Kerouac's use of language is as vivid and rhythmic as anything; I am there, in the smoky jazz clubs of San Francisco, in the steamy bayou night of New Orleans, riding across the high plains of Nebraska in a flatbed truck. I am brought back to the cross country trips I have taken, to the excitement and mystery of the road. I am also taken to the depths of despair, at getting to the end of the continent, my destination, and still feeling empty somehow, beat, alone with myself.
The passage that had the most impact on me was this:
I took up a conversation with a gorgeous country girl...she was dull. She spoke of evenings in the country making popcorn on the porch. ONce this would have gladdened my heart but because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do. "And what else do you do for fun?" I tried to bring up boy friends and sex. Her great dark eyes surveyed me with emptiness and a kind of chagrin that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done--whatever it was, and everybody knows what it was. "What do you want out of life?" I wanted to take her and wring it out of her. She didn't have the slightest idea what she wanted..."What are we aching to do? What do we want?" She didn't know. She yawned. She was sleepy. It was too much. Nobody could tell. Nobody would ever tell. It was all over. She was eighteen, and most lovely, and lost.
I realized: That is my heritage! My whole family tree is full of people who know nothing, practice nothing but the idea of what one should do! I'm afraid there aren't even any interesting black sheep or skeletons in the closet! I grew up with this incredible naivety, not even knowing where to begin to ask questions, not knowing how to experience anything other than what one should do. I wrote poems, they were good ones, but they were only supposed to be good and happy and the way they ought to be; that bored me eventually but I did not know why, yet I did not know how to understand or appreciate poetry that strayed from these constraints. So I quit writing poetry.
Fortunately I must have had some kind of vision, to see beyond that protective shell. I am still shaking myself free from it. On The Road is helping me to crystallize the longings, the feelings of what I really want in life, and how depressing and constraining the modern, industrial-commercial model of the world is. We are beat.