The Beat Generation and on the Road Essay
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Violence and Crime is rising at a steady rate, but when did America inherit its lack of safety for the average person? The answer is from the “beat” generation. Depressed and hurt from World War Two and The Great Depression the “beat” generation sparked a downfall into theft, drug and alcohol abuse, and irresponsible sex. During the late nineteen forties and early nineteen fifties it was not uncommon to see people hitchhiking on the side of the road and getting picked up.
This was a time when people considered the United States of America to be safe and the average person could walk the streets without worrying about being robbed, raped or murdered. Today it is uncommon to find someone who knowingly allows their adolescent children to hitchhike across the country or sometime even walk to school on their own. The modern-day citizens of the United States of America lock their cars, their homes and even put their children on leashes.
These safety precautions would seem ridiculous and silly to those born before the nineteen sixties.
This over-zealous amount of safety and security can all be blamed on those who have abused the good and innocent nature that Americans have previously displayed. The beat generation stole and lied at such an increasing rate that present-day Americans must be cautious of each other and live in fear of the most despicable crimes. In the novel, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the protagonists steal, lie and get high to fill the empty spaces in their schedule and to sooth the pains in their souls.
It is through these actions that security develops and these malevolent ideas are exchanged to the youth that is living under this broke and battered generation. The beat generation, hurt by world war two, lost the trust for the average American citizen by stealing, abusing drugs and alcohol and creating broken families. The greed for others belonging and the lack of availability of wealth in the world has tempted all to steal and lie to gain for themselves. In the novel, On the Road, the protagonists are seen stealing gas, cigarettes and even cars.
Dean, the narrator’s long-time friend has literally grown up on the wrong side of the tracks. His father being a bum and a drunk helped him learn how to steal and survive the cruel world that the homeless live in. “We stopped at a gas station, and there Dean and Marylou played piggyback around the tanks and Dunkel went inside and stole three packs of cigarettes without trying. We were fresh out” (Kerouac 139). Dunkel, another homeless hitchhiker is picked up by Dean, Sal and Marylou. He effortlessly steals cigarettes for them, displaying another act of theft by a homeless person.
This act of theft shows the reader the lack of morality of the vagabonds in America. When any of the protagonists are confronted by the police it is at a moment in the novel when they are not breaking the law. “We had to follow the patrolman back to the station and there spent an hour waiting in the grass while they telephoned Chicago to get the owner of the Cadillac to verify our position as hired drivers. Mr. Baron said, according to the cop, ‘Yes, that is my car, but I can’t vouch for anything else those boys might have done. ’…Everything was straightened out and we roared on” (Kerouac 236)
It is very lucky for Dean and Sal to never get into actual trouble with the cops when they are stopped by them, because they steal so much that with the modern day security system and police they would be instantly caught and hauled off to prison. It is with this lack of morality and their never-ending desires and addictions that the protagonists continue their travels, stealing and doping back and forth across America. Along with the sins of theft comes the crime of drug and alcohol abuse. Throughout the novel the protagonists drink heavily and experiment with marijuana, and Benzedrine.
When the group of irresponsible citizens travels to Louisiana to visit Bull Lee they slowly damage their livers with Benzedrine. Bull Lee represents the “teacher” of the group, the one from whom they have learned their ways of life. It is to no surprise of the reader that Bull Lee is constantly strung out on Benzedrine. “That night Marylou took everything in the books; she took tea, goofballs, benny, and liquor and even asked Old Bull for a shot of M, which of course he didn’t give her; he gave her a martini. She was so saturated with elements of all kinds that she came to a standstill and stood goofy on the porch with me” (Kerouac 147-148).
It is apparent that all of the protagonists abuse drugs and alcohol. This shows their need to get away from the world and leave their lives behind. Like the road, and hitchhiking, drugs help them run from their problems so that they can find happiness. This novel present’s drug and alcohol abuse as a very apparent trend in society. Because of World War Two the people of America have seen many gruesome and horrible sights, and therefore they find the need to distance themselves from society as a whole, so that they can numb the pain from their losses.
It was believed for a long time that Kerouac wrote the novel On the Road while taking Benzedrine for the euphoric and creative feeling that it gave him. “For decades, in countless publications, Kerouac’s nineteen fifty-one typing session has been described as ‘Benzedrine-fueled’ and ‘Benzedrine –drenched’ and so on. This is not the likely case. In a private letter, Kerouac corrected Ginsberg when, years later, he wrote an article for Village Voice saying that Benzedrine boosted Kerouac’s typing feat.
Kerouac told Ginsberg in definite terms that ‘Road was not written on benny, on coffee’ (Jack Kerouac Letter to Allen Ginsberg 184)” (Theado 15). It is not unreasonable for those to have questioned Kerouac’s sobriety during the times that he wrote On the Road. It is from this generation that we have learned that one can get high on simple prescription medicine. Along with the drugs the acts of theft can even be considered one of the ways that the protagonists create artificial euphoria for themselves. “…while they might steal to support their drug habits, for example, Dean ‘Stole cars for joyrides’ (Kerouac 10).
The phrase “joy ride” must be understood quite literally as an experience of joy, and joy-spontaneous and unmanageable- seemed to be in scarce supply in the sad world Sal describes”(Holton 23). This sadness in the world that Sal describes, can, in their eyes, only be cured through frivolity, and mischief. Causing mayhem seems to be one of the few ways the characters in the novel can create happiness for themselves. Breaking the law makes them happy and due to this life of recklessness and law breaking, promiscuity and broken families are developed.
Throughout the novel Dean and Sal sleep with many women, to satisfy their desire for feelings of euphoria. Dean is found at the end of the novel in his third marriage and having four children. Although Dean loves his children it is not enough for him to stay married to the mother of his children. Dean could not find happiness in his past marriage because he constantly feels the need to be free and unattached from the real world. This could easily be because of him being brought up in a broken family.
This shows that because of peoples past lack of creating stable, conventional families, has developed an age where it is more uncommon to find a family where the husband and wife have only been married to each other. It is made clear that all of those around Dean find him irresponsible and even idiotic. Galatea brings this up to Dean by saying:”You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks. All you think about is what’s hanging between your legs and how much money you can get out of people and then you just throw them aside”(Kerouac 194). It is most obvious that Dean is careless and reckless.
This is represented by his indecency to not stay with his children and not support them until he is required, by law, to do so. His lack of stability in female acquaintances upsets his friends to the point of them not seeing him in any respected way. “Dean’s liaison with a third wife is in effect a double betrayal, a double failure. It is a betrayal of his comradely marriage to Sal, and a betrayal of the freedom of action and movement that goes with ’IT’” (Hunt 51). Dean’s promiscuity is commonly seen today, and is regarded as dangerous because of the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections.
This spread of STI’s could even possibly be from the beat generation’s incredible sexual deviance. As time progresses life can only get harder for everyone because of the previous generation’s irresponsibility and carelessness. One would argue that it is irresponsible to blame anyone for society’s faults and dangers. As the human race progresses, so does its troubles. It is impossible to blame one generation for all of the troubles in America, but it is clear that the crime rate jumped after World War Two with the xplanation that breaking the law was the only way for people to find euphoria.
Drug abuse and theft were, for the most part, under-the-rug subjects and not expected of the average person. Society has quickly learned that anyone can be a criminal and that it is better to be precautious of the worst crimes than to be left stunned and helpless from being too naive and trusting all. Today, The United States of America is plagued with criminals and offenders of the law so that the people have covered the country with security cameras, technological safety precautions and locked doors.
The people of The United States of America have learned the hard way, to not trust their neighbors from the actions of the beat generation. It also was very unheard of to have a non-conventional family before the nineteen fifties. The divorce rate is at an all-time high, and it is because of the poor actions that people make with those around them. This was all sparked by the beat generation’s lustful relationships and impromptu marriages. The rise in promiscuity and the lack of desire to be responsible with sex post-World War Two gave the idea that it is ok to not be conventional to the future generations of America.
Human beings learn from those around them, and it is not uncommon to find trends in vices through different generations in families. One’s poor decision, witnessed by youth, will likely be reflected in the future by the youth. It is with the knowledge that one’s present actions will affect the future of those around him or her that one should gain responsibility for the future. It is without a doubt that society in the United States of America has drastically changed since World War Two and even more so with the creation of the internet in the nineteen eighties.
The beat generation has given society the burden of lack of trust. Through the actions of many, American society has gained the knowledge that any one person can be a criminal. Due to the abuse of drugs, and alcohol from the beat generation, it is not uncommon to find addicts and junkies throughout the streets. Society is not naive anymore to the abuse of prescription drugs and inhalers. Medicines that have helped many have been removed from modern medical practice because of those who abused them for euphoric experiences.
Families are now commonly seen with variations in relations between siblings and without a traditional set of two parents. The divorce rate in The United States of America has increased to a magnanimous height. Promiscuous images are frequently seen on the television, in magazines, and on the internet. Children have grown to be unaffected by gruesome and sexual images. It is undeniable that stealing is looked down upon by many, but in the present United States of America, the children are no strangers to shoplifting.
Society in America is losing its morality as time goes on. It is due to the inappropriate actions of past generations that the citizens of The United States of America have increased their security and distrust in people as a whole. The beat generation, especially, has disturbed the minds of the American people with its anarchist movements. One should ask him or herself why society is being constantly watched through security cameras, and why it is so hard to find a traditionally structured family, and why it is now dangerous to hitchhike.