Identify how the rhetorical message of freedom to find oneself is inherent in the employed conventions of On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conventions that Kerouac employs in On The Road help to convey a rhetorical message that extols the freedom to find oneself.  Technique embraces and conveys the idea of non- conformity and self- discovery. Word choice is one way in which Kerouac is able to utilize technique and convention in enhancing rhetorical message. In prosaic descriptions, the virtue within the freedom to find oneself is evident:  

...thousands of hipsters in floppy straw hats and longlapeled jackets over bare chests padded along the main drag, some of them selling crucifixes and weed in the alleys, some of them kneeling in beat chapels next to Mexican burlesque shows in sheds. Some alleys were rubble, with open sewers, and little doors led to closetsize bars stuck in adobe walls.

In this setting description, Kerouac uses conventions such as syntax and diction to aid in the novel's rhetorical message of the need to find oneself.  Here, word choice and organization is not tidy and neat.  It is intricate, winding through "the main drag."  It moves through "alleys," indicating that the path to find oneself is off "the main drag" and exists in areas, of "rubble," "open sewers," and "little doors."  Conventions that Kerouac uses to describe one example of setting contains the rhetorical message of how individuals must investigate the non- conformist path in order to find oneself.

In a larger sense, Kerouac himself suggests that his use of the "Spontaneous Prose" technique is a means by which one sees the message of the need to find oneself. Kerouac believed that "Spontaneous Prose" was a manner of writing that embraced freedom. This  "bop prosody" embraced breaking of traditional conventions in order to find one's voice and being in the world. The stylistic conventions that govern "Spontaneous Prose" represent a way to communicate the rhetorical message in On the Road. For example, Kerouac suggested that embracing this technique translated into "No pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of scatological buildup words till satisfaction is gained, which will turn out to be a great appending rhythm to a thought and be in accordance with Great Law of timing."  The emphasis on avoiding "proper word" and embracing a "scatological buildup" of language conveys the need to find oneself outside of what is being dictated. Kerouac's message in the novel is that individuals have to find themselves on "the road," apart from what social conventions dictate:  "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” This same emphasis can be seen in the Spontaneous Prose technique that prides itself on individual freedom through expression. In this construction of writing, Kerouac suggested that the mental state of the writer is one that is "allowing subconscious to admit in own uninhibited interesting necessary and so "modern" language what conscious art would censor, and write excitedly, swiftly, with writing-or-typing-cramps, in accordance (as from center to periphery) with laws of orgasm."  The construction of how the novel is written is reflective of its rhetorical message, underscored by "uninhibited" and breaking free of "what conscious art would censor."  

Kerouac recognized that the rhetorical message of On The Road was transformative. It is with this in mind that the conventions he employed through word choice, use of setting, and technique in writing would also be transformative. Conventions help to enhance the message of self- discovery.