On the Road Questions and Answers
by Jack Kerouac

Start Your Free Trial

Identify a rhetorical message intrinsic to On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The message should be examined through the lenses of theme, character, and stylistic elements.

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The rhetorical message of Kerouac's work exists in what he wants the reader to derive from it. Kerouac's message embraces the need to pursue and cherish individual freedom.  Through different elements, the narrative enables this message. The characterization of the friendship between Sal and Dean is one way this message is enhanced.  Both characters believe their friendship to be free of social convention.  It is evident in the freedom of mobility both possess, being able to move "on the road" with ease and without attachments that might limit their pursuit and embrace of individual autonomy.  Dean says as much to Sal:  "Why not, man? Of course we will if we want to, and all that. There's no harm ending that way. You spend a whole life of noninterference with the wishes of others, including politicians and the rich, and nobody bothers you and you cut along and make it your own way."  The need to "make it your own way" is of vital importance both to their friendship, helping to advance Kerouac's rhetorical message.

Kerouac's style in On the Road enhances its rhetorical message.  This is throughout the narrative.  Consider one example when Dean is talking to Carlo Marx:

 ...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

In this quote, the choice and use of language helps to enhance the novel's rhetorical message of freedom.  Consider the notion of "madness" that is equated to an unrestrained sense of freedom.  Imagery of "spiders across the stars" and "yellow roman candles exploding" both help to further the imagery of freedom through diction.  Another example of how technique can enhance rhetorical message is seen in Kerouac's phrasing of the road's meaning, in general:  "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”  Freedom as moving forward and ahead is conveyed through the descriptive language of the road.  Such syntax indicates that what is past is secondary to what is ahead, helping to enhance the feel of freedom.  Throughout the work, Kerouac's language and word choice helps to convey that external pressure or "distortion" must be repelled in the name of individual freedom and action. Kerouac's style goes very far in carrying out his message.

Kerouac is deliberate in his message of praising individual freedom. It is communicated in theme and in stylistic elements.  Kerouac emphasizes it in the novel's end, deliberately leaving the reader with the understanding of freedom being the only possession of the individual.  Sal envisions America and how people see it:  "dreaming in the immensity of it."  For Kerouac, the ending of the novel is one in which freedom is synonymous with what it means to be in America.  This becomes an essential part of his rhetorical message.  It is a message that is embedded not only in the characterizations and the way in which they are described and enhanced, but also in the setting of America, itself.  Kerouac chooses to end with a statement about how freedom and its pursuit is a part of both the nation and the people who inhabit it.  In doing so, Kerouac's message about freedom and its need to be upheld at all costs resonates with the reader upon the work's conclusion. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial