Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Escape as Both Good and Bad

Throughout the semester we have focused on the different ways that the notion of “travel” operates for and within the participant. We have discussed travel as a method used for the attainment of knowledge, a new wisdom that may not have been achieved if the venture had never taken place. Also, we referenced how travel allows one to interact with people of other backgrounds, of other situations and cultures that he or she would not necessarily have had contact with otherwise. I believe that a person will always be affected by the travelling that he or she does. It is a must, a requirement. It is impossible to remain unchanged by the distance covered or the people met.

However, after reading the past two novels “On the Road” and “Krik? Krak!” I am realizing more the capacity that travel has to present an escape from reality. For many of the characters in “On the Road,” travelling across the country and eventually beyond borders allows a person to flee that which is thought to be limiting or that which is not capable of satisfying ideals. In particular, Sal and Dean are the most restive among the group and are consequently the most prone to travelling. They are searching for something to quell the restlessness within them. They realize, or at least perceive themselves to realize, that something in their lives is not being fulfilled. The road is initially seen has a physical escape for Dean, a way to experience as much of America as he desires while looking for that “missing something” which is masked by his seemingly nonchalant disposition and attitude towards life; however, by the end of the novel the road falls short of fulfilling his desires and giving meaning to his life. The road, after a while, only exacerbates his understanding that something is missing. The more Dean travels and the more places people he encounters, the further he realizes that he is unable to attain that “something.” The road that was thought to have the answer is able to offer only a mental escape, the same mental escape which eventually turns on him leaving him disillusioned and alone.

This notion of a mental escape to distance oneself from life’s hardships is also seen in Danticat’s novel, “Krik? Krak!” especially in the short story of “Between the Pool and the Gardenias.” Although not necessarily travelling, it touches upon the same theme of a separation from reality that I think is crucial. Here, Marie uses her own imagination (of a different life) to provide the same escape that travel is thought to do, to provide that way out from one’s given situation. The hope granted by her inner imagination allows her to give life to a dead baby. The baby, only alive in her mind, has since taken away her pain of her own lost child and her husband’s infidelity. The hope her own mind gives to her is a way to reconcile her position while simultaneously providing an escape from the reality in which she is forced to operate.

The connection that I hope to make from the readings throughout the semester is the approach to which travel should be undertaken. Sal from “On the Road” and Eustace from “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” are lucky in that they benefit immensely as a result of their journeys. Both experience types of inner, mental conversions. Sal eventually realizes that the road can only offer so much and that it is time to settle down with the woman he genuinely love. Eustace’s conversion is his newfound understanding of his own shortcomings and pledges to become a new young man with new behaviors and ideals. Both become strong, confident individuals as a result of their travels. However, it could also end in despair. For Sal (and to an extent Marie with her “mental” movement away from reality – a type of travel) his discourse with interstate highways leaves him alone and broken. He has been affected by the road but has seemingly taken nothing away with him. As harped upon earlier, one is always affected by the travelling they do. In this sense, a person must remain conscious of the good lessons it offers and weary of the downfalls it can also possess. Sal and Eustace are great examples of travel’s effects in that they have been changed for the better and thankful for it. Dean is a brilliant example of one who tries to impose himself on the travel, rather than the other way around, therefore gaining nothing and losing most.

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