Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Desire for the Beyond

In this quintessential piece of travel literature, Kerouac touches on a variety of topics surrounding travel, but perhaps more significantly on the idea of what motivates us to travel. Within his piece, On the Road, there is an earnest yearning that drives the piece. Something is always missing, something just a little further away, something just out of reach…and in many ways Kerouac posits this as the endless goal of travel—to find what is missing in our lives through experiences that take us out of our element.

One of the repetitive examples of this desire for the “other” or the beyond is through the romanticization of the West. This comes across in Sal’s excitement over this trip in exclaiming that it will be “the greatest ride in [his] life”. He also makes references to the mystique of the West and describes specific suits or ideas as particularly “Western”. Upon reaching Denver, even the ants (that probably would have annoyed him in New York) simply remind him of his great fortune to be where he has hoped to be for so long; "the only discomfort being an occasional Colorado ant. And here I am in Colorado! I kept thinking gleefully. Damn! damn! damn! I'm making it!" (Kerouac 36). Toward the middle of the novel, he even refers to himself and his two friends as the “Western threesome” and therefore even uses this other in a way that he hopes to define himself and what connects him and his friends—the dream of adventures in the beyond (Kerouac 123).

Another more sophisticated representation of this desire is through the discussions on the grape farm with Terry and her family (Kerouac 24). It is on this farm that discussions reveal that simply holding on and extending life a little bit further to “manana” is what motivates people from remaining stagnant (Kerouac 94). Terry asks Sal if he thinks “everything’ll be all right tomorrow, don’t you think, Sal-honey, man?” (Kerouac 94). This striving for the beyond and for something just a little further also extends to an almost religious or transcendental phase when in the same scene Sal reflects on this word; “It was always manana. For the next week that was all I heard—manana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven” (Kerouac 94). Kerouac imposes this spirit and hope and harnesses it to drive the story, of a seemingly endless journey, as something that remains constant and yet representing a climax that is always just out of reach.

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