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Sal Paradise and the False Dream of America

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  1. Introduction
  2. Feeling the pull of her own life
  3. Dean's nostalgia
  4. Sal and Blackness
  5. Becoming familiar with the agency
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works cited

American literature reveals a counter-culture of identity which undermines and even contradicts the popular optimism of national identity. Part of this undermining takes place in the ideologies of American literary characters, or in their ?imaginary relationships?to the real conditions of existence,? as defined by Althusser. These ideologies, rather than confirming the identities of the characters to which they belong, serve as a means of warping their perception of reality. I believe that this void of understanding (of the self, of the nation) can be attributed to an undercurrent of racism, solipsism, and immaturity, as seen in Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

[...] Sal encounters people and places with a broad romantic eye for the historical past, rather than a past he has actually witnessed, to filter his experience of them, also deflecting the present moment. ?There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama? (96). At the same time, he projects himself into this lifestyle, integrating with history and acting out a kind of utopia, where people of all colors live together and thrive on honest hard work, the White man's hope for a guiltless assimilation. [...]

[...] To put the matter most uncharitably to him and to Kerouac: White Americans reduce Mexican-American and Black farm workers to poverty only to flatter them with suggestions that their lives are idyllic and charmed, free of White worry, White responsibility White inhibitions--in a word, with suggestions that they are "natural." Sal Paradise assumes that his closeness to this community of Others makes him man of the earth, precisely as I had dreamed I would (97). Sal takes on the job of cotton-picker and lives with the Chicanos as a way of escaping his Whiteness, ignorantly assimilating into the heart of lower class struggle without any thought to the privilege that is the reality of his life. [...]

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