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On the Road Theme of Time

Time is a big deal in On the Road. As it ticks away, characters feel an impending sense of franticness, a fear of death, and a need to move and beat time. "Knowing time" is tied up in the word "beat," in the sense of music and keeping the time with a beat. It becomes a godly thing to "know time," and Dean pursues it as his highest goal.

Questions About Time

  1. What does it mean to "know time"?
  2. Dean sees matters in time and Sal in distance (read more in the "Character Analysis" for each). What might this say about their personalities or, perhaps more importantly, their ability to relate to each other?
  3. How does Dean’s vision of time evolve with his evolving madness?

Chew on This

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

Dean identifies musicians as God-like for knowing time. In doing so, he establishes his own limitations since, as a non-musician, he can never himself truly know time. Dean’s journey is then imbued with an overall sense of futility.

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