Professor K. Cunningham
1 April 2014
Beat Generation: Keeping Women in the Shadows
Gender roles and objectification of women has always been an issue in America even in today’s society. Gender roles are the social and behavioral “norms” that are appropriate for a man or a woman. Objectification is often heard when talking about women, and it is when something or someone is treated as an object rather than a human being. In On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a great example of America’s way of viewing women. On the Road is during a time period of change; regardless of the change happening women somehow were still treated unequally. In On the Road and real life women tend to be looked down on and are expected to know and do the “normal” things any women should like cook, clean, and especially have lots of sex with men due to this women are seen as objects and gender roles keep existing. On the Road novel has two main characters being Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. The novel takes place in the years 1947 to 1950, during the “beat” generation. Throughout the novel they go on many road trips, and go on many adventures leaving their women behind. The whole storyline brings up the topic of gender roles. Since the novel is largely autobiographical it brings out the reality of gender roles during the 1950s. Also the novel lets people into Jack Kerouac’s mind because Sal Paradise is the Kerouac’s alter ego; therefore what Sal says could be the real thoughts of Jack Kerouac. It is easy enough to see that the society presented in the novel On the Road embodies a value that makes the fictional characters unhappy with their relationships with others. Many characters seem to be unsatisfied with their love life and their frustration often leads to violent acts. Women are in an inferior position throughout the novel. For instance, there is a division of labor according to sex and better known as gender role which implies that the home is the place for women and the men are only there when they have free time. One example of this is when Sal visits a ranching family and the husband is free to relax and enjoy himself while his “housewife” prepares the food. Sal praises all the food that is there, but he also realizes that the wife complains about the “rural solitude” (Kerouac 64). The narrator knows that the wife is not happy with a life at home and that she would like some of the freedom that her husband thinks he deserves just because he is a man. It is obvious that the female characters in the novel are frustrated in their daily lives and that the negative feelings often lead to tensions between the couples, which sometimes result in verbal or physical assault. One of the worst functioning relationships described in the novel is the one between Sal’s French friend Remi Boncoeur and his wife Lee Ann. Sal perception of Lee Ann and her marriage to Remi is: She was a fetching hunk, a honey-coloured creature, but there was hate in her eyes for both of us. Her ambition was to marry a rich man. She came from a small town in Oregon. She rued the day she ever took up with Remi. On one of his big showoff week-ends he spent a hundred dollars on her and she thought she’d found an heir. Instead she was hung up in this shack, and for the lack of anything else she had to stay there. (Kerouac 61). In this quote the narrator is saying that Lee Ann is beautiful physically but inside she is evil. Lee Ann wanted to marry a rich man and when she found out her husband was not rich just a show off she became unhappy (Kerouac 64). She is even unhappy because their relationship, which is built upon traditional gender roles, becomes a frustrating restriction of their lives. Lee Ann seems to believe that the only way to become rich is through marriage and Remi obviously thinks that in order to please a woman he has to buy her a lot of gifts. In this example both the man and the woman are wrong because people should earn and...
Cited: Coontz, Stephanie. “What we really miss about the 1950s.” Rereading America Cultural: Contexts for Criticism Thinking and Writing Ed. Gary Colorado, Robert Cullen, Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2013.27-44
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. 1957. London: Penguin Books, 1972.
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