On the Road Questions and Answers
by Jack Kerouac

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What are some major themes of Jack Kerouac's work On the Road?

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Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road explores a variety of themes, including the following

  • The desire for adventure
  • The desire for freedom
  • The yearning for originality
  • An opposition to restrictions
  • Sexual entanglements
  • Romantic relationships
  • The ways reality complicates or subverts fantasies and dreams
  • Friendship
  • Geographical exploration
  • Travel
  • Relations between males
  • Relations between males and females
  • The traits of young people
  • The post-World War II period in the United States
  • The importance of literature
  • The importance of individual experience
  • Unconventional behavior
  • Tensions within families
  • Friendship as an alternative to disappointing family relationships
  • Health and illness
  • Foreign cultures (especially the culture of Mexico)
  • The distinctive features of different parts of the U. S.
  • The monotony of everyday, conventional existence
  • The attractions of novelty
  • The ideas and ideals of Friedrick Nietzsche
  • The appeal of the western U. S. as an alternative to the east
  • Emotional enthusiasm and physical energy
  • Physical sensation and mental stimulation
  • The insignificance, in an ideal world, of racial divisions
  • The joy provided by madness, ecstasy, inspiration, and sublimity
  • The value of spontaneity
  • The importance and appeal of music, especially jazz, as in the following passage:

. . . “Whoo!” said Dean.  He was rubbing his chest, his belly; the sweat splashed from his face.  Boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattlety-boom!  A big fat man was jumping on the platform, making it sag and creak.  “Yoo!”  The pianist was only pounding the keys with spread-eagled fingers, chords, at intervals when the great tenorman was drawing breath for another blast – Chinese chords, shuddering the piano in every timber, chink, and wire, boing!



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