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Prison Essay, Research Paper


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Society is continually evolving, yet human nature remains

constant. Over time, new technologies have served to

dramatically alter society, but the needs and desires of

individuals within that society have remained the same. The

most basic of these needs is the compulsion to find one s

place within society. There comes a time in everyone s life

at which it becomes necessary to define their role in the

world. To determine this role, each person must at some

point set out upon a journey. The journey need not be a

physical journey as it is in Kerouac s On the Road, but like

the novel the journey must fulfill one s spiritual needs.

It is only when one understands themselves that they may

function within society. A journey is nothing more than a

passage from one place to another. It is only when one is

critically conscious of the journey that they may truly

understand themselves.

In the past 50 years the changes underwent by society

have been immense. As technology has undergone significant

advancements, society has changed to adapt. Breakthroughs

in technology such as the widespread use of television,

computers, and the Internet have significantly altered

society. These advancements have all led to a more informed

society, one that has access to incredible amounts of

information. The idea of being informed has its downfalls

however. This plethora of information alters one s view of

the world. In the 1950 s, largely because of the lack of

information, crime appeared to occur at a much lower rate

than it does in the 1990 s and as a whole everyone felt

safe. The 1990 s, with the bombardment of crime related

stories from the media on television and the Internet of

crimes appears to be at a record high. This, however, is

not the case. In effect, crime rates from 1950 compared to

those from 1998 are fairly similar. The index crime rate is

the number of substantial crimes including robberies, rapes

and murders, per every 1000 people. In 1950, this crime

rate was at a mere 52.(Security Information Center) This

meant on average 52 crimes occurred for every 1000 people in

the United States. In 1998 the index crime rate was

reported to be 58, meaning that 58 crimes occurred for every

1000 people. (SIC) In effect this data seems to show that

while crime has in fact increased the change has not been so

immense that society s views should be altered. It is only

the combined media attention coupled with an increase in

overall population which makes crime appear more widespread

and the world seem a more dangerous place, these changes

fail to affect human nature. Despite the way society has

changed, mankind continues to have the same needs. Central

to these needs is the compulsion to determine one s identity

and where they fit in an ever changing society. To

determine this, each individual much attempt a spiritual

journey much in the same way Sal and Dean did in Kerouac s

On the Road. Being on the road is more than just merely

traveling across the country, it is the process of finding

who one is by becoming conscious of the world. Sal and Dean

do not simply go on a trip across the country, instead they

experience the country and society. On their voyage the two

young men rebel against the constraints of society. It is

not until they go on this voyage, however, that they truly

realize the constraints society has placed on them. Sal

Paradise and Dean Moriarty discover themselves a little more

with every person they meet and every place they go. What

appears to be rebellion is revealed as nothing more than

experimentation in the hopes of finding themselves. The

journey these men go on sheds new light on society, and in

doing so helps uncover their place within the society. Both

men are made aware of things in life which simply cannot be

learned unless experienced.

Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are two restless young

men in search of something better for themselves. Sal was a

typical young man in search of himself and people to

identify with. Dean was all troubles and ecstasy and speed

as ever. (Kerouac,248). Sal and Dean embark on the road as

a means of rebelling against the constraints of society and

in doing so serve to uncover the underbelly of society.

Through their long journey of self discovery they uncover

the world around them. Sal says, It made me think that

everything was about to arrive-the moment when you know all

and everything is decided forever. (Kerouac, 128) Through

people they meet and places they go, they gain a broader

view of life. Sal and Dean s journey is more than merely

sex, drugs, and jazz. It is about with what they learn in

regard to themselves through experiencing these things.

On the Road consists of four major trips made by Sal

which encompass his journey. His first excursion is from

New York to Denver, where he meets with Dean, and then to

San Francisco before heading home to New York. Sal s

journey does not go as well as expected at first, but he

soon learns an important lesson about being on the road;

flexibility and the ability to adapt is a necessary. After

some initial difficulty hitchhiking he takes a bus to

Chicago and then ventures on to Denver seeing the majestic

Mississippi along his way. In Denver he meets up with his

college buddies Dean and Carlo Marx. They experience all

that life has to offer by getting their kicks , until Sal

decides to head out alone to San Francisco. Along his way,

Sal experiences his first whirlwind romance with a Mexican

girl named Terry. The romance is short-lived, however, and

soon he returns home to New York. His second trip takes him

from New York to Virginia to New Orleans and then San

Francisco before taking him home to New York once again.

This trip was influential in Sal s understanding of the

world. It was on this trip that Sal experienced jazz and

the French Quarter culture. It is also during this jaunt

where Sal recognizes the free-spirited Dean as crazy. He

was surrounded by alcohol, jazz and Dean s craziness. At

this point Sal thought he would never see Dean again and

didn t care. (Kerouac,178) The admiration he once had for

Dean had dwindled away. The third trip taken by Sal is the

one on which he makes a conscious effort to observe the

world around him. On this trip Sal goes to Denver to make

amends with Dean. When he finds Dean they decide to walk

to New York … and as we do so let s take stock of the

everything along the way. (Kerouac 184) Although they

decide to drive to Chicago instead and then take a bus back

to New York, what they observe along the way is an important

part of their journey. The fourth and final trip takes Sal

and Dean to Mexico. In Mexico the two spend what would be

their final evening together indulging in drugs, liquor and

prostitutes. Their journey together ends when Sal gets sick

and Dean selfishly abandons him to marry a girl in New York.

Sal realizes Deans true character when he states, When I

got better I realized what a rat he was,… Okay old Dean,

I ll say nothing . (Kerouac 302).

The journey made by Sal and Dean is unique to them, yet

what they learned from the experience about society and life

in general are universal. Their rebellion of society

through sex, drugs and jazz taught them a great deal about

themselves whether or not they recognized just what they

learned. The journey provided them what they unknowingly

wanted: a secure place in society. They discovered,

although they never became conscious of it, that society is

nothing more than what one perceives it to be. By gaining

different perspectives through exploring different areas of

the country and different types of people, the two young men

gain varying views of society. The stereotypical view of

society was proven to be just that, stereotypical. In

addition, Sal came to an important realization about people

through his conscious view of Dean. He sees Dean as being

self-centered, which leads him to realize what the journey

intended him to realize; that society is made up of people

with different characteristics. Therefore, society is

everything to everyone and nothing to no one, it is

everything one perceives it to be and everything no one

could ever perceive. One s place in society is simply what

one makes it through their experiences.

Paulo Freire s Banking Concept of Education describes a

unique aspect of On the Road: the concept of consciousness.

In particular it addresses the idea of possessors of

consciousness versus conscious persons. Freire defines

critical consciousness as consciousness intent upon the

world. He says that being a mere possessor of consciousness

assumes a dichotomy between man and the world: man is

merely in the world, not with the world or with others; man

is a spectator, not recreator. (Freire, 4) On the Road is

able to exhibit these two types of people quite clearly in

the characters of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Although

there are many times when both Sal and Dean are simply

possessors of consciousness, Sal has certain occasions where

he gains critical consciousness. Both men throughout the

journey are conscious of the world around them. They are

spectators of their environment, merely living in the

world. (Freire 6) Sal however, is on some occasions able to

step back and not only be conscious of his environment but

be conscious of his consciousness. At select moments Sal

not only lives in the world, but he lives with the world.

He is able to act and reflect upon the world in order to

transform it. At these moments he is critically conscious.

Dean, however, never attains this critical consciousness.

He never becomes a conscious person, and perhaps that is why

Dean s journey could not end. One such example of Sal s

attaining critical consciousness is after he reconciles with

Dean, when he has a moment of clarity in which he sees Dean

for who he is as a person. Sal says Poor, poor Dean-the

devil himself had never fallen farther; in idiocy, with

infected thumb, surrounded by the battered suitcases of his

motherless feverish life across America and back numberless

times, an undone bird. In this instant Sal not only sees

Dean for what he is on the surface but he also sees Dean for

what he is in the deepest sense. In doing so he achieves

the deepest consciousness as he is conscious of the world as

a recreator rather than a spectator.

The idea of consciousness is a central theme in On the

Road, much in the same way that the journey is a central

theme in human nature. The need to find one self is

something that confronts all people. There comes a time

when a person is unable to identify their role in society.

This is what leads to rebellion and subsequently journey.

Throughout the years the journey may change with technology,

yet the concept remains the same. The idea of an on the

road journey remains as plausible as it was in the past. In

essence, little about human nature has changed in the last

four decades. The journey would be largely different in

many ways, yet the goal of the journey; the uncovering of

the underbelly of society and rebellion would be largely the


Technology and an ever changing society would make many

things different about a modern day on the road journey.

Modern hitch-hiking laws would make it largely impossible to

travel cross-country through this method. However, other

inexpensive transportation methods such as bus and train

provide safe and legal alternatives. Likewise in present

society it would be nearly impossible to live without money.

It would most likely be necessary to save up a substantial

amount of money prior to venturing out on the road. Also,

poor treatment of women and usage of drugs would likely not

be tolerated in today s society. In general, however, very

little has changed to prevent such a journey from taking

place. As illustrated by crime rate it is not necessarily

that things have changed, moreover the perception of things

has changed. If such a journey were to take place in modern

times some aspects would have changed but largely things

would be the same. While, the places one visits would be

different and the methods of attaining their conclusions

would be contrasted, their conclusions would be the same.

Regardless of time, human nature remains the same. No

matter how the physical journey changes, the spiritual

journey through which one finds oneself remains the


The journey is an important part of life. It is

through the excursion that one derives who they are and how

they fit in society. The journey brings everyone to certain

realizations about themselves which help them define their

identity. Only through these moments of critical

consciousness are people able to see the world for what it

truly is. This, after all, is the reason for embarking on

the journey. One aims to see the world and society in their

best sense and find oneself through understanding of this

world. Human nature is always the same. It does not matter

when or how one takes the journey; in the end the

conclusions reached will be the same.

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