Our attitudes towards summer are often defined by expectations; we dream of sun, friendship and alcohol fuelled escapades, basking in the liberation of rebelling against the rigid standards of we have to endure in school. We dream of so much yet, with such high expectations, reality rarely aligns with these heightened anticipations. While Sal Paradise, the protagonist of Jack Kerouac’s American masterpiece On the Road, believes that traveling ‘on the road’ across America will bring him liberation from his life in New York, it is no surprise that his travelling brings no such relief. Set on a backdrop of exquisite American landscapes, transporting readers to the ideal summer scenes (despite the always disappointing dreary British summers), On the Road is an essential summer read. Underpinned by jazz, drugs, sex and alcohol, the book is filled with an undeniable energy that means readers nor Sal have no time to stop to consider where his exploits are leading him. Characters are unsure of their place in the world, and the grand size of America acts as a metaphor for not only their feelings of seclusion in the world, but also highlights how they feel they have a world of possibilities.
When Sal finds himself still travelling after over two years, his initial energy is lost. No longer does he feel excited towards the future, but is hit by the realisation that he is just another lost soul chasing after an untouchable dream. With many Indiependent readers starting sixth form or heading to university in September, this idea that all of us feel lost is comforting; it’s ok. You’re not alone. So while in many ways On the Road details the journey of disappointment, it is beautifully told and, in detailing such a journey, Kerouac reminds readers that no matter how lost we may feel, we’re not the only ones in search of meaning – a perfect reminder before we all face a new chapters in our lives when summer finally ends.
Words by Juliette Rowsell