Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Narrated in the third person, “On the Road” first appeared in Esquire in 1935. Technically sound and smoothly organized, “On the Road” is a classic in the canon of Hughes. The chief stylistic obstacle Hughes confronted was melding the story’s realism with the supernatural elements introduced when the figure of Christ becomes animate. It is accomplished with a deft touch. One believes that Sargeant is a man of great inner strength who becomes capable of acting on a level beyond simple accommodation. His development as a man to be reckoned with sets the stage for his surreal meeting with Christ.

The more Sargeant is denied the basic necessities the more aggressive he becomes. When he is clubbed, he moves into a state of dreaming. When Christ appears to him, he treats him as an equal, and bids him a fond farewell as he has to go to Kansas City. Clearly the symbolic element here is in reference to being one’s brother’s keeper. Other examples of symbolism include juxtaposing the white snow everywhere against the authority of the brutal white police officers, and contrasting the unyielding material of the church doors against the true spirit of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood.