On the Road

Idealism and the Road in the late 1940s vs. the 1960s in On the Road and Easy Rider

In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream.

-Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run"

And I said, "That last thing is what you can't get, Carlo. Nobody can get to that last thing. We keep on living in hopes of catching it once and for all."

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

One of the first American ideals was that of the rugged individualist: the explorer-hero, in the tradition of Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett, as well as the cowboy. America, especially the western part, was a new, exciting frontier yearning to be explored. However, once most of the continent had been explored and industrialization created large urban and suburban areas where people could spend their entire lives, much of the urge to explore was lost. Travel was not necessary to see the rest of the world; magazines and the radio made that possible. America was prosperous and complacent. However, after the Great Depression and especially after World War II, a new generation felt the urge to see America, to search for truth. They were disillusioned; an overwhelming anxiety swept the nation, evidenced, for example, in the film noir style of the late 1940s. Jack Kerouac, for many, symbolized breaking free from this anxiety,...

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