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A Feminist Perspective Of On The Road And The First Third

644 words - 3 pages

Much has been written about the Beat generation, especially about the hold its radical freedom has exerted on the American imagination. The Beats who stand out in most of our minds are men and the freedom they enjoyed--a freedom of movement, of creativity, of sexuality--is coded as a particularly male kind of freedom. My paper will suggest that in their autobiographical texts On the Road and The First Third Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady construct a travelling masculinity in an attempt to escape bourgeois patriarchal structures without abandoning traditional patriarchal definitions of masculine power.

 

In the American imagination, the archetypal national hero is a travelling man: the frontiersman, pioneer, cowboy, scout, who subdued the wilderness and inscribed "America" over the continent. Moving unfettered through American frontiers, they exemplified the freedom of complete self-creation. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Editor's Note," which serves as an introduction to Neal Cassady's The First Third, positions Cassady in the American heroic tradition as representative of the authentic American man. Ferlinghetti equates Cassady with "an early prototype of the urban cowboy who a hundred years before might have been an outlaw on the range," and notes that "as such Kerouac saw him in On the Road." My essay examines this linkage of powerful masculinity, freedom of travel, and rediscovery of authentic Americanness, exploring the ways in which the figure of the travelling man reinscribes dominant models of male identity even as it is deployed to resist them.

 

In The First Third Cassady separates himself from social structures he associates with women and transfers male power from bourgeois men to travelling men. But, while he insists that real American men must be resistant men, he posits that resistance in the terms of value underlying traditional discourses of masculinity. Cassady creates himself as a travelling sex machine and defines himself in terms of cars stolen and women had. Stealing cars, he disrupts middle-class men's hold on status-conveying material property--cars--and on status-conveying sexual property--women. His...

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