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 On The Road Symbolism,Imagery. & Allegory

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PostSubject: On The Road Symbolism,Imagery. & Allegory   On The Road Symbolism,Imagery. & Allegory Icon_minitimeSat Aug 14, 2010 4:24 am

The Cadillac

Dean and Sal drive a Cadillac across country to Chicago. Or rather, they start with a Cadillac, and they end up with a big hunk of destroyed metal. What destroys this car, you ask? Primarily, it’s Dean – Dean’s mad, fast driving, his need to move, and his dangerous lifestyle. Now for the symbolism. The Cadillac is an American car, and a big beautiful Cadillac is all tied up with the Big Beautiful American Dream. The Beat Generation is running around rebelling against the American Dream, and destroying in it their trips across country with their mad, fast driving, their need to move, and their dangerous lifestyles. Ohhhh.

Times Square

Every time Sal returns to New York, he goes back to Times Square. Now you might have noticed a slightly obsessive discussion of time that permeates this novel. Time…Times Square…Time. Let’s give it a shot. Dean measures everything in terms of time, right? This many minutes for sleeping with Camille, this many hours for driving to Chicago, etc. And Sal, Sal always measures things in distance. He’s 2,000 miles from home, or there’s 50 miles left to Denver, and so on. Sal isn’t as conscious of time as Dean, until he returns to New York and looks out over "those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City" and realizes everyone’s going to die. So while he’s right back where he started geographically (New York), he realizes that TIME is running out. Because Sal thinks in terms of places, he needs a physical location to represent time, like Times Square.


Check out Sal pawning his watch for gas on the way to Tucson. It’s a four dollar watch, he tells us, so naturally he sold it for one dollar. Sal drastically undervalues time. Not to mention, he sells the watch for gas money, which means he’s trading time for distance. Not unlike using years and years to travel across the country.

Young Girls

Wait a minute – Dean’s lusting after young girls is pedophilia, not a symbol. Right? Well, depends on how literary you’re feeling. Dean thinks in terms of time, and the problem with time is that it makes us all older. We were particularly interested in that passage where Dean and Sal play basketball against some younger boys and we get to see that Dean and Sal are aging. So what’s a frantic, older man to do? Fall in love with youth. And the nearest embodiment is youth is a very young girl, or two, or twelve, that Dean lusts after.


Not the Stephen King novel, either. By "IT" we mean…well, what do we mean? That’s the question. Only it’s more like, what is Dean talking about with this IT business? Does he even know? And what is going on with this flagrant abuse of capital letters?

Dean tends to talk about IT when he’s talking about 1) time and 2) God. So IT has something to do with time and God. Also it’s capitalized, so that you don’t mistake IT for a pronoun when you’re reading. So it’s important; we get that. But what does it mean? IT becomes this thing that Dean seeks and then knows, insists that Sal knows, but won’t detail explicitly because he just doesn’t have the time. Musicians have IT, George Shearing definitely has IT, and because of IT, Dean is able to groove anywhere in America.

IT most likely is to Dean what this "pearl of wisdom" business is to Sal. It’s the end of the road. It’s what they’re searching for. But the problem with the Beat Generation was that they didn't know what they wanted. There’s a reason that IT is vague, and it’s because the desires of the Beat Generation were vague. That’s what makes their dissatisfaction so frustrating. Dean simply put a name on this thing that he doesn’t know he wants; he calls it IT.


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