Explain the theme of On the Road, and relate the theme to postmodernism.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One theme of Kerouac’s On the Road would be anti-traditionalism. The cookie-cutter housing of Levittowns and behavior of “sameness” regarding social norms of the 1950s are both challenged in this novel. What seems like paradise for the previous generation, coming from the poverty of the Great Depression, seems like a prison for their children. The last thing the characters in this novel want to do is end up like their parents. Instead, they want adventure in the form of a road trip so that they can have experiences and meet people outside of their own limited world.

Like other art and literature of the postmodern movement, On the Road seeks to challenge the social norms of the time and argues that, since the experiences of life are highly individual, placing specific expectations on an individual based on society and social groups is unrealistic and absurd. Additionally, the title of the novel stresses the belief that moving, changing, and experiencing is more important than settling down and planting roots. Traveling is seen as excitement, and settling down is seen as stagnation. As such, Kerouac’s novel is a direct reaction to and rejection of established social institutions and expectations that confine and restrict the innate human spirit of adventure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial