome Traveler in 1960. These two stories are based on Kerouac's own travelling and they are similar in many ways. The travelling described in these two books takes place in the late 1940s and the 1950s, a time when economy was booming in America after the Second World War. But not everybody was pleased with this new focus on materialism, or the idea of being controlled by time. The Beats would not accept the contemporary materialistic society, and neither do Sal or "Kerouac", the protagonists in Kerouac's two novels. Instead they search for alternative lifestyles, travelling from one place to another in what appears to be an endless chase for new experiences. This essay will investigate the reasons for this chase, and will argue that the protagonists who seem to be chasing experiences, in fact are trying to escape from aspects of their own lives. Sal and "Kerouac" are trying to escape the boredom of their everyday lives by travelling from one place to another, using drugs and refusing to make any commitments, like employment or serious relationships. But at a closer look, they also try to escape the consequences of the alternatives, like hunger and homelessness, by going back to the "square" life they are trying to get away from. No matter how hard the protagonists try to convince the reader and themselves that they are free-spirited, liberated searchers of ecstasy, they eventually end up living comfortable middle-class lives in the "square" America they despise, pampered by loving relatives. In the end, the chasers of ecstasy are nothing but the prey of life.
Jack Kerouac, probably the most well known author of the Beats, wrote On the Road in 1951 and Lonesome Traveler in 1960. These two stories are based on Kerouac's own travelling and they are similar in many ways. The travelling described in these two books takes place in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Economy was booming in America after WWII, and Erik R. Mortenson writes that it became more necessary than ever to pay attention to time in order to make sure that everything ran smoothly: "Postwar America was becoming time-conscious" (57). The whole country changed rapidly, and one of the consequences was that people changed their habits in order to increase their effectiveness. More people had cars and McDonald's made fast food popular to name just a few things. But not everybody was pleased with this new focus on materialism, or the idea of being controlled by time. The postwar era has been described as "a time where the dominant culture was desperate for a reassuring planned order; but there was a strong intellectual undercurrent calling for spontaneity, an end to psychological repression; a romantic desire for a more chaotic, Dionysian existence", and the Beats became a "manifestation of this undercurrent" ("Beat Generation"). It was Kerouac who in 1948 introduced the phrase "Beat Generation": "generalizing from his social circle to characterize the underground, anti-conformist Youth Gathering in New York at that time". Robert Bennett explains that the Beats were the first to protest and rebel against middle-class life in America, and that "the Beat Generation's opposition to "square" America marked a new and definitive rupture within post-WWII American culture" (2). Ingrid Kerkhoff adds that "Beat Generation" is a term referring to a heterogeneous mix of young people, artists and intellectuals of the 1950s (and later) whose unconventional work and lifestyle reflected profound disaffection with contemporary society". Kerkhoff writes further that the Beats criticized the materialistic America: they "mocked its conformity, denounced its immorality and set out `on the road' to discover America's true spirit". Furthermore, the adjective "beat" could be interpreted as "tired" or "down and out", which clearly shows that the Beatniks were fed up with the new materialistic America. Kerouac, however, also paradoxically used the word as "upbeat", "beatific", and being "on the beat" as a musical association. The Beats would not accept the contemporary society, and neither do the protagonists in Kerouac's two novels. They also seem to believe that life is always better somewhere else, no matter where they are. They have high hopes and dreams about another kind of life, and therefore they are always moving from one place to another. Mortenson 1
states that On the Road "is more concerned with movement than with fixed location. In fact, the reader is often surprised by this need to avoid staying in one place" (59). Lonesome Traveler does not deal that much with the actual travelling, but nevertheless the protagonist is always on the move in an endless search for something better. This essay will investigate the reasons for this chase, and will argue that the protagonists who seem to be chasing experiences, in fact are trying to escape from aspects of their own lives. When On the Road was published, it shocked the readers with descriptions of drug usage and sex, but the protagonists' bohemian lifestyles also fascinated the readers and the book became a bestseller. Gilbert Millstein wrote: "'On the Road' is the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as `beat,' and whose principal avatar he is". Millstein also claimed that "The "Beat Generation" was born disillusioned; it takes for granted the imminence of war, the barrenness of politics and the hostility of the rest of society. It is not even impressed by (although it never pretends to scorn) material well-being (as distinguished from materialism). It does not know what refuge it is seeking, but it is seeking". In his book review of Lonesome Traveler Daniel Talbot had written in 1960 that: "For those millions of Americans sitting in their nervous Eames chairs wasting away with eternal boredom, Kerouac appears as a T. E. Lawrence of the five senses", and he concluded: "Quite obviously any 9-to5'er in America would throw over his I.B.M. and inkpot in a second to do what Kerouac has done, if he had sufficient courage and anarchy". This essay, however, is written half a century later, not only after the Beats, but also after the Hippies of the 60s and the Punks of the 70s, and from an early 21st century perspective, the interpretation of the novels becomes quite different. The protagonists seem to be convinced that life is more exciting and interesting in other places or countries. They try to escape the boredom and the obligations of their everyday lives, thinking that they will have a joyful and carefree existence if they only go somewhere else. Sal, the narrator of On the Road, is in New York, planning to go west to catch up with his friends. In the first paragraph of the novel Sal tells us he had just got over an illness and a "feeling that everything was dead" (OtR 7). In Steve Wilson's view, this means that the narrator is "on a quest for enlightenment - a search for a spiritual cure" (82). Wilson writes furthermore that this quest "will take the form of a search among the people on the fringes of society for signs of authenticity" (82). I agree with Wilson's claim to some degree: 2
Sal is obviously looking for a meaning in his life, but in my interpretation that means he is bored rather than a searcher about to make a pilgrimage. He is inspired by a friend, Dean, to make his first westbound trip, and he is looking forward to having a good time with "the gang in Denver" (OtR 25): "Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me" (OtR 14). The plan is then to continue to San Francisco. "Kerouac", who is the narrator in Lonesome Traveler, is in San Francisco, hoping to get onboard on a ship and travel around the world. He is a more experienced traveller than Sal and has already explored America. Instead he is dreaming about other continents, about buying a "fancy shirt in a Hong Kong haberdashery or wave a polo mallet in some old Singapore bar or play the horses in Australian [sic]" (LT 12). "Kerouac" is quite convincing at the beginning, and as Talbot's review shows it is easy to focus only on the rebellious aspects of the story. As we can see, the narrators have a tendency to romanticise the new places they are about to visit. Their excitement borders on euphoria, and they talk devoutly about their destinations. Heading west, Sal is dreaming about Denver and San Francisco: "Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond, like jewels in the night" (OtR 19). "Kerouac" is at one point heading for Mexico and at the border he praises the country: "It's a great feeling of entering the Pure Land" (LT 27). Yet in both cases the protagonists are escaping the tiresomeness of their everyday lives. The enthusiasm is the same before each new trip the protagonists are about to take. They are always looking further ahead. When they stay in one place long enough, they get bored and feel the need for a change of scenery. Every country, state and city they are heading for is more attractive than the one they currently are in, but when they get there they get disappointed in one way or another, and they are soon on the road again. The routines and obligations of the "square" life catch up no matter where they are, or they find that the place they've been dreaming about does not live up to their expectations. Consequently they need to escape to the next place. Rachel Adams argues that Mexico was a popular place for the Beats to visit in order to escape from the obligations of for example community, and the journeying was also a "part of their ongoing search for alternative lifestyles" (62). Mortenson notes that it is not a 3
coincidence that the characters in On the Road travel south since "Mexico is repeatedly portrayed in obverse relation to an oppressive America" (68). Here the protagonists can exist without the pressure of time and controlling laws that are increasing in America. And the same is true for Lonesome Traveler. Waiting at the border, "Kerouac" compares the countries. "You just wait patiently like you always do in America among those apparently endless policemen and their endless laws against (no laws for) ­ but the moment you cross the little wire gate and you're in Mexico, you feel like you've just sneaked out of school..." (LT 27). Both Sal and "Kerouac" go to Mexico, and the country appears to be a paradise of freedom for the protagonists. Sal and his friends get high on marijuana and spend time with prostitutes. It is easy to buy drugs and "Kerouac" does that too. He appreciates the laid-back attitude among the policemen in Mexico, comparing it with the American police. These two grown up men do indeed act like schoolboys; they want to have fun but they are not willing to deal with any consequences. Sal has an affair with Terry, a Mexican girl, who teaches him the Spanish word "maсana", "a lovely word and one that probably means heaven" (OtR 90). "Maсana" can be translated as both "tomorrow" and "in the near future" (Mortenson 70). "Kerouac" says that loves the "timeless gaiety of people not involved in great cultural and civilization issues" (LT 27). Mortenson states that "time in Mexico is less rigid and fixed than in America" (70), which gives the protagonists a sense of freedom. As Mortenson points out, the time-conscious America did not appeal to everybody, and in my view, the protagonists' enthusiasm for Mexico comes from a need to escape routines and schedules, escape the fixed time that had become so important in post-WWII America. They can also escape the law, since the Mexican police force seems to be less diligent than the American, and easier to bribe. When "Kerouac" buys marijuana, a few policemen come in, but instead of arresting the criminals, they just want some of the marijuana for themselves (LT 33). Mexico seems to be an idyllic spot in contrast to America, where "[g]reat sinister tax-paid police cars [...] are likely to bear down at any moment on the hobo in his idealistic lope to freedom..." (LT 148). Travelling and alternative lifestyles require money, but the dreaming protagonists are not willing to make any effort to achieve their goals. They just want to have a good time. They only work temporarily, and they do not seem to care if they lose their jobs. In On the Road, Sal and his friend Dean very often show up late to work, and sometimes they do not turn up at all. "Kerouac" does the same in Lonesome Traveler. When he finally gets a job 4
on a ship, all he does is complain because he has to work: "And here I am staggering around the tragic darkness of the slavish alleyway with brooms, mops, handles, sticks, rags sticking out of me like a sad porcupine" (LT 86). He gets drunk before the ship has left America. He spends time with a woman in a hotel room instead of going to work, and ends up unemployed (LT 92). But Sal and "Kerouac" are still able to keep their dreams alive; they both have friends and relatives who will help them if they run out of money. When Sal meets the Mexican girl Terry, he falls in love with her. He spends a short time with her and her son living in a tent, and he tries to support them by picking cotton. However, when the October nights get colder, he decides to go back to New York without Terry. The peasant life does not appeal to him anymore: "I was through with my chores in the cottonfield. I could feel the pull of my own life calling me back. I shot my aunt a penny postcard across the land and asked for another fifty" (OtR 94). He could have asked for the money earlier and brought Terry and her son with him to New York, but relationships require responsibility and Sal is not willing to make any commitments. Sal's aunt takes care of him whenever he needs help, and "Kerouac" has the same benefits: his mother has always a room waiting for him. When he is back in New York after some travelling, he says: "[I]t was a relief after all the sleepingbags and bunks and railroad earth. It was another of the many opportunities she's given me all her life to just stay at home and write" (LT 94). As Bennet points out, the mainstream culture that they despise is also the one that makes it possible for the protagonists to continue their careless search for alternative lifestyles (8). Post-WWII America was rich enough to make it possible for the protagonists to choose their lifestyles and switch back and forth and have their picks of them. When the alternatives become too rough or demanding, they have neat American middle-class homes waiting. It is all right to be on the road when everything runs smoothly, but when there's no money left and the alternative to stay on the road is hard work, the protagonists appreciate a warm bed, stuffed icebox and cooked meals. The "square" life in civilized northeastern New York they try to escape from is also the life they revert back to. Their lack of commitment is appalling, instead of trying to overcome their difficulties, they prefer to be pampered by their relatives. Not only places and countries are romanticised. The stories reveal the protagonists' fascination with people of other cultures and ethnicity. For example, the word "fellaheen" appears frequently in both novels. The term fellahin or fellaheen is borrowed from 5
Oscar Spengler's Decline of the West, and it is used to describe people outside of history and culture (Adams, 63). Mark Richardson claims that Kerouac uses the word to refer to peasants, and especially peasants (or other persons) of colour (223). This is an indication that the protagonists long to be something else, outside their own time and place. Sal is dreaming about being anything but what he is: At lilac evening I walked [...] in the Denver coloured section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me [...] 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 [...] wishing I could exchange words with the happy, true-hearted ecstatic Negroes of America. (OtR 169) Adams suggests that Sal's "desire to be of another race is nothing so much as a wish to escape his own whiteness, a self-rending longing to be anything other than what he is" and that his encounters with coloured people "anticipate the drives that will eventually propel him across the border in search for an immediacy and soulfulness lacking in his own life" (62). "Kerouac" has the same attitude; he is not quite as lyrical and naive as Sal, but he talks about fellaheen Mexicans and "great singing Negroes" (LT 94) as if these people were constantly happy. According to Steve Wilson, Kerouac and other Beats thought that African-American culture encouraged a kind of enlightenment for the individual because it "valued the intense moment over tradition, intuition over reason shaped by education" (79). The Beats believed that "Black culture reserved these things because a life lived outside an Anglo worldview (stressing the evils out of the body) ensured Blacks would stay in touch with a certain essential humanness Anglos had lost" (79). This romanticising shows that the protagonists want to escape themselves, just like Adams suggests. Somehow they seem to believe that their lives would be more exciting and meaningful if they had coloured skin or belonged to a lower social class. I interpret their behaviour as a form of orientalizing, a term that according to Lois Tyson refers to an attitude that there is a difference between the "superior" western nations and the rest of the world, and their inhabitants are given different qualities. But instead of giving people from other parts of the world negative epithets in contrast to the "good" citizens of the West, as orientalizing usually does, the protagonists do the opposite. 6
Sal and "Kerouac" have naпve dreams about being coloured and poor, but as white middle-class men they have never had to face the problems these romanticised groups of people are dealing with every day. Sal's affair with Terry is a good example; as soon as life becomes too troublesome he asks his aunt for money and leaves. Terry has no choice. She is a poor fellaheen Mexican girl and nobody will give her money. "Kerouac" is more experienced and less naive than Sal, but he is equally unwilling to deal with everyday life. "Kerouac" gets the chance of his lifetime to travel around the world, but he prefers a short time of pleasure, with unemployment as a consequence, to the hard work needed to get to sail the seven seas. Sal and "Kerouac" have been hungry and temporarily without money, but they have not been able to cope with it for long. Instead the protagonists have turned to their rich friends and relatives who can help them whenever they are in trouble, and they have homes they can return to when they get tired of tents and sleepingbags. The protagonists talk naively about "fellaheen Mexicans" and "happy, truehearted Negroes of America". But they are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be poor, or black in a racist society, and what it is like to be discriminated against. As we can see, there are big ironies in the books. On the one hand the protagonists want to be some kind of freespirited rebels, rejecting the values of society. But on the other hand they are completely dependent on the "square" people of that same society who provide them with money and shelter. As Bennet questions: "Why did the nomadic Kerouac keep returning home to his `square' mother's home and rich girlfriends for more cash if the Beats were so committed to `protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of capitalism?'" (8). My answer to that question would be fear and laziness. The protagonists are terrified with the idea of boredom, responsibility and hard work. So they continue their endless escape. But travelling and meeting people are not enough for Sal and "Kerouac"; they try to escape reality by reaching higher levels of ecstasy. Sex, drugs, jazz and women are frequently used as ways to get kicks. Sal and his friends use marijuana and Benzedrine, and "Kerouac" gets high on marijuana and opium. They also drink great amounts of alcohol. Another way to achieve excitement is through music. Sal enthusiastically describes a night out in a jazz bar where the "tenorman was blowing at the peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea, a rising and falling riff that went from `EE-yah!' to a crazier EE-de-lee-yah!'" (OtR 185). As Mortenson writes, these kinds of jazz scenes are quite common in On the Road, and they are "always depicted as events charged with frenzy and activity" (70). "Kerouac" 7
similarly writes about jazz musicians in New York, for example Don Joseph who "plays softly, nay, whispers, the greatest sweetest cornet since Bix and more" (LT 103). The protagonists also meet lots of women, many of them prostitutes. Sal gives the reader a very detailed description of his visit to a whorehouse in Mexico, and he describes this experience as a "pornographic hasheesh daydream in heaven" (OtR 273). Sal and "Kerouac" have an endless appetite for sex, and it does not matter whether the women are prostitutes, strangers or even their friends' wives. The age of the women is of no importance for these Casanovas in their 30s, many of them are just teenage girls. Sal is having a short affair with Dean's wife, and he tries "everything in the books to make a girl" (OtR 71). "Kerouac" for his part talks lyrically about gorgeous women all over the world; a whore in Morocco is described as "beauty perfect and brown as ye old October grapes" (LT 125). He sees "the most beautiful girl in the world" (LT 125) in Paris, and a "beautiful, a heavenly beautiful blonde" (LT 125) in London. The protagonists in both books have the same attitude towards women as they have towards places they visit. Once they have got what they want, the woman is no longer exciting and it is time to look for another, even more beautiful girl. When the ecstasy is gone, the boredom of reality comes back and the protagonists need new kicks to help them escape it. A. Robert Lee confirms my claim with the following statement about the Beat generation: "Life, if it were to matter, would be lived existentially at the edge; confrontation, shock-tactic obscenity when needed, sex or marijuana virtually on demand, endless readings, love-ins, happenings" (2). That is exactly what Sal and Kerouac are trying to do. Once again their lack of commitment shows. Instead of building long-lasting relationships that require engagement, they prefer short moments of pleasure, and they will rather pay prostitutes than seriously commit themselves to women. As we can see, the protagonists are never satisfied with anything; instead they keep searching for more. And when the ecstasy and excitement do not fulfil their dreams, solitude becomes an alternative. "Kerouac" says, "After all this kind of fanfare, and even more, I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of `thinking' and `enjoying' what they call `living', I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds- " (LT 105). He spends a few months in isolation as a fire lookout in the Mount Baker National Forest, and he seems to find a kind of inner peace: "For when you realize that God is Everything you know that you've got to love everything no matter how bad it is, in the 8
ultimate sense it was neither good nor bad (consider the dust), it was just what was, that is, what was made to appear" (LT 116). Sal does not look for solitude in the same way as "Kerouac", but he experiences a short moment of satisfaction when he is alone and hungry in San Francisco. He says that for "just one moment [he] had reached the point of ecstasy [he] always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows..." (OtR 164). The visions Sal and "Kerouac" tell us about indicate that they do not only wish to escape themselves and their everyday lives. Sal admits at one point: "I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop" (OtR 120). The protagonists want to escape from the whole world, and they do so by cocooning themselves. But the moments of inner peace do not last, and the protagonists get disappointed. Their final escape is into bitterness and self-pity. Even though Sal has searched the whole continent, he has not achieved the enlightenment or the excitement he was hoping for. At the beginning he talks about the "Promised Land", referring to the West, but his illusions start to fade already in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Sal is not the first one who has dreams about going west; lots of people have done westbound trips before him. Between 300 000 and 500 000 people travelled through Wyoming between 1840 and 1860, they were all heading west, following the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails to fulfil their dreams. Ironically, Sal arrives when the town celebrates "Wild West Week" and the streets are crowded with people dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls. For him it's a letdown: "I felt it was ridiculous: in my first shot at the West I was seeing to what absurd devices it had fallen to keep its proud tradition" (OtR 34). Later in the story Sal travels south and Mexico becomes a paradise on earth. The paradise, however, remains out of reach and his last trip ends up in disaster. He is feverish and hallucinating, suffering from dysentery, and his friend Dean abandons him (OtR 285). Left behind, he must now travel all the way home to New York by himself, and the alternative life on the road is no longer as appealing as it was at the beginning: "Did this mean that I should at last go on my pilgrimage on foot on the dark roads around America?" (OtR 287). Sal does no longer describe America with the positive words he used when he was talking about his first trip. He just wants to go back home to New York in northeast. At the end of the novel he is bitter, thinking about Dean who is back on the road and who "rode three thousand miles over that awful land" (OtR 291). He also complains that "nobody knows what's going to 9
happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old" (OtR 291). Richardson convincingly argues that Sal's dream with its prairies, stars and sparklers is just "the impossible dream of On the Road: its wild utopia, the joyous America that exists nowhere beyond the border of this fiction" (237), or in this case, in Sal's broken dreams. R.J. Ellis looks at Sal's travelling in On the Road and claims that "Kerouac is concerned to expose the process whereby the myth of the Western Frontier has become essentially bankrupted and ideologically deformed" (37). Lots of myths have been dispelled to Sal. Both Sal and "Kerouac" seem to have romantic ideas about how life on the road was at the beginning of the century, before America became a time-conscious, controlling superpower. One of Sal's friends tells him about "the old days in America, especially 1910, when you could get morphine in a drugstore without prescription and Chinese smoked opium in their evening windows and the country was wild and brawling and free, with abundance and any kind of freedom for everyone" (OtR 137). "Kerouac" says: "There's nothing nobler than to put up with a few inconveniences like snakes and dust for the sake of absolute freedom" (LT 148). Yet, as I have shown, when the inconveniences become too big or too many, the protagonists resign and want to escape back home to their loving relatives. Sal has been without money for a short while and immediately complains: "I was out of my mind with hunger and bitterness" (OtR 162). When "Kerouac" is in London, he sees a performance by the St Paul's choir and he "cried most of the time and saw a vision of an angel in [his] mother's kitchen and longed to go home to sweet America again" (LT 146). It seems like the protagonists are trying to escape the materialistic and demanding present time, yet at the same time they are dependent on it. They are dreaming about "the old days", but the past will never come back no matter how hard they try to turn back time. "Kerouac" is bitter, too, and complains about sheriffs and wardens, accusing them of causing inconveniences to his travelling: "The American hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance of highways, railroad yards, sea shores, river bottoms, embankments and the thousand-and-one hiding holes of industrial night" (LT 148). He pities himself, saying that as far as he is concerned "the only thing to do is sit in a room and get drunk and give up your hoboing and camping ambitions" (LT 156). The protagonists have both experienced more than most people ever will, but instead of being grateful, they are dissatisfied. They have not been able to escape their lives; they are still White American men unable to accept the rules and values of the society in which they live. 10
They have made a different choice, but that does not work either. They could have pursued alternatives by picking cotton or working at railroads, but the alternatives turned out to be too demanding so they chose to escape back to the "square" life they once ran away from. The protagonists seem to be looking for adventures and chasing excitement, but they are in fact escapees. They try to escape the boredom of everyday life by travelling from one place to another, thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. They are literarily running away. They also want to escape the law by going to Mexico where they are less controlled than in America. They try to escape obligations and responsibilities; none of them is willing to work and they are depending on friends and relatives to support them whenever they are in trouble. They are not capable of having serious relationships with women. Sometimes they seem to wish they could escape themselves and the present time. They want to be something else than what they are, white middle-class Americans, and the ultimate escape from reality is through drugs. But just like in the story about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the protagonists never find what they are looking for. The alternative lifestyles are not as carefree and exciting as they appear to be at first sight. Life catches up with them eventually, and when the race is run, the protagonists make one last effort to keep their distance by escaping into bitterness and self-pity: "I've had enough, I give up, I quit [...] no hope, no hope, no hope... (LT 157). Millstein wrote about disillusion in his book review, Sal describes himself as a disillusioned white man, and I think that goes for "Kerouac" too. Both protagonists seem to have built up their lives around different kinds of illusions about alternative lifestyles. They are building castles in the air, wanting to live a carefree, independent and exciting life without responsibilities, and they assume they could do that if they only were somewhere else or somebody else. But the novelty of the alternatives wears off quickly. "Kerouac" may be a more experienced traveller than Sal, having already explored America and going to Europe, but he nevertheless returns back home to New York. Both Sal and "Kerouac" seem to lack the ability of seeing life from other people's point of view. They do not seem to realise that there are disadvantages in everybody's lives, no matter where they live or who they are. In conclusion, no matter how hard the protagonists try to convince the reader and themselves that they are free-spirited, liberated searchers of ecstasy, they eventually end up living comfortable middle-class lives in the "square" America they despise, pampered by "square" relatives. Thanks to their "square" friends and families, the protagonists are able 11
choose lifestyles. This makes it possible for them to escape both the boredom of the American middle-class life and the inconveniences of the alternatives. They switch back and forth as they please; they try to be hobos and peasants, they try to integrate with black people in jazzclubs, and sometimes they mingle with rich, "square" people. They dream about being coloured and about being peasants themselves, but at the same time they enjoy all the advantages of being white American men. And whenever they face problems of any kind, they choose to run away. In the end, the chasers of ecstasy are nothing but the prey of life. 12
Works cited primary sources: Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. 1957. London: Penguin 1972. ___. Lonesome Traveler. 1960. London: Penguin 2000. secondary sources: Adams, Rachel. "Hipsters and jipitecas: Literary Countercultures on Both Sides of the Border." American Literary History 16.1 (2004): 58-84. "Beat Generation." Wikipedia. 2 January 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_generation. Bennett, Robert. "Teaching the Beat Generation to Generation X." The Beat Generation: Critical Essays. Ed. Kostas Myrsiades. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. 1-20. Ellis, R.J. "Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Visions of Cody." The Beat Generation Writers. Ed. A. Robert Lee. London: Pluto Press, 1996. 37-60 Kerkhoff, Ingrid. "The Beat Generation - Proseminar Literaturwissenschaft" (2000). 9 May 2007. www.fb10.uni-bremen.de/anglistik/kerkhoff/beatgeneration/index.htm. Lee, A. Robert. "Introduction." The Beat Generation Writers. Ed. A. Robert Lee. London: Pluto Press 1996. 1-9 Millstein, Gilbert. "Books of the Times." New York Times 5 September 1957. 19 January 2008 http://partners.nytimes.com/books/97/09/07/home/kerouac-roadglowing.html. Mortenson, Erik R. "Beating Time." The Beat Generation: Critical Essays. Ed. Kostas Myrsiades. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. 57-75. Richardson, Mark. "Peasant Dreams: Reading On the Road." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43.2 (2001): 218-242. Talbot, Daniel. "On the Road Again." The New York Times 27 November 1960. 25 April 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/09/07/home/kerouac-lonesome.html. Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today. New York: Routledge, 2006. Wilson, Steve. "The Author as Spiritual Pilgrim." The Beat Generation: Critical Essays. Ed. Kostas Myrsiades. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. 77-91. Wyoming Tourism Org. 4 January 2008. http://www.wyomingtourism.org/cms/d/wyoming_through_time__dinosaurs_to_ pioneers.php. 13

AC Heinonen

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