On my neverending quest to become an enlightened reader, I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road a few months ago. I finished it yesterday, and all I can think is what a letdown reading it was.
I don’t know about you, but I had heard fantastic things about On the Road. Kerouac’s writing style was extolled as revolutionary, and his encapsulation of the wild and untrammeled Beat movement was considered a highlight of the times.
And as far as Kerouac’s writing style goes, On the Road was enjoyable. He writes in a semi-stream of consciousness style, almost as if he’s next to you, mumbling his tale. Often, his description of commonplace things are damn near poetic, and his vivid imaginings of what it feels like to feel are enticing and magnetic.
But fuck almost everything else about it.
The story is narrated by an indecisive and wandering young man named Sal Paradise, but it actually follows Sal’s friend, Dean Moriarty. It’s clear that Sal greatly admires and pities Dean at the same time. The two of them decide to travel “on the road” together. They’re looking for some kind of Beat Eden, a place that holds no restrictions against what they want and what they are, but they never really find it. Their own contrary natures and the regulated way American society functions stops them from ever finding that place where they belong.
This all sounds tremendously romantic, but I just couldn’t get into it for two very big reasons.
For one thing, the book is incredibly sexist. Women don’t seem to have the same voice as men do. Sal is his own person, Dean is his own person, every dude is his own person. They all have a presence in Kerouac’s writing that assures you they are sentient beings with hopes and dreams.
The women, on the other hand, are so objectified, they have zero personality. They’re in the story to be nuisances, background items, or sexual objects.
Normally, I don’t get hung up on novels not being MEGA inclusive. A good story will grab me every time no matter who it’s about. But On the Road grated on my nerves with every woman Sal and Dean ogled at, slept with, abandoned, harassed, or ignored. Plus, there is some really shady shit that goes down when Sal and Dean are staying at this house with a woman named Frankie. They both start developing a crush on her thirteen-year-old daughter.
No, you read that right. A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD girl.
And she’s not the only young girl the two men lust after.
It was disgusting reading about these older men crushing on these little girls.
Plus, Sal and Dean can’t seem to stop thinking about ladies period. Every time they’re out on the town, Sal fantasizes about meeting a “gone” girl for a good time. And they don’t care about these girls as people, with thoughts and dreams of their own. They only care about how good the girls can make them feel.
That actually leads to the other big reason why I hate On the Road.
The main characters are incredibly selfish. Now, I don’t care if a book tells me a story about a selfish person and their exploits. Human beings are fairly selfish creatures, so nearly every story with a human being in it has some degree of self-centeredness to it. What I do hate is if a book tells me a story about a selfish person and glorifies and romanticizes it.
Dean and Sal only care about themselves and their goals. They talk this big talk about aspirations and meaning-of-life shit, but they don’t ever take other people into consideration. They expound upon the immensity of life and love, but they act as if they’re the only people on the planet with these thoughts. It’s frustrating as hell, enraging even.
It’s like they willingly trapped themselves into this egocentric state of mind, and then they spend the rest of their time talking about how self-obsessed everyone else is.
They sound so holier-than-thou, but I bet if you walked up to them and told them so, they would just shake their heads and say that you “don’t get it.”
This attitude of theirs is epitomized in the second-to-last chapter, when Sal suffers a fever during their trip to Mexico. Dean decides to head back to the States to be with one of his exes, leaving Sal, in the throes of his sickness and half-hallucinating, behind. Dean simply says he’s “got to get back to his life.”
Maybe what infuriates me so much is the fact that I actually know guys that act like Sal and Dean. I’m not going to name names (though there is a part of me that really wants to out these guys), but they are modern-day Dean Moriartys. They think the world of themselves and their viewpoints, but they never stop to consider what another person is feeling like.
For me, there is nothing romantic about On the Road.
I rate On the Road a read-it-if-you-feel-you-must-but-if-you-like-it-then-we-seriously-need-to-have-a-deep-literary-discussion-about-why-you-do-so-that-I-can-understand-where-you’re-coming-from-because-I-honestly-loathe-the-thing.