English Essay
Road of Optimism
In Jack Kerouac’s novel, On the Road, the protagonist, Sal Paradise,
offers us a very optimistic view of life. He enjoys the spontaneity of
life, and his adventures. He has a very high expectation for the future.

For both Sal and Dean, this novel is their youthful exuberance and optimism
for new experiences. The energetic beat of the jazz music called bop, their
dream to find “IT” and their idealistic approach to life are just some of
the evidence of optimism present in the book. Sal and Dean’s goal is to
find the freedom and happiness of the open road. “The road” symbolizes Sal
and Dean’s optimism outlook on life which near the end of the book changes
for Sal.

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The road represents Sal Paradise’s optimism for the future. His
blind-optimism can be seen be throughout the book. For instance, when he
says “I will stay on 6 all the all the way to Ely, I said to myself and
confidently started.” (10) it shows his lack of worries and his optimism
for the success of the trip. He thinks that one road will take him from the
east of America all the way to the west. He never considers the clear
possibilities for disappointment. Sal travels across the country and is
enjoying the new scenery and group of people he meets while hitchhiking. He
seems very carefree and tries to enjoy life as it comes. He is exposed to
new towns such as “the only community in America where whites and Negroes
lived together voluntarily; and that was so, and so wild and joyous a place
I’ve never seen since.”(61). This journey increases his optimistic view on
life by exposing his to things he had not seen in the east, a town where
blacks and whites live together harmoniously.

As Sal continues down the road, his hopes get bigger and the
consequences of disappointment grow larger along with those hopes. Near the
end of Part One when Sal, staying in Denver with the Rawlins’, takes a trek
to the mountains with a group including his hosts and Tim Gray, aspirations
for the short trip run high. Sal says that “only a few days ago I’d come to
Denver like a bum; now I was all racked up in sharp suit, with a beautiful
well-dressed blond on my arms” (52) Sal is not disappointed with his
journey on the road. When he seems to be in a dead-end, he is rescued and
enters a luxurious environment. He is on top of the world and assumes that
nothing can go wrong with his trip. When, Dean, Sal and Stan decide on a
trip to Mexico, the wear and tear of many compiled and disparaging events
begin to change Sal. At the beginning of the trip, he still believes that
the road will lead him to many great things and that the trip will turn out
just as it was planned. The trip begins with such enthusiasm and optimism
to find the thing they have been searching for – IT. The first sign of
Sal’s change in his optimistic view is when he says “Damn! It made the
whole trip seem sinister and doomed” (269) after he finds out that Stan’s
bee sting is a serious matter. His reaction to the bee sting is different
from his reactions to things in the beginning of the book. Perhaps if the
bee sting took place in the beginning of the book, Sal might have reacted
with an optimistic approach, not a pessimistic one. Sal realizes that the
trip is bound to be a failure. Near the end of his trip, he says that the
end of his journey on the hard, hard road led to nothing but wild whore
houses. The “hard, hard road” connotes a terrible and exhausting journey.

Sal is disappointed by the reality of life. Although he might not be as
optimistic as he was in the beginning of his journey on the road, he is
still optimistic enough to believe that he still has a chance to live like
the normal middle class people around him and that it is not too late to
start anew.

For Dean, the road represents his optimism is what eventually leads
him to failure at the end of his “road”. Dean Moriarty is the “driver” on
the road. He is the driving force in the optimism that represents the book.

We are first introduced to Dean’s personality when Sal says:
“My first impression of Dean was a young Gene Autry – trim, thin-
hipped, blue-eyed, with real
Oklahoma accent – a side burned hero of the snowy West. In fact he’d
just been working on a ranch,
Ed Wall’s in Colorado, before marrying Marylou and coming east” (2)
Dean is the type of person who cannot stay in one area for a long time. He
is continually looking for IT, and wants to explore as much as he could. We
can also tell from this quote that Dean is a charismatic guy because Sal
thinks of him as “a side burned hero of the snowy West”. It is his charisma
that drives Sal and others into follow Dean around the country. Dean is
seen as the ultimate hero of manhood but by Part Three Dean’s life of
disappointed optimism and uncontrolled impulsive nature lead him towards
many problems. Dean’s hopes are dashed due to unforgiving reality. His life
soon ends up looking much like his appearance. Sal describes Dean’s
appearance as:
“He was wearing a T-shirt, torn pants hanging down his belly,
tattered shoes, he had not shaved,
his hair was wild and bushy, his eyes bloodshot, and that tremendous
bandaged thumb stood
supported in mid-air at heart level (he had to Holt it up that way)
and on his face was the goofiest
grin I ever saw. (188)
His life has become a mess like himself. He has more than one love to
support, an infected thumb, and has very little money. No matter how bad it
is for Dean, he always seems to have the energy and enough optimism left in
him to smile about his life and to travel again and again.

His continuation of failing relationships is also represented by the
road. Life with his first wife Marylou becomes awful for Dean. Then Camille
lives with Dean during the period when his life is “not so good”. He then
simply leaves Camille for Inez. Later in the book, Dean finally returns to
Camille once again. Dean was busy going around the country and meeting
girls because Sal notes:
“Not only that, but a few months later Camille gave birth to Dean’s
second baby, the result of few
nights’ rapport early in the year. And another matter of months and
Inez had a baby. With one
illegitimate child in the West somewhere, Dean then had four little
ones and not a cent, and was
all troubles and ecstasy and speed as ever.” (248)
We can tell by this quote that Dean was energetic about everything in life,
even with relationships. Dean says “Oh I love, love, women! I think women
are wonderful! I love women!” (140). He was not mature enough to force
himself down with one woman and build a family. It is his optimism that
prevents him from seeing the consequences of spending time with all these
women. He leaves behind responsibility; wives, children, mistresses because
of his longing to find IT.

Kerouac’s On the Road is a very depressing book but the optimism in
the novel seems to hide this. To Sal Paradise, the road represents his
optimism. At the beginning of his journey, he is so enthusiastic that he is
led to blind-optimism. However, his optimism slowly decreases. He realizes
before he breaks down like Dean, that he cannot have hopes that are dashed
due to unforgiving reality. For Dean Moriarty, the road represents his
optimism and his continuation of failing relationships. Unlike Sal, Dean’s
optimism leads him into much damage. Once he was seen as the hero by many
because of his unique approach to life, but soon most saw that this kind of
life cannot be lead. Unfortunately, Dean is unable to see this. The road
also represents his line of failing relationships. As he continues his
journey, he meets many women along the way. It is his optimism that
prevents him from seeing the consequences of spending time with all these
different women. At the end of the book, one is given the feeling that
optimistic outlook on life can do as much harm as well as good.