Date of Award
Languages & Literature
Jack Kerouac’s protagonist, Salvatore Paradise, began an exploration of self identity and fulfillment across the physical landscape of the United States. On the Road may be considered as the novel that started the Beat Generation, and indeed Jack Kerouac coined the term “beat” in this novel. However, it is not the first work of literature that expresses a desire to find the pearl, this ultimate source of meaning and fulfillment. On the Road records Sal’s interaction with the sublime nature of his world during five road trips across the United States. What Sal discovers, however, is that the fulfillment he is yearning for does not lie hidden within the ever-changing physical landscape, but rather within the changes he makes in how he understands himself and how he relates to other people. He recalls, “I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life.. .when I didn’t know who I was -1 was far away from home.. .1 was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future” (Kerouac 20). Sal may have left Paterson, New Jersey, in the hope of avoiding a dull existence and the resignation of stationary life, but he discovers that constant movement can also be a form of stasis. Sal does not have many constants in his life. Cities and towns are always different, faces are always changing, and although both of these elements are united in their ever-changing status, the one constant in Sal’s life is his friendship with Dean. Therefore, the novel explores how Sal and Dean relate to each other in unfamiliar towns across the Midwest and western coast of the United States. The final scene with Dean and Sal is emotionally complex. They are forced to say good-bye on a New York City street as Sal is getting into a car to go uptown. The location of New York City is important because it is not the familiar Paterson, New Jersey, nor on the outskirts of something bigger. The setting symbolizes his realization that the physical environment of where he lives is not as important as the people he chooses to surround himself with. However, Sal could not have come to this realization if he had not first failed to find the “pearl” within the physical landscape of he United States and within his relationship with Dean. Even at the end of the book, Dean remains a nomad of the road, but Sal transforms from a wandering spirit into a young man who takes ownership over his life and his relationships. Like Sal and Dean, I became a nomad of the road, united with them in the desire to live passionately and to test the limits of my existence. I began my semester abroad in Mexico on October 5, 2007. I lived, worked, played, cooked, and learned with the same thirteen roommates for seventy-five days. We celebrated birthdays, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, witnessed personal triumphs and failures, and accompanied each other on the road to adulthood. I first heard about National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) at an overnight outdoor camp that I attended every summer while in high school. And when I received the glossy fifty-plus page NOLS catalogue, I poured over the semester-long expeditions, debating which course boasted the richest pictures. The semester I chose included twenty-eight days of sea kayaking, twenty-nine days of sailing aboard twenty foot Drascombe yawls, and ten days of keelboat sailing down the coast of Baja Mexico. With two red, medium-sized duffel bags containing the sum of my possessions for the next seventy-five days, I departed Seattle-Tacoma international airport unsure ofwhat the future had in store, but confident that I had something beautiful and profound to learn from the world. This is my coming ofage story, a profound rite ofpassage. Like Sal, my journey became a reorientation inward, as what I discovered in Mexico is that the “pearl” does not lie hidden in some external source or person, but rather within my search to live a life of fulfillment. I did not emerge from the Mexican backcountry a worldly adult, sure of my future success. Instead, I realized the beauty of the daily struggle to live as the person I want to be.
Levesque, Madeline, "On The Road to Self-Fulfillment via Baja California Sur: A Memoir" (2009). Languages and Literature Undergraduate Theses. 23.