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On the Road

On the Road


by Jack Kerouac

On the Road Theme of Sadness

In Sal's eyes, sadness is everywhere in America. He sees it in people, places, and in his own dreams. Most of all, sadness is tied to solitude. Sal feels worst when he is unable to connect to those around him through deep conversations. Sadness becomes a key element in the relationships between men and women, as Sal yearns for a soulful connection with women, not just a physical one. Sadness is also reflected in the music of the times, the jazz blues. Sadness is a large part of the Beat Generation, in the sense of "beaten" or "beaten down."

Questions About Sadness

  1. What is Sal so sad about?
  2. Does Sal characterize anything as sad that seem not seem to be remotely sad?
  3. At one point Sal calls a night both "merry" and "sad." How is this possible?
  4. What elements of On the Road are both merry and sad?
  5. Would you characterize On the Road as a sad tale?

Chew on This

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

In his solitude, Sal says that "all he does is die" when he is "down in Denver." Later, he tells Dean that he (Dean) doesn’t die enough to cry. This notion of dying, of recognizing sadness, is what makes Sal different from Dean, and can be traced throughout their actions and travels.

The sadness in Dean and Sal’s friendship is based on an inability to have a soul connection, just like the sadness in Sal’s relationship with women.

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