This website uses cookies to ensure you have the best experience. Learn more

On The Road Essay: The Motif Of Inadequacy Of The Language

1580 words - 6 pages

The Motif of Inadequacy of the Language in On the Road  

    Henry Glass, a kid fresh out of a penitentiary in Indiana who takes a bus to Denver with Sal Paradise, tells him about his brush with the Bible in jail, and then explains the dangers of the phenomenon of signification (I firmly believe that Kerouac intended no deconstructionist subtext in the passage; nor is it likely to be an neo-Marxist attempt to explicate the class conflict between the signifiers and the signified):

Anybody that's leaving jail soon and starts talking about his release date is 'signifying' to the other fellas that have to stay. We will take him by the neck and say, 'Don't signify with me!' Bad thing, to signify--y'hear me? (256)

The use of the learned word by an eighteen year old jail-bird is truly funny. The comic effect here is based on the discrepancy between the standard meaning and contextual use of the word "to signify." There is a number of episodes in the novel with the same kind of humor: in the opening chapter of the novel, which describes his first visit to New York, Dean comes up with some absolutely moronic tirades. E.g., talking to Marilou, he mentions the necessity to "postpone all those leftover things concerning our personal lovethings and at once begin thinking of specific workplans. . ." (Kerouac 5). Or, when asked directly by Sal, whether he needed to con him for a place to stay, he starts talking about "Shopenhauer's dichotomy inwardly realized" (ibid.).


Dean's (mis)use of language can be somewhat redeemed by his intellectual virginity and his genuine desire to be like his high-browed friend; indeed, being earnest is important, and can excuse almost anything. But what should one think about the way Carlo Marx, allegedly a vintage intellectual, retorts to Sal's observation about the last thing which is never to be attained? "No, no, no, your are talking absolute bullshit and Wolfean romantic posh" (Kerouac 49). A "real" intellectual having a nice way with words can be as devastatingly funny as a jailbird having none. It is not misuse of the language that makes these utterances hilarious, but rather the language mocking itself in its inadequacy as a medium of expression for Beat characters.


The motif of impotence of names is one of the things Beat movement owes to Zen Buddhism. The very style of Kerouac's writing with its spontaneity and directness can be viewed as drawing on the Zen concept that words are words and nothing more: he feels the inadequacy of language and tries to overcome it,conveying his experiences in their immediacy (Ashida 204). As D.T. Suzuki points out in his An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Western way of thinking with its tyranny of subject-object logic and words tends to mistake the finger pointed at the moon for the thing itself; Zen, in its turn, deals with facts of life, not with their lame verbal representations (66). The goal of Zen is to come in contact with the central fact of...

Find Another Essay On On the Road Essay: The Motif of Inadequacy of the Language

Essay on the Power of Language in The Plague

1464 words - 6 pages - quite clearly, as this is the only way of setting myself on the right track..."(p. 230). With the words "arguments which...turned over people's heads to make them approve of murder", Tarrau demonstrates the power of words to manipulate and sway individual thought to the actions they suggest, like murder. Here, Camus establishes not only does language control human life but also possesses the power to kill. Tarrau acknowledges this force by

Essay on the Importance of Language in The Tempest

1357 words - 5 pages The Importance of Language in The Tempest      In discussing Derrida's view of Western literature, Geoffrey Hartman writes that "Western tradition has been marked . . . by a metaphysics of light, by the violence of light itself, from Apollonian cults to Cartesian philosophies. In the light of this emphatic light everything else appears obscure; especially the Hebraic development of aniconic writing and self-effacing commentary of

What is the motif of water throughout the Power of One? - Presbyterian Ladies College - Essay

654 words - 3 pages hope because water usually appeared in segments where there was hope. In contrast to the concept of water representing hope, the director additionally chose to display it as being harmful. Water was not always seen as being a positive motif. At the very start of the film, when Peekay started school, water appeared in a form other than rain or as tap water. It appeared when Jaapie Botha spat on him and later, urinated on him along with his 2

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" T.S. Eliot's Portrayal of Personal Failure & Inadequacy

1521 words - 6 pages with Prufrock's own split-personality. One can imagine Prufrock trying to sound both assertive and determined on the one hand, but accepting the deep reality of his indecisiveness on the other. Once again, after the closure of this verse the two lines concerning the women 'Talking of Michelangelo' are used to indicate his personal inadequacy and lack of self-confidence.The fourth verse sees Prufrock considering whether or not he will ever

Theft-Murder: The Inadequacy of Reparations and Restitutions as a result of Anti-Semitism

3617 words - 14 pages Nazi government perpetrated the largest genocide of the twentieth century, thereby committing some of the most heinous acts ever played out on the world stage. Regrettably, the acts were uncompleted in 1945; the injustices of twentieth-century anti-Semitism go far beyond the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the crematories of Dachau. They extend comfortably into the modern era, even unto the present day. It is high time that they were ended forever

Effect of road salt on the environment

1445 words - 6 pages sodium and chlorine can also cause problem with water balance in the human body.As well as surface water, ground water is also affected by road salting. Although the effects are not as great as ground water, they still pose problems to the environment. The problems are based on the salt ions. The salt ions interact with heavy metal that fall to the bottom of the body of water. An example of this is when sodium and chlorine ions compete for

People of the Road

638 words - 3 pages People of the Road The term “driver” can be applied to just about anyone that is behind the wheel of an automobile. Driving is a task that many people take part in on a daily basis. After driving for a while, one can start to discover the several types of drivers that exists. There are many drivers that can be encountered on the road and their different behaviors help place them into classifications. Three common types of drivers are

Savages of the Road

1649 words - 7 pages from a very young age but for some reason people do not apply these manners to the road. When I received my license at the age of sixteen I was so excited to get on the road and start driving. I was so ready to be independent and go where ever I wanted to. But I had no idea how rude my fellow drivers were. I had people cutting me off, honking their horns for no reason, pulling out in front of me like I was invisible, and neglecting to use

The Road of Censorship

1724 words - 7 pages The Road of Censorship Censorship violates our First Amendments rights to free speech. It does this by suppressing information contanied in books, magazines and other publications as best said by Berger, Censorship is the control of communication between people. It includes restriction on what can be written in books, newspapers and magazines; what can be show in movies and play on television, and what can be said in speeches and on

Hell on Earth: an exploration of the flame motif in Elie Wiesel's "Night"

1368 words - 5 pages Hell is why these camps literally became a Hell on Earth for Wiesel: "... I too had become a completely different person. The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me. A dark flame had entered into my soul and devoured it." (46)The first appearances of the flame motif came from the character Madame Schäcter, who was preaching to her fellow Jews about the

The end of the road

1118 words - 4 pages The end of the road At the end of a journey, it’s always strange to look back on the roads traveled and places visited. It brings with it a sense of nostalgia, a feeling of time passed with the inability, or perhaps unwillingness to go back. I felt like this at the end of the road trip I took this time last year from San Francisco to Alaska. I knew that most likely I’d never again visit those quirky villages in the depths of the Yukon

Similar Essays

Essay On The Failure Of Language In Malcolm And On The Road

1708 words - 7 pages The Failure of Language in Malcolm and On the Road        John Clellon Holmes in his essay "The Philosophy of the Beat Generation" characterized his young contemporaries as deeply spiritual; to him, the very eccentricity of the fifties with their characteristic sexual promiscuity, drug addiction, petty criminality, and heterodox forms of self-expression was an attempt to assert one's individuality in the atmosphere of pervasive conformity

The Inadequacy Of Paley's Argument From Design

1423 words - 6 pages The Inadequacy of the Argument from Design William Paley’s teleological argument (also known as the argument from design) is an attempt to prove the existence of god. This argument succeeds in proving that while existence was created by an aggregation of forces, to define these forces, as a conscious, rational, and ultimately godlike is dubious. Although the conclusions are valid, the argument makes several logical errors. The teleological

The Motif Of Blades Essay

1408 words - 6 pages Many authors use symbolism to convey messages about society as a whole. One particular symbol which is trans-cultural and appears in much of literature is that of the blade. The blade in many cases embodies masculinity, honor, and courage. In the two stories “In a Grove” and Chronicle of a Death Foretold the authors use the motif of the blade to convey similar messages about the societies in which they take place. Both authors Akutagawa and

The Motif Of Death Showing In Three Stories English Essay

1436 words - 6 pages GUO 1 GUO The Motif of Death Showing In Three Stories As Ernest Hemingway once said, "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another". Death is a fact that everyone have to experience, people are alway afraid of it. However, death will still come to people, come to every living species, and it will come in many different ways, no one can escape it. This motif is