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On the Road

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

Wisdom and Knowledge Theme

In On the Road, much of learning is a spiritual process. Sal watches Dean reach his "Tao decisions" as he advances spiritually, and frequently speaks of "the word" or a "pearl of wisdom" coming to him via a prophet. Dean himself becomes a prophet in Sal’s eyes. Learning is also the basis of friendship between Dean and Sal, as they are drawn to one another because of the desire to learn – Sal to learn madness, Dean to learn intellectualism. Knowledge is tied up with drug use, it seems, as the wisest character in the text, Bull Lee, is also a drug addict. Lastly, learning and knowledge become another lens through which to characterize America, as Sal berates "the artsy types," such as the Jesuit college boys, who learn from books in stead of through life and experience. These types are everywhere in America, as one character puts it, "sucking up the blood" of the country.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. Sal wants to learn certain things from Dean, but Dean also learns certain things from Sal. What are these certain things, you ask? Right back at you.
  2. Bull Lee is supposed to be a wise sage. What wisdom does he have to impart?
  3. Sal keeps talking about the Pearl of Wisdom. What might this pearl be, exactly? And who’s going to give it to him?

Chew on This

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

Kerouac uses the characters of Bull Lee and Dean to draw a parallel between wisdom and drug use.

Sal displays a mental restlessness equal to that of his geographical dissatisfaction; there is no pearl of wisdom, just as there is no end of the road.

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