Investigating The Style And Technique Employed By
Jack Kerouac In ‘On The Road’ Essay, Research Paper
On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a fresh and captivating novel which follows the life of Sal Paradise as he sets to the roads of America to escape the repetition of every day life. His journeys become a quest for new experiences and a new way of living, crossing both moral and legal boundaries in search for true freedom. Kerouac uses many techniques to attempt to convey the theme of personal freedom as well as to achieve freedom of expression. Jack Kerouac applies an original, spontaneous style of writing to his novels which helps him to convey his themes. His brilliant use of imagery and his vibrant characterisations also allows him to easily express his feelings and ideas in a way that could not have been achieved otherwise.
One aspect of On the Road which allows Kerouac to express the theme of personal freedom is use of a spontaneous method of writing. This method creates a free flowing rhythm and structure, which emphasises the theme of personal freedom due to it s loose style and ability to capture the true feelings of the author as he writes. This original style was used by Kerouac in order subconsciously to express the thoughts of the mind in a continually flowing way without the constraints of the traditional rules of writing. Kerouac stated that when writing using this method one must never afterthink to improve or defray impressions because the best writing is always wrung-out , tossed from cradle , from the song of yourself. Text written in this
original way effectively conveys the emotion and energy of the author as well as allowing the reader to empathise greatly with the story. On the Road is written entirely using the spontaneous prose technique. An example of this is the final paragraph in the novel. It contains only one long sentence seperated by many commas and conveys the natural spontaneous thoughts of the main character, Sal Paradise, as he thinks of his old friend, Dean Moriarty:
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old-broken down river pier watching the long, long skies over new New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going…all the people dreaming in the immensity of it…and tonight the stars ll be out, and don t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims over the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows whats going to happen to anybody beside the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty…
This extract effectively conveys the sincerity of the characters feelings and shows how well Jack Kerouac s technique can portray free, spontaneous thought. For Kerouac, jazz is the ideal model for complete spontaneity and he states that the ideal procedure for writing spontaneous prose is blowing(as per jazz musician) on the subject of image ; when he removes the conscious mind from
interfering with writing and just blows, the result is language undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret-idea words. Kerouac uses the term blowing instead of playing in his analogy of writing and jazz and the distinction is an important one. Playing connotes a more involved thought process whereas blowing implies a more direct, more intense, less thoughtful, more emotional style of play. An example of Jack Kerouacs attempt to write in a jazz-like style is when he is describing the performance of a band in an obscure backstreet Jazz club:
The behatted 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! and blasted along to the rolling crash of the butt-scarred drums hammered by a big brutal Negro with a bullneck who didn t give a damn about anything but punishing his busted tubs, crash, rattle-ti-boom, crash. Uproars of music and the tenorman had it and everybody knew he had it… He just hauled back and stamped his foot and blew down a hoarse, baughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the horn and blew high, wide, and screaming in the air.
This extract shows how Kerouac uses language to parallel the playing of a Jazz musician using the punctuation to convey the rhythmic breath of the tenor horn player. Kerouac also skilfully uses rhythm to portray the intensity of the performance and the citation shows how Kerouac was interested in the flowing of words, often rejecting the general rules of writing in order to have complete freedom in his novels. It is because of this that Kerouac can sincerely portray personal freedom and he has achieved the freedom of expression that he could not have achieved by writing in any other way.
Another aspect of Kerouacs style which allows him to express the theme of personal freedom is his imaginative use of imagery to create a detailed portrait of every situation. The main contributor to this imagery is Kerouac s extensive, though necessary, detailed description which brings every situation to life and effectively conveys the feelings of Sal Paradise throughout the novel. Kerouac s brilliant descriptive ability is shown when the main character makes a trip to Mexico. Jack Kerouac describes how exposed Sal Paradise is to his new surrounding world and deeply portrays Sal s feelings of this new experience.
Lying on the top of the car with my face to the black sky was like lying in a closed trunk on a summer night. For the first time in my life the weather was not something that touched me, caressed me, froze me or sweated me but became me.
This kind of description is showcased in many places throughout the book to let the reader now exactly how Sal is feeling through everything that is happening to him. Kerouac s stunning use of description to give the story an uncanny sense of realism plays a major role in making the story what it is and allows him to more easily and effectively convey his themes and ideas to the reader.
Kerouacs remarkable use of description is again demonstrated when Sal is hitchhiking near the river Susquehanna. He meets an old, nameless hobo whom he christens the Ghost of Susquehanna.
We walked seven miles along the mournful Susquehanna. It is a terrifying river. It has bushy cliffs on both sides that lean like ghosts over the unknown waters. Inky nights cover all. Sometime from the railyards across the river rises a great red locomotive flare that illuminates the horrid cliffs.
This excerpt uses unusual word-choice to effectively describe the surroundings through the eyes of the main character and in turn portrays how the character feels. Kerouac describes how the cliffs lean like ghosts which emphasises how terrifying the river appeared to Sal Paradise. Jack Kerouac uses Sal s perceptions of the country to show how Sal is feeling at a certain point. During Sal s travels with the ghost of Susquehanna, Sal is quite miserable knowing that he has many miles to travel and says how much he wanted to get home. Kerouac often uses nature to convey the feelings of his characters and he portrays the theme of personal freedom through this relationship between nature and freedom.
Another interesting aspects of On the Road is characterisation. This is
mainly because all of the characters in the novel are based on Kerouac s real life friends and their own real life experiences. Sal, for example, is Kerouac s alter-ego, which explains how the story is able to be told from such a realistic, first hand point of view. Since Kerouac was able to know all of his characters so well, he was therefore able to write beautiful, descriptive characterisations and let the readers know all of the characters like he knew his friends. The rich characterisation, due to its basis on real life people gives the story a friendly and familiar feeling which contributes to the novels overall eminence. The realistic portrayal of characters allows Kerouac to express his themes more effectively, using his characters as a medium to do so. Dean Moriarty, for example, represents the rawness of America and is perhaps the most important character in the novel.
Dean has been described by poet Gary Snyder as being the energy of the frontier , a cowboy. This is an accurate depiction of Dean who is always searching for kicks and trying to live life to the fullest. Jack Kerouac wanted Dean to represent peoples cravings for new experiences and he wanted Dean to be the embodiment of the old wild west. Dean s importance is hinted at in the very first chapter of the novel. He is the first character who is introduced and is portrayed by the main character, Sal, as being full of life.
He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a conman, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and get involved with people who would otherwise pay no intention to him.
This citation effectively portrays the kind of attitude Dean Moriarty had towards life and also introduces the innocence of Dean. The extract is also an indication to what may happen to Dean later on in the novel and hints at the chaotic and anarchic life that Dean leads. Dean is the catalyst for Sals cravings which shows the importance and the magnetism that Dean possesses.
Kerouac also uses Dean Moriarty to express the idea that although it is important to try anything to find personal freedom, one must mature and settle down in order to find true freedom. This idea is portrayed as the novel progresses. Every one in the book gets tired of Dean at one point or another and even Sal has to realise that he cannot depend on Dean to stick with him when he s sick and miserable in Mexico. The joyrides get progressively less joyful which suggests that people cannot ride on forever, going from one adventure to the next.
In my opinion, On the Road is an ingenious novel which successfully conveys Jack Kerouacs concept of freedom. Kerouacs original style of writing helps him to effectively portray his ideas of personal freedom in a more sincere way than if the novel had followed the standard rules of writing and the techniques employed by Kerouac allows the reader to emphasise greatly with the novel.