The Sexual Politics of Keruoac’s ‘On the Road’

In examining On the Road, while the subject of what exactly the road means to Kerouac is an essential question to ask, there are others that seem more interesting to me. One question is, what was the driving force behind Kerouac’s need to publish this story? Obviously, this is a deeply personal story and as we’ve seen in many literary discussions, he spent essentially the rest of his career trying to escape the book that he had worked so hard to create. More importantly, understanding Kerouac’s deeply enigmatic nature, what was the need to create characters that were so thinly veiled as real figures in his life?
One of the examples is Dean Moriarty who is thought to be Neal Cassady. There is a strong homosexual subtext between the two characters of Sal and Dean, although at times subtext seems to be the wrong word. What Kerouac seems to be doing with this story is working through the stigmas of his own struggle with his sexuality. Although he never openly commented on his own sexuality, it was largely known that he identified as bisexual. However, as proven with the long time that it took for the book to actually be published, there was a lot of self editing that had to be done for Kerouac. In order to be published, he was unable to openly identify his sexual preference, but veiled references to it were placed throughout the text such as “In myriad pricklings of heavenly radiation I had to struggle to see Dean’s figure, and he looked like God.”
Statements like this are pretty concrete evidence that there was some form of idealization or romantic attraction to the character of Dean and perhaps his real life counterpart Neal. However, not only did Kerouac seem to struggle with sexual politics in the publishing house, but within society as well. In the book Men and Masculinities, author Michael S. Kimmel describes the paradox created by Kerouac the rebel versus the conformist that, at least in regards to his sexuality, he was. Kimmel also deals with American attitudes towards sexuality in relation to Kerouac in both the past and the present. “To suggest, therefore, that Kerouac may have been bisexual- or worse, to point out that Kerouac was bisexual, is to perform an American heresy. It is to say that Kerouac’s words were not shaped by the Muse, or by the isolated genius, but shaped instead by the very culture of paranoid conformity that the Kerouac mystique rebels against.”
Upon further examination of Kerouac’s personal life and struggle with his sexuality, Kerouac becomes more real to me as a reader. Of course, this comes at the expense of realizing the hypocrisy, although the word sounds too harsh, of the author himself. It makes me view On the Road as more of an idealization than a life experience. However, as in any love story, which I would make the argument that On the Road is a love story, idealization skews the author’s perception of the events that take place. Factor in that he was dealing with these feelings in the “hypothetical” and attempting to hide them within his story, he shows an undeniable talent. In conclusion, upon reading about Kerouac’s life and consequently, his flaws, he’s become less of a symbol to me and more personable, making the book just as enjoyable as a work of fiction.


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