The Identity of Women in On The Road
The women in Jack Kerouac's work, On The Road, are portrayed as superficial and shallow, while the men display depth in character. Women are stereotyped as falling into one of three categories; virginal, maternal or promiscuous, and, throughout the novel, are referred to in a facetious, derogatory manner. ‘Sal’, the protagonist, expresses sexist attitudes, which are a result of both his upbringing and societal attitudes of the time. Although the novel does highlight the problem of sexism, ultimately it does nothing to criticise it, but in fact projects it.
In On The Road, there are many instances in which female identity is diminished. These arise in the novel’s treatment of female characters such as ‘Marylou’ (a friend of Sal’s and one of two wives of another central character, Dean), Sal's Aunt, and ‘Terry’ (a girlfriend of Sal’s). Marylou, for example, is treated as an object with the sole purpose of satisfying Dean wishes. He uses her for his own sexual gratification and, in some instances, the sexual gratification of his friends, but does not view her as a complex individual, nor does he value her for her personality. Thus, Marylou is perceived by the male characters to fall into the ‘promiscuous’ category, and is referred to in the novel as a ‘whore’.
At the end of ‘part one’ of the novel, the reader witnesses the unjust treatment of Sal’s aunt. Sal has just returned from his first trip west, and is tired and starving. Taking advantage of his aunt’s sympathy, he eats everything in her house. He does not, however express any gratitude toward this kindness, but takes it for granted. Thus, his aunt is perceived only as a maternal figure. He does not look beyond this stereotype; he does not recognize that women are no less human than men, and are individuals who cannot be categorized.
In the novel, women have little dialogue. Their speech consists of phrases such as "go ahead and do me" or "oh, poor baby". A slight twist on this is the character of Terry. Though only in the book briefly, she has lengthy dialogue (in comparison with the other female characters), and a relatively significant role. She is perceived by Sal as fulfilling his sexual desires and his desire for a maternal figure. He does not credit her character with much more than this. Then, Sal decides to leave Terry. This is something that should not have been as easy as it was for Sal. He is leaving his "little family" and he seems not to care too much. This may not be extremely severe but it does call into question his opinion of Terry and of women in general. Did he really care so much for her? Does he possibly feel that she is nothing he can not find anywhere else? He relies on his Aunt to provide money for his departure, possibly substituting one mother figure for another.
A notable aspect in dealing with Terry's identity, is that, after Sal leaves, she is again categorized as...