Comparative commentary: Flann O'Brien's novel "The Third Policeman" and "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

Essay by Lotsis April 2006

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The texts in question are in a way very alike; they are both extracts from fictional novels and they were both written in the mid-twentieth century. Text B is an extract from Flann O'Brien's novel "The Third Policeman", and it deals with an old country road and ponders the role of different kinds of roads and where they might lead. The text is probably meant for adults, because it is quite philosophical, something teenagers might even consider boring. The purpose of the text is to entertain, and that is accomplished by using bathos-style writing. Something as common as a narrow, old road in the middle of hills is brought to life and a mysterious and intriguing atmosphere is created around it by describing it with fancy or abnormal words and a poetic style: "It ran away westwards in the mist of the early morning, running cunningly through the little hills and going to some trouble to visit tiny towns which were not, strictly speaking, on its way."

The description is also very romantic; it paints the reader a clear picture of the hills and small roads.

Text A is a short extract from "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. The style is quite different compared to text B; this is a main highway in the night, going 110 miles an hour past the biggest towns of Nebraska. The speed is conveyed into the text by for example using lists: "A hundred and ten miles an hour straight through, an arrow road, sleeping towns, no traffic, and the Union Pacific streamliner falling behind ..." Also the double meaning of "an arrow road" tells the reader that it is fast, but when read out loud it sounds like "a narrow road", bringing tension to the story. The purpose of...