Date of Award
Thesis open access
My research seeks to expand on existing studies of Kerouac’s seminole novel On the Road. Many current Kerouac scholars tend to lump Sal and Dean into a dynamic duo of sorts, but this sort of analysis ignores the fact that Sal never fully integrates into the Hipster crowd that Dean associates with. Even amongst his own friends, Sal seems distinctly on the periphery. Sal’s alienation stems from Kerouac’s own persistent feelings of otherness in American society. Searching for a group to join, Sal attempts to appropriate social and ethnic out-groups’ cultures, a feature that many Kerouac scholars dismiss as simply racist. However, Kerouac creates hyperbolic depictions of race that rely on the performativity of race itself thereby creating racial foils that cannot hope to stand on their own; Kerouac seeks a form of social acceptance that moves beyond racial signifiers. For Sal, Dean serves as an example of how to move beyond those signifiers. Dean also exists as an outsider throughout the novel, but paradoxically one who can feel at home anywhere in America. Kerouac uses Dean’s outsiderness as a model Sal strives for. In order to move beyond racial modifiers, Kerouac portrays Dean as a noble savage, the model primitive man and the version of man in his earliest state of innocence and moral superiority. Sal therefore represents the modern man hoping to return to that idyllic primitive age. Unfortunately, Sal discovers at the end of the novel that modern man cannot regress and accepts his role as the modern man, abandoning Dean. On the Road subsequently tells only Sal’s story and silences Dean’s, leaving the primitive man trapped in the Western lens modern man builds around him. Ultimately, Sal uses Dean as the ultimate Other in order to define his own identity; he relies on the dichotomous relationship between him and the Other and constructs his identity based not on what he is but on what he is not.
Reynolds, Megan, "Kerouac’s Noble Savage: The Tragic Fate of the Primitive Man Trapped Within Modernity" (2016). English Honors Theses. 22.