The blurb of my book had a quote from Kerouac’s fellow beatnik, William Burroughs, “The alienation, the restlessness, the dissatisfaction were already there waiting when Kerouac pointed out the road”. And when I read “On the road” for the second time, when I was working and financially well placed, I fell for it completely. After a few pages, Kerouac got me ‘alienated’, ‘restless’, and ‘dissatisfied’; and I am not sure if those feelings have vanished five years after I had read it the second time. I made countless plans to hit the roads in
The whole pointlessness of the journey in “On the road” seems to be the point of it all. The book made me believe that the best way to spend the arduous time between a pointless birth and a much delayed death is to travel, to seek out the new and the unexpected. The book makes you want to seek out and relish cultural differences, to appreciate the lives of the poor and the unfortunate, and to shun material pleasures and its homogeneity and tediousness (don’t all hotels, airport shops, snazzy restaurants all feel the same?). And Neal Cassidy’s (Dean Moriarty) philosophy of living just for the moment will always remain an aspiration for most of us.
In terms of its impact on society, it probably rates in the league of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. However, towards the later half of his life, Kerouac felt extremely disillusioned by the excesses of the beat generation attributed to his book. The beat and the hippie movement brought about an uproar and then died without leaving a trace. “On the road” has been replaced by “Seven habits of highly effective people”, the “stream of consciousness” typing has been replaced by repeated bludgeoning by business phrases such as “Pro-active” and “Core Competency”. After all, the road itself has been replaced by expressways where asking for a joyride almost certainly means death.