On the Road to Individualism; Off the Road of Conformity
Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road tells the story of Sal Paradise (a character indirectly
representing Kerouac himself) on his quest to abandon his boring and depressing life in New York for
the ultimate search of purpose. Along with many other youth that made up the Beat Generation, Sal
rebels against social norms such as the concrete "nuclear family" implicated by 1950's culture because
he believes these norms to be futile and misleading. Many of these implied social rules, such as
degrading gender roles, limit individualism and selfexpression because challenging the adamant structure
would lead to social ...view middle of the document...
It is expected of one to have a "nuclear family," a term that implies a
stable home life, a mother who does housework and raises the kids while the father goes to work.
Having a family is what made a male a man. Masculinity revolved around how sufficiently the father
provided for the family, while womanhood was defined by household duties. These images of men and
women "are firmly rooted in the dominant ideology of the United States which connects the woman to
the home and the men with the public arena outside the home" (Cresswell 258). Sal Paradise did not
want to "settle down" and adhere to this social order, but rather he "wanted to know what 'IT' meant"
(Kerouac 207). He felt as though he could discover his masculinity somewhere else. Although never
articulated in the novel, "IT" is the term used by Sal to describe purpose and meaning specific to his life.
In society's eyes, sex is considered "IT" and the world revolves around the physical attraction between
people, rather than the emotional relationships that truly form bonds. Sal is less interested with sex than
he is about the talking that happens after, which is counter to the societal norm of meeting people solely
to have sex. Sal is more interested in connecting with women because he realizes that sex cannot satisfy
his longing for a relationship. Sal criticises this norm when he explains that "boys and girls in America
have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without
proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk - real straight talk about souls" (Kerouac 58). Sal notices a
complication in society that is limiting relationships, and he directly counters that with communication and
emotional bonding. Because he challenges stereotypes, Sal is ostracized and seen as mad, however he
is acting on his desires to find "IT", which will ultimately bring him genuine happiness that society lacks.
Kerouac's novel is a word of caution to young people. He is warning youth not to fall trap to what
"everybody else is doing" because although going with the flow may appear enticing and easy, being a
follower of stereotypes cannot bring a content life, but a false sense of accomplishment.
Sal's agitation with society propels him to escape his depressing life in New York City because
it leaves Sal stagnant, limiting his emotions to a mundane boredom, the opposite of colorful
selfexpression and fastpaced exciting experiences. Sal holds the conception that leaving his dull life for
the ultimate adventure living day to day on the road will bring him a new sense of life. In the opening
paragraph of the novel Sal gives the reader some insight into his current life when he states "I had just
gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it had something to with the
miserably weary splitup and my feeling that everything was dead" (Kerouac 1). Sal is lonely from
divorce, depressed from being...