On the Road Questions and Answers
by Jack Kerouac

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What figurative language devices were used in On the Road by Jack Kerouac? How were they used in the text? Provide examples.

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Benjamin Mangelsdorf eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When discussing how figurative language is used in writing, we are looking at devices like metaphors, similes, personification and more. Most good writers will often use many, if not all, figurative language devices across a work the length of a novel, so it would be simple to go through On the Road and just mark out whenever he uses them; however, what is truly important is to find what figurative language is unique or central to the writing. For instance, in The Great Gatsby there is a focus on alliteration, which gives the writing a flowy, dreamy quality.

Similarly, Kerouac relies on hyperbole far more than other authors do, giving the events of On the Road a heightened sense of gravity and importance. Very rarely will the narrator of the story ever just refer to things exactly as they are. Instead, a fun moment is the greatest day of his life; a beautiful woman is the most beautiful woman in the world. Some quick examples of this:

And they were the silliest shoes in America.

Obviously, the narrator has no idea if they are the silliest shoes in America—how could he? Still, this statement conveys the sense that he is fully and absolutely engaged in his life. Nothing is small to him, and everything is the most.

I walked into the least likely place in the world.

This is an interesting use of hyperbole, as it is being exaggerated in a negative sense, showing that hyperbole can go both ways.

In my eyes, Kerouac's use of hyperbole mirrors the mindset of the Beat generation, the writing movement that he was a part of and helped popularize. The Beat generation was all about freedom and fully experiencing life, and feeling like everything you experience is the most it can possibly be in the world gives off the sense that life is being fully experienced.

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