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On the Road: the “beat generation manifesto”

On the road by Jack Kerouac is more than a book, it is the symbol of an entire generation, the American beat generation from the 1940s. An autobiographical novel that tells in detail the concerns and the weaknesses of young people in post war America. The plot of the book is easy and linear: it tells the adventure of Sal Paradise, an aspiring penniless writer in search of adventure in the Western United States, and of his traveling companion Dean Moriarty, a frenetic characater marked by an infinite will to live, in an endless journey through America and Mexico. The two characaters, though apparently similar, are very different from each other but they are complementary. Dean, in fact, will help Sal in finding motivation to go on this long trip. Not only adventure in this book but also detailed description of sights, grassland, rivers, mountains and work camps, with an uncommon capacity to emphatize the reader in the story.

On the road and the storytelling of a misunderstood generation

On the road tells about a generation which lives in a situation of uncertainty but also of misunderstanding. It is precisely this emotive and social disorientation that brings young people to look for new experiences, to have one-night stands, to practise an exasperated hedonism and to replace the democratic laws with a nonconformist morality. A way of life that puts two generations in opposition : for the beat generation this is a natural attitude, while for the older generation this is only an abdication of responsibility.

But, aagain, the beat generation as described in On the road “is not running away from something” , “it is searching for something”. The pursuit of an identity, but above all of faith. And the only way to make it happen it’s the realisation of one’s own personality, even through alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity. Also music has a central role in this story: in the book the author tells often about jazz nights, the music genre that allows people to express their own inner freedom thank to its jumpy rhythm.

On the road and its success

The success of On the road lies not in its plot, considered by some critics too simplistic, but in the power of empathy in the one who read it.  The book was published in 1951 and, after sixty years, On the road is still very timely. Maybe because existential crises are cyclical or maybe because each one of us lives a restless period in which it is necessary to look for something different. On the road tells about the beat generation but it speaks to every generation, current and future, and incites them to express themselves without fear and to look for themselves before “the forlorn rags of growing old”.


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