On the Road – Unexpectedly Inspirational

On the Road - picture -featured image

A few years ago, I made my first road trip to Las Vegas. I remember the thrill of driving through unfamiliar territory. I also remember feeling a rush of energy when we reached our destination. This trip reminded of my fascination for the road as a means of transportation and as an American cultural symbol of freedom and opportunity. A recent movie that delves into these themes is the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. As I stood in line at the theater, I was excited to see if the film accurately captured the same spirit of the novel, which I had recently finished reading. On the drive home, I concluded that the film captured the essence of the novel and I also began to think about the ways both versions inspired me.

I first gained interest in On the Road after learning that Katy Perry’s song “Firework” was inspired by a passage in Kerouac’s novel. The song expands on his metaphor of people that are like fireworks – bursting with energy and a continual hunger for life. My interest in the book was deepened because of my fascination for the open road and because On the Road is hailed as a generation-defining novel that captured the zeitgeist of American youth following World War II. On the Road is based on cross-country road trips taken by the author Jack Kerouac and his friend Neal Cassady. Both men were important figures in the “Beat generation” – young people who drastically rebelled against the conformity of their parents and the dominant society. In their journeys, they interact with a diverse collection of strangers, musicians, lovers and friends. Many of the other characters are based on other Beat Generation writers and poets.

The novel’s two main characters Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (Cassady) share a similar hunger for life, exploration and experience. Their lives on the road are filled with geographic exploration as well as their indulgence of poetry, sex, illegal drugs and jazz music. While I don’t agree with their wild and reckless lifestyle, I do respect them for living without regrets. I also appreciate the author’s rich descriptions of the American landscape and society’s outcasts as well as his ability to find beauty in the chaotic world of his “mad” friends. In both the film and the novel, I felt like I was a passenger in their trips because both mediums vividly capture the wide range of emotions of life on the road.

I identified particularly with the story’s narrator Sal Paradise, a reserved writer who yearns to get away from home. Sal’s hunger for the open road leads him to push his physical, mental and emotional boundaries in search of thrills, beauty and some kind of enlightenment. I felt similar feelings when I was finishing high school. I remember wanting to move to a big city and be on my own. Thus, I decided to attend a college that was hours away from home. Although I didn’t know anyone nearby, I had a deep desire to learn and explore. As I was reading On the Road, I was reminded of the wide range of emotions I felt at this time. I can relate to the feelings that emerge from constant travel because in my five-year college career, I changed residence almost every year. Nevertheless, in this experience I gained independence and self-reliance that helped me grow emotionally and personally. Today, I find it interesting that in exploring a new geographical territory, I was forced to explore and conquer new mental and emotional territories.

The film adaptation of On the Road encouraged me to travel across the U.S. Throughout my life I have lived in different cities and have noticed that each one has its distinctive vibe and spirit. Each city has an ambiance that brings certain feelings and thoughts that are sometimes difficult to describe. On The Road not only captures that spirit in cities like Denver, San Francisco and Mexico City but also captures the vast beauty of rural America and Mexico. Kerouac’s book inspired me to travel more frequently and create more vivid environments in my creative work. I have realized that traveling to unknown destinations helps clear the mind and spark new ideas, which can lead to creating richer art.

Kerouac’s free-flowing writing style has inspired me although I did not appreciate it at first. When I was reading On the Road, I would often get bored or frustrated. I would constantly ask: “Where is this story going?” The novel read like a series of trips and thoughts with few indicators of where the plot was going. As a result, I finished reading the book many months later. I gained appreciation for Kerouac’s form of writing after I watched the film. In a few scenes, the character of Sal Paradise types tirelessly on a long roll of paper. These scenes are based on Jack Kerouac’s 120-feet-long single-spaced original manuscript for On the Road, which he wrote in three weeks. Kerouac’s style motivated me to let my mind wonder when I am creating. His book reminds me to explore my ideas more freely. With this freedom, I can arrive at conclusions I might not have found if I had obsessed over small details during the early stages of the creative process. (In fact, writing this blog entry has been my first exercise in writing without restriction).

Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road and its film adaptation are good complements to each other. I believe I had more appreciation for the film because I read the novel beforehand. If you are deeply interested in this story and you like to get into the mind of the narrator, I recommend reading the book before watching the film. If you want a condensed version of the story, I’d see the film. Either way, both mediums capture the spirit of the story.

In closing, Jack Kerouac’s novel influenced me for several reasons. The author’s jazzy, free-flowing writing style inspires me to create with less restraint and to push myself intellectually during the creative process. Both the vivid descriptions of the novel and the film’s cinematography motivate me to explore more of the beauty inside my country. The wild characters of the story reminded me to live more exuberantly and more spontaneously. On a personal level, I enjoyed On the Road because I identified with the desire for exploration and with the emotional effects of constant travel. As I mentioned earlier, I struggled to stay interested in Kerouac’s book. I am glad I persevered and finished the book because it inspired and challenged me in ways I did not expect.

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