Thursday, November 11, 2010

Relationships on the road

By coincidence, I happen to be reading about and discussing America’s “market economy” in my Ethics class this week in conjunction with my reading On the Road for Post-Colonial Literature (McCarthy 27). One of the main points my Ethics class has come back to about the United States’ tendencies, which David McCarthy makes in our assigned book, The Good Life, is that an economy which encourages “greed[iness]” also implicitly advocates entering into “contractual” relationships with people rather than emotionally probing friendships (McCarthy 71, 31). I found myself thinking about this argument of McCarthy’s throughout the beginning of On the Road because many of the protagonist’s relationships, at least initially, seem to be defined from his perspective by an academic intrigue rather than by a substantial concern for the people with whom he interacts. As the narrator says, he “[shambles] after… people who interest” him, like Dean – a figure who himself seems inconsistent in his approach to forming friendships, as he treats his marriage and its collapse casually while enthusiastically entering into a “fiendish” relationship with Carlo Marx that is dominated by an exchange of ideas (5, 6). However, knowing that Dean is a “con man,” one wonders if even that relationship is going to inevitably disintegrate (6). While the protagonist claims to understand that he himself is being manipulated by Dean, presumably any con man – Sawyer on Lost comes to mind for me – typically uses people who only later realize the nature of the relationship, and with that understanding angrily repel the deceiver, if they are still able to do so. Therefore, even if Dean does put on false social masks “to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him,” one must question if such a habit merely enables the emotionally distanced – “detatch[ed],” McCarthy would say -- examination the narrator prefers (4; McCarthy 31).

One of the conclusions McCarthy draws in his book, and which both he and my Ethics class discussed in relation to the real-life story on which the film Into the Wild was based, was that personal development cannot really commence while one is attempting to remain largely “separate from” other people and places, or “in flight from the world,” throughout one’s trek (McCarthy 71). This is a theme we talked about in relation to Black Rainbow, and it seemed especially relevant to the start of On the Road because the narrator seems particularly intent on remaining in this kind of “flight” while hitchhiking (McCarthy 71). He describes “innumerable people” with whom he catches rides with, and, at least at that early juncture, one partner disappears as quickly as the next (14). Rather than convey sadness at any of these partings, the narrator expresses an anxiety about being with and having to “entertain” such people (14). Like McCarthy, he seems to comprehend the theatricality of many modern relationships, or, like the main figure in Into the Wild, is annoyed by the “superficiality, greed, and selfishness of the world” (McCarthy 71). But rather than seek an emotional bond which would transcend that quality the protagonist would rather have brief exchanges, like those with the two truck drivers, which, while genuine, seem to be easily ended by both parties involved.

Thinking about it in detail, in relation to both On the Road and what McCarthy talks about, these ties remind me of the kind that probably exist between two Facebook friends. I find this especially interesting because I read an article last year in The Washington Post that criticized college students today for not reading thematically and philosophically dense material like On the Road and instead opting for books with “vampires.” While several pages of Internet comments following this article questioned the validity of the critic’s comparisons of one generation to the next – and even whether prominent books of last generation, like On the Road, qualify as seminal novels – the protagonist’s early adventures have made me question how different this generation and the last really are in terms of how we converse with others.


Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin Putman, 1957.

McCarthy, David Matzko. The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004.

Charles, Ron. “On Campus, Vampires Are Besting the Beats.” The Washington Post. 08/03/09. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 11/11/10.

Comments on “On Campus, Vampires Are Besting the Beats.” The Washington Post Online. Web.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: Third Edition. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Savage, Dan. “Your Cheatin’ Hearts.” Savage Love.

Hauerwas, Stanley. “Marriage as a Subversive Act.” After Christendom?: How the Church is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas. Abingdon Press, Nashville.

Hibbs, Thomas S. Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2008.

Hibbs, Thomas S. "Hopeless Emptiness: Capitalist Suburbia in 'American Beauty', 'Revolutionary Road', and 'Mad Men.'" 10/03/2009. Lecture/Web. 21/10/2010.

Live Together, Read Alone: A LOST Book Blog. Web. 11/11/2010.

Dark UFO. Web.

Several blogs of reviews of books featured on Lost, such as On the Road.

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