The View from on the Road: The Rhetorical Vision of Jack Kerouac

Synopsis

Through careful analysis of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Omar Swartz sets out to show that Kerouac's influence on American society is largely rhetorical. Kerouac's significance as a cultural icon can be best understood, Swartz asserts, in terms of traditional rhetorical practices and principles.

To Swartz, Kerouac is a rhetor who symbolically reconstructs his world and offers arguments and encouragements for others to follow. Swartz proposes that On the Road constitutes a "rhetorical vision", a reality-defining discourse suggesting alternative possibilities for growth and change. Embodied in this rhetorical vision are symbolically suited desires that have the power to transform images of self, society, and other.

To explain Kerouac's methods, Swartz adopts Ernest Bormann's "fantasy theme analysis", a method that critics can use to understand the cultural dimension of a text. Because rhetorical visions involve large, encompassing narratives, a fantasy theme analysis is a localized way to establish "meaning" in a text. Thus, fantasy theme analysis presents a rhetorical vision in an accessible manner. Swartz is the first critic to apply fantasy theme analysis to a Beat writer.

The rhetorical significance of On the Road demands elaboration for what it can suggest about the future. Kerouac's writing serves as a tool that empowers people to take control of their lives and to reject dominant forces that constrain their thoughts and their actions. This study of Kerouac, then, is a study of rhetorical transformation.

Celebrating the margins of experience and the intensity of life, Kerouac helped develop the commitment and attitude of a larger American culture that was beginning tostruggle with the tensions and contradictions of society. Through the aid of a focused narrative that graphically names and illustrates these tensions and contradictions, Swartz asserts, the reader of Kerouac's On the Road becomes