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On the Road

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

Visions of America Theme

Sal views America though many different lenses, characterizing the country by its use of alcohol, its sadness, the relationships between men and women, American music (jazz), and the poverty he sees everywhere. We also see comparisons of America to Mexico, including a sad reflection on modernization and war. By the nature of its place in Beat literature, On the Road provides a vision of one small slice of U.S. cultural history.

Questions About Visions of America

  1. We keep talking about "lenses" through which Sal views America, and ways in which he characterizes his country. What are these different lenses? How do they work on their own and together to paint a picture of American in the 1940s?
  2. Sal’s sadness crops up here a lot. We attributed his own personal sadness to solitude. What about America’s sadness? Same deal?
  3. What historical and cultural events are going on at the time that lead to the formation of the Beat Generation?
  4. How does the trip to Mexico clarify the portrait of America that Sal has built? Or does his experience in Mexico contradict it?

Chew on This

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

Kerouac traces three key elements through Sal’s trans-continental journey in an attempt to identify the uniquely American spirit of the 1940s: alcohol, poverty, and criminality.

Dean and Sal may act the same in Mexico as they do in the United States (alcohol, women, and music), but there are distinctly unique elements to all three of these that make the Mexico excursion very different than their trips across the U.S.

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