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On the Road

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

Dissatisfaction Theme

In On the Road, restlessness and the resulting motion are tied up with the madness of the Beat Generation. The need to move comes from dissatisfaction. Most interesting is motion through time vs. motion through space, as Dean focuses on the former while Sal the latter. The motion becomes futile, however, as there is no true heaven at the end of their traveling. Restlessness is also tied to the characters romantic relationships, as they feel the same dissatisfaction with women, and the same need for more and more variety.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. We’ve spent all this time talking about motion and dissatisfaction and needing to move and restlessness, and we’ve yet to ask the question of why. Why all the dissatisfaction? Why all the sadness? What is going in America that is so absolutely terrible?
  2. Sal is restless. So is Dean. But are these feelings different in any way in the two of them? Do these feelings manifest themselves differently in the characters?
  3. For Dean, how does literal motion, both in his body movements and his travel across country, reflect any spiritual or figurative motion?

Chew on This

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

Sal’s geographical restlessness mirrors his sexual restlessness, suggesting that there is no "end of the road" for either.

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