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.
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.