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. [...]
[...] In the end, he dismisses the notion of the American dream, naming Dean Moriarty father we never found”, when what kept him from being found all along was the fact that he, or the dream of America, never existed to begin with. The ideology of what it means to be American instead contains notions of racism, immaturity, and solipsism, which lead to nothing but a false sense of identity when exploited to the fullest extent by Sal and Dean. Mark Richardson put it best when he said, the end of the day, Jack Kerouac's consciousness--his way of being aware of the social world he inhabited--was thoroughly American, delirium tremens and all. We simply have to own it: he registers our [...]
[...] Dean Moriarty, in the inception of their journeys together, comes to be more of a symbol than a human to Sal an American Christ, a handsome cowboy, a “young Gene Autry trim, thin-hipped, blue-eyed, with a real Oklahoma accent a side-burned hero of the snowy West” At the same time, Sal describes him as though he were America itself, personified: ‘criminality' was not something that sulked and sneered; it was a wild yea- saying overburst of American joy; it was Western, the west wind, an ode from the Plains, something new, long prophesied, long a-coming” He dreams Dean into existence, reveling in his iconic presence as if presented not with a human being but with the embodiment of a myth. [...]
[...] Sal Paradise is in such denial of the falsehood of the American dream that he convinces himself apple pie is “delicious and nutritious, of course” (15). In reality, it is empty calories imbued with symbolic value that the actual substance mere dessert!) could never live up to. In reality, Dean is nothing but a madman and a big baby, despite Sal's hope that he is the great American savior. Sal is only capable of growth, of true progress, once he sees Dean for what he is. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee