Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Expectation v. Reality

From the outset of On The Road, it is clear that the narrator Sal has a zest for life that is probably unparalleled by most anybody. He boldly claims, "the only one for me are the mad ones" (Keruoac 5). He runs with a fast crowd that is constantly looking for the next adventure, and is, at the same time, overjoyed with everything to come. This is very appealing, and most likely hits a chord with its readers, especially Americans, who have been taught to venture forth and fulfill dreams. However, Sal seems to idealize the places he travels throughout the first portion of the novel. He always seems to build a place up, only to be let down once he finds himself hungry and tired. His restlessness also grows if he is situated in one place for too long. It is as if he is searching for something that he will never find.

It is quite humorous that Sal thinks he can simply follow a line that will lead him to the west. It hints at his idealistic personality. He says, "It was my dream that was screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes" (Kerouac 11). Sal really does not have a plan when he travels, and just decides to go forth with a fantastic dream of the west, without even considering responsibility, down to the very act of feeding himself. After he is picked up in Iowa City, he says, "Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land" (Kerouac 14). He is so anxious to get to Denver throughout the beginning of the novel, that the reader expects disappointment eventually. Sal envisions himself in Denver in a very idealistic way. He says, "I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes, I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who had walked across land to bring the dark Word" (Kerouac 35). He is overly excited to just be in beautiful Denver with the gang and sitting in bars, and does not consider anything else. When he finally arrives in Denver, he says, "the air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley was so great, that I thought I was in a dream" (Kerouac 42). Sal expects so much from Denver; he almost envisions it changing his life completely. He sees every bit of it as having everlasting opportunity.

Finally, after failing at attempts to find a job, settle down, and woo Rita Bettencourt, Sal says, "My moments in Denver were coming to an end, I could feel it when I walked her home" (Kerouac 58). Sal loses the lust that he had for his precious Denver in a short amount of time, and wants to continue to travel farther west. Sal then decides to travel to Frisco, where he plans to meet with his French friend Remi Bonceur. Just as Sal idealizes Frisco itself, he does paint an ideal picture of a friendship with Remi, that eventually proves false as he settles in with him. When speaking of Remi and his girlfriend, he says, "On Saturday night, smiling graciously at eachother, they took off like a pair of successful Hollywood characters and went on the town" (Kerouac 62). Sal perceives their relationship in a very naive manner. He knows that they have their quarrels, but does not understand the depth of their problems, much like he does not understand that every place is not as fabulous as the postcards make them out to be. Eventually, Sal acknowledges the fact that he is just as unhappy in Frisco as he was towards the end of his stay in Denver. He says, "The time was coming for me to leave Frisco, or I'd go crazy" (Keruoac 73). His living situation is not working for him, his attempts at wooing more girls are all fruitless, and his relationship with Remi falls apart. The only thing left for Sal to do is find his next destination. Sal begins to miss the east that he left in order to pursue the wild, glittering west. He says, "There is something brown and holy about the East; and California is white like washlines and emptyheaded- at least that's what I thought then" (Keruoac 79). Sal's description of the east as "holy" certainly indicates his tendency to form idealistic perceptions.

Sal's adventures continue in LA., and he eventually finds himself wanting to bring Terry home to New York with him. However, after attempting to do so, he is only let down again. He does manage to make it home, but then he has the itch to travel again once he comes into contact with Dean, who has turned "mad" with vigor for life, just like Sal. It is evident that Sal cannot be content with merely staying in one place for more than a few months. He is a restless person, and so are his friends. They are all searching for something, but it seems as though they idealize every place that they desire to travel. Eventually, they are always unsatisfied, and wish to pack up and head to the next destination. When traveling, it is easy to envision a place or future experience in the most ideal way. However, reality eventually hits the traveler, and they find themselves lonely and wanting for the place they were so eager to leave. Traveling ( and especially studying abroad), therefore, it is not all glamour. It comes with trials and tribulations, just like everything else. However, maybe the idealism and subsequent encounter with reality that comes with travel can't be prevented. Maybe it's just a part of the experience.

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