Skyler Latshaw ACF Abstract FY12

Modified Restraints and Literary Inhibitions: Writing and Experience in On The Road

The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900

When examining the identities of Sal and Dean in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, writing seems a logical theme to focus on.  Sal is a writer, and Dean possesses an interest in books and writing; in fact, the two meet because Dean wants Sal to teach him how to write. Despite this shared interest, writing is surprisingly not a focus for much of the novel. Sal’s writing in particular is only mentioned a few times, and its content is never the focal point. Rarely on his travels does Sal mention himself writing, and the reader is never told what Sal’s book is about, even after it is published. 

By leaving the content of Sal’s writing out of the novel, Kerouac highlights the action of writing itself.  The act of writing, which is the ability to organize and articulate thoughts, ideas and experiences, is pushed to the foreground.  I argue that Sal’s writing is a talent that requires him to use hindsight, which allows him to reflect on and learn from the experiences he has had.  It grants Sal the ability to consciously convert innocence into experience.  Dean, on the other hand, does not learn how to write well, despite his initial enthusiasm.  Although Sal and Dean seem similar in their attitudes towards their travels and the people they meet, my paper proves that their differing attitudes towards writing reveal underlying distinctions in their interpretations of the world and their journeys.  By analyzing the differences between Sal’s relationship to writing and Dean’s relationship to writing, my paper draws a stark contrast between the way these two characters react to events during the course of the novel, proving that it is not the experiences themselves that shape a traveler’s identity, but the ability to internalize experiences and construct meaning out of them.

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