On the Road to Individualism; Off the Road of Conformity

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McTague 1

On the Road to Individualism; Off the Road of Conformity

Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road tells the story of Sal Paradise (a character indirectly

representing Kerouac himself) on his quest to abandon his boring and depressing life in New York for

the ultimate search of purpose. Along with many other youth that made up the Beat Generation, Sal

rebels against social norms such as the concrete "nuclear family" implicated by 1950's culture because

he believes these norms to be futile and misleading. Many of these implied social rules, such as

degrading gender roles, limit individualism and self­expression because challenging the adamant structure

would lead to social ostracism and inferiority. Kerouac follows Sal on his journey across America to

find "IT" (life purpose) and to explain how society in the fifties catalyzes the transition of young life into

the Beat Generation of rebellion and experimentation. Sal goes on the road to evade his adult

responsibilities such as relationships, emotion, and family. He refuses to accept reality and follow the

stereotypical adult life that is approaching him. Kerouac's central thematic message is that conforming to

a society built by the expectations of past generations cannot instill the sense of individualism that will

produce a diverse and content generation, which ultimately leads one to happiness and purpose that

humanity so desperately seeks.

The Beat Generation was a time period of strict conformity for all of society because the

majority of Americans could not find success in their uniqueness, and instead adhered to many false

icons of happiness, such as settling down, finding a job, and raising kids. The "American Dream" was

not so much of a dream to some after all, but rather an unwanted responsibility. According to Robert

Holton, "during the postwar era, the pressures to conformity in middle­class...