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Themes

In On the Road, the West becomes a symbol for childhood dreams and ideals, a haven of cowboys and heroes. Sal is disappointed by the West, however, and at one point characterizes it as empty and the East as holy. American geography is also used to represent personal goals, as in traveling west Sal may really be seeking to become a Western hero himself.

Questions About Contrasting Regions

  1. How does Sal characterize the East as different from the West? Is he just talking about the country when he does this, or is the split of east and west representative of something more? You might want to look at that passage towards the beginning of the book when he discusses the East of his childhood and the West of his future.
  2. Sal always describes Dean as a Western hero or a cowboy. What makes Dean such a product of the West? What are his uniquely "Western" qualities?
  3. What does it suggest that Sal ends up staying in the East? Or that Dean comes east to see him at the end of the novel?
  4. Sal at one point refers to himself as a hero of the West, along with Dean. What’s going on there?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Just as the West has become an idealized, childhood dream for Sal, Dean is also Sal’s idealized, childhood hero. As the novel progresses, both fail to live up to his expectations in similar ways.

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