Both Jack Kerouac On the Road and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tell stories of the search for freedom and adventure while traveling. The mall characters of both books long for the experience of traveling the American countryside. Although the circumstances that lead Sal Paradise and Houck Finn on their Journeys are different, they have similar ideas of what awaits them on the unknown road ahead. However, as Sal and Houck both learn, dreams do not always correspond with reality. This lesson is learned throughout their time spent trying to reach and realize their dreams.
Along their Journeys to reach their respective dreams, both characters spend time with minorities. Sal spends time living among Mexican laborers and explores the African American jazz scene, and Houck spends time with Jim, a runaway slave. The two hold very different views of Mexican and African American life and both grow from their experiences in different ways. Sal Paradise’s and Houck Fin’s dreams about the excitement of traveling America and their differing ideas of minority life are eventually confronted by the realities of traveling and the lives of minorities.
On the Road focuses primarily on the exciting art of Gal’s life – his life on the road. Gal’s life at home in New York Is portrayed as much less Interesting than his time spent traveling across the country. Critics speculate that Kerouac and the beat generation believed that “living at home, being cared for by one’s aunt, working on a novel, even achieving commercial success is not exciting… ” (French par 15). Gal’s New York life is barely mentioned and only shows his boredom and longing to escape. In the beginning of the novel, Sal states that prior to meeting Dean he lived with the feeling “that everything was dead” (Kerouac 1).
Sal ad dreamed of going west to see America but none of his plans came to fruition – until Dean. Dean is described as “a youth tremendously excited with Life… He wanted so much to live and get involved with people” (4). His excitement for life and travel is contagious and quickly helps Sal get away from his sheltered life. Sal and Dean envision America as an unending horizon of infinite possibilities, full of adventure. Upon leaving New York for the first time, Sal says, “l was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future… (15). He looks forward to what the west holds In store for him. Pondering what they will do upon arriving at their unknown destination Dean says, “We know America, we’re at home; I can go anywhere in America and get what I want because it’s the same in every corner, I know the people, I know what they do” (121). Dean and Sal believe that they do not need to worry about what they will do or how they will get by, but that they will be greeted by endless opportunities, fun, and adventures. The opportunities that they dream of are a result of their belief In America and the open road.
One critic, Mark Richardson comments, “All truly valuable things, this novel suggests, mom about only through the creative and possibly deceitful agency of belief-? through yea-saying, not through skepticism and denial” (Richardson 222). However, Dean and Gal’s belief in the opportunities of America often leads them into situations that end poorly and ultimately cause Sal to return home. Each of the four parts of the novel that take place on the road begin with Sal escape. He initially takes to the road cautiously but gains confidence and energy for the new life which he is pursuing.
On each adventure, the action builds and reaches a high point until an event occurs that causes his plans to fall apart or call him back o New York. While living among migrant workers Sal states, “l was through with my chores in the cotton field. I could feel the pull of my own life calling me back” (Kerouac 98). Sal always returns back home, dejected and depressed. As he says at the end of his first Journey, “Here I was at the end of America – no more land – and now there was nowhere to go but back” (77). The realities of running out of money, adventures gone awry, and desertion shatter Gal’s dreams of the life he could have in the west.
His dreams are left unfulfilled as he realizes the impulsiveness and irresponsibility of his actions. However, he never fully abandons his belief in the magic and myth of America, as shown by his return to the road three times after the initial trip. Richardson believes that despite the realities that Sal is eventually faced with, “On the Road is a book that simply refuses to be Jaded, no matter how canny, ironic, and self-aware it becomes” (Richardson 219). Similar to the dreams and realities faced in On the Road are those that Houck faces in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Houck feels confined by Widow Douglass who tries to civilize him. He wants to experience the freedom which he felt while having adventures with Tom Sawyer. Houck eventually gains this desired freedom after he is forced to live with his father. Rather than living with an abusive father, Houck fakes his own death and escapes from Pap and civilization. Houck takes a canoe to an island where he runs into Jim, a runaway slave, who becomes his companion on the Journey. Unlike Sal in On the Road, Husks escape was not from boredom, but from the figurative imprisonment he faced from his father and society.
As critic Alan Transcendent comments, “The only release is escape, flight, and effacement of the identity through which both town and Pap oppress him; he can resume autonomy only by assuming “death” for his name” (Transcendent par 3). After Houck fakes his own death he is able to pursue his dreams of freedom, travel and adventure; however, like Sal, he is faced with the reality of his dreams. The reality and difficulties he faces are the product of his companionship with Jim. Houck does not feel called to go back home for any reason other than to save Jim, who was sold back into slavery.
Whereas Sal always returns home after his adventures, at the end of Twain’s novel Houck says, “l reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and civilize me, and I can’t stand it” (Twain 281). The contrasting motivation for traveling is Just one of the many differences between On the Road and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Another difference between these two works is the main characters’ view of minorities. Throughout his Journeys, Sal creates a romanticizes view of the Mexican and African American people that he meets.
When he meets and falls in love with Terry, a Mexican woman who works in a cotton field in southern California, he also falls in love with his idea of the life of migrant workers. Sal picks cotton for a short time as a way to earn money and says, “l was a man of the earth, precisely as I had dreamed I would be… ” (Kerouac 97). Sal is too distracted fulfilling his dream of America to realize the oppression and harshness of conditions that Terry, her family, and other but Gal’s experience with Terry and her family is their only reality.
Sal also comments about an old black couple that “picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama” (96). Sal is insensitive to the hard work and difficult past that these laborers have to overcome. As critic Douglas Malcolm states, “He celebrates manual labor while seemingly utterly unaware of slavery’ (Malcolm 98). When Sal sees but does not seem to recognize the reality of minority life in this time. During their travels Sal and Dean also experience the Jazz music and culture of African Americans. Sal identifies his own adventures and those of his friends with jazz music.
On one of Gal’s first bus trips he states, “And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has come to represent for all of us, I thought of all my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in he same vast backyard doing something so frantic and rushing about” (Kerouac 12). The beat, pace, and rhythm of Jazz become something that Sal could associate himself with. Douglas Malcolm comments that “for Sal and his friends, Jazz and Jazz musicians provided an insider’s world of hidden knowledge that distinguished them from straight society’ (Malcolm 99).
Sal enjoys being able to identify himself with and have experiences that he believes are similar to those of African Americans. While traveling through Mill City Sal comments, “It was, so they say, the only community in America where whites and Negroes lived together voluntarily; and that was so, and so wild and Joyous a place I’ve never seen since” (Kerouac 61). Being that this novel was written before the Civil Rights movement, the reader is inclined to question Gal’s observations.
The area was most likely segregated and it is doubtful that there were completely peaceful and Joyous relations throughout the entire community. Gal’s statement is an example of a white man’s ideas of a society where African Americans are fine with being oppressed by a white majority. Sal never comes to a full understanding of people’s struggles that underlie his romanticizes portrayal of minority life. While Sal romanticizes the lives of African Americans, Houck Finn comes closer to their experiences by forming a bond with runaway slave, Jim.
Houck risks everything to travel with Jim and to keep him from being sold back into slavery. Houck shows his dedication to his friend when he is about to send a letter telling Jims owner of his whereabouts. Instead of sending the letter Houck says, “All right then, I’ll go to hell,” tears up the letter, and determines to find and free Jim (Twain 206). Throughout the kook, Husks understanding of Jims life and the lives of other slaves grows but never fully develops. Houck sees Jims desperation for freedom, but rather than free Jim immediately, he and Tom Sawyer decide to play games.
While traveling together, Jim and Houck were companions, but upon arrival at home it seems that Houck has learned nothing. Jim is eventually freed, but Houck seems disappointed that his schemes and plans to free Jim were worthless because he was already set free (278). As Transcendent comments, “The implications of a deepening human relation between Houck and Jim fail to materialize in the book” (Transcendent par 23). Both Houck and Sal Paradise have opportunities to gain an understanding of the plight of minorities, but both characters fail to seize such opportunities. Ill bring them. Sal travels to escape his boring life in New York, hoping to find adventure and meaning in life on the road. Houck Journeys down the river to escape the constraints of society and an abusive father. Both characters’ eyes are opened to the harsh realities of their dreams of America, yet continue to long for the “freedom” they feel in traveling. They do have some experiences, such as those with Mexicans ND African Americans, which bring them closer to appreciating their own freedom.