In On the Road, in what ways does alcohol represent Sal's need for new experiences?

Expert Answers
iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alcohol plays a big role in the work of Jack Kerouac, and On the Road is no exception. One of the most prominent themes in this novel is the importance of having new experiences, altering one's perception of the world, and generally having a good time. Alcohol plays a central role in these enterprises for a couple of reasons. First, and perhaps most simplistically, alcohol use helps characters in the story supposedly "have a good time" (at least, until their alcohol-fueled adventures result in the seriously depressing dissolution of their relationships). More importantly, however, alcohol serves as a tool for altering one's perception of reality, as alcohol consumption changes one's state of consciousness and leads one to see the world in a different way. Thus, drinking alcohol ostensibly facilitates the characters' ability to have new experiences, as it enables them to engage with the world with a different consciousness. Additionally, Sal's reliance on alcohol represents his need for new experiences because it proves his need for an altered perception (i.e., a new way of experiencing the world). However, it's important to note that, later on in Kerouac's life, his use of alcohol descended into alcoholism, and much of his later work (such as his novel Big Sur) focuses less on the "benefits" of altered perception, and more on his struggles with alcohol dependency and his desire to become sober.  

Read the study guide:
On the Road

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question