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

By Omar Swartz | Go to book overview

5
The Vision of Social Deviance

Kerouac's "path" is laid out in his fiction, most popularly in On the Road, and is represented in three predominant rhetorical visions: the Vision of Social Deviance, the Vision of Sexuality, and Dean as Vision. Each vision serves as a general base supporting the next vision in a pyramid form. The primary vision that grounds the bulk of the narrative has to do with the rejection of popular culture; this I call the Vision of Social Deviance.

On the Road begins with the narrator's immediate rejection of the world that American culture has to offer him. "I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up" ( 1957, 5), begins Sal Paradise, a young, noncommitted college student surviving on the G.I. Bill. We meet Sal after he has just gotten over "a serious illness . . . that had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and [my] feeling that everything was dead" ( 1957, 5). We are never told what this illness is, and there is never any further reference to Sal's former wife. The past is clouded in mystery.

Sal reveals that the "split" was "miserably weary." Was this a divorce? A separation? Was this a long marriage that left the pair emotionally distraught? Did Sal leave his wife? Did Sal's wife leave him? We are not given any details. We are not even sure what "miserably weary" means. While the context is not clear, the tone is: Sal feels as if everything is dead. Even so, the careful reader has reasons to interrogate the text further-- this is especially true for the reader who blurs the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, as well as one who realizes that Kerouac made little effort to hide the fact that his "fiction" was largely autobiographical.

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