On the Road with Huck Finn

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Both Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tell stories of the search for freedom and adventure while travelling. The main characters of both books long for the experience of travelling the American countryside. Although the circumstances that lead Sal Paradise and Huck Finn on their journeys are different, they have similar ideas of what awaits them on the unknown road ahead. However, as Sal and Huck both learn, dreams do not always correspond with reality. This lesson is learned throughout their time spent trying to reach and realize their dreams. Along their journeys to reach their respective dreams, both characters spend time with minorities. Sal spends time living among Mexican laborers and explores the African American jazz scene, and Huck spends time with Jim, a runaway slave. The two hold very different views of Mexican and African American life and both grow from their experiences in different ways. Sal Paradise’s and Huck Finn’s dreams about the excitement of travelling America and their differing ideas of minority life are eventually confronted by the realities of travelling and the lives of minorities. On the Road focuses primarily on the exciting part of Sal’s life – his life on the road. Sal’s life at home in New York is portrayed as much less interesting than his time spent travelling across the country. Critics speculate that Kerouac and the beat generation believed that “living at home, being cared for by one's aunt, working on a novel, even achieving commercial success is not exciting…” (French par 15). Sal’s New York life is barely mentioned and only shows his boredom and longing to escape. In the beginning of the novel, Sal states that prior to meeting Dean he lived with the feeling “that everything was dead” (Kerouac 1). Sal had dreamed of going west to see America but none of his plans came to fruition – until Dean. Dean is described as “a youth tremendously excited with life…he wanted so much to live and get involved with people” (4). His excitement for life and travel is contagious and quickly helps Sal get away from his sheltered life. Sal and Dean envision America as an unending horizon of infinite possibilities, full of adventure. Upon leaving New York for the first time, Sal says, “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future…” (15). He looks forward to what the west holds in store for him. Pondering what they will do upon arriving at their unknown destination Dean says, “We know America, we’re at home; I can go anywhere in America and get what I want because it’s the same in every corner, I know the people, I know what they do” (121). Dean and Sal believe that they do not need to worry about what they will do or how they will get by, but that they will be greeted by endless opportunities, fun, and adventures. The opportunities that they dream of are a result of their belief in America and the open road. One critic, Mark Richardson comments, “All truly valuable things, this novel suggests, come about only through the creative and possibly deceitful agency of belief—through yea-saying, not through skepticism and denial” (Richardson 222). However, Dean and Sal’s belief in the opportunities of America often leads them into situations that end poorly and ultimately cause Sal to return home.

Each of the four parts of the novel that take place on the road begin with Sal feeling bored and disgusted with his “other life” in New York and searching for escape. He initially takes to the road cautiously but gains confidence and energy for the new life which he is pursuing. On each adventure, the action builds and reaches a high point until an event occurs that causes his plans to fall apart or call him back to New York. While living among migrant workers Sal states, “I was through with my chores in the cotton field. I could feel the pull of my own life calling me back” (Kerouac 98). Sal always returns...
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