On the Road by Jack Kerouac – a ‘We’ Cycle review

by Leanne on November 26, 2012

Leanne · Popular Culture · November 26, 2012

How many of you have read the literary classic On the Road by Jack Kerouac?

If you read it before 2003 (the turning point from the ‘Me’ Cycle to the ‘We’ Cycle) you might want to read it again and see if your opinion of it has changed.

You see, Kerouac was an Alpha Voice of the ‘Me’ Cycle…. the book being published in 1957 at the tail-end of the previous ‘We’ Cycle (which ended in 1963).

With the protagonists living their life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry and drug abuse, the book portrays many of the ‘Me’ values such as  individualism, self expression (bordering on hedonism), and personal freedom that would soon take mainstream society in their grip with the emergence of the swinging 60s at the start of the ‘Me’ Cycle.

In 1998 it was ranked by Modern Library as 55th in its list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. But what do people think about it now, during the ‘We’ Cycle, considering social values have changed?

I stumbled across a rather interesting review of On the Road last week on the blog of author Alec Nevala-Lee.

There was 1 paragraph that was particularly reflective of of the current ‘We’ Cycle sentiment (I’ve made the important line red):

“And what I discovered, unfortunately, is that I’m no longer convinced by the vision of life that On the Road represents. It begins promisingly, with Sal’s epic journey from New York to San Francisco, but founders on the figure of Dean Moriarty, presented to us initially as a reckless romantic, but who is really a monster of selfishness and, ultimately, a bore. The central figures are feckless car thieves, pickpockets, and shoplifters who leave a string of broken relationships—and abandoned children—in their headlong rush across the country. There’s a lot of talk about freedom and the embrace of the unknown, but never a moment in which anyone takes the ultimate risk of real human connection that demands any kind of personal sacrifice. The strongest emotion is Sal’s momentary infatuation with a beautiful prostitute at a Mexican brothel, but before long, we’re on the road again, leaving her to live a life that we suspect is far more interesting that those of the men we’ve been following.”

If you’ve already read Pendulum, you know that one of the key difference in values between a ‘Me’ Cycle (1963 – 2003) and ‘We’ Cycle (2003 – 2043) is that notion of personal sacrifice.

In a ‘Me’ Cycle it’s deemed unnecessary – people are too busy having a good time “expressing themselves”. Why should they compromise anything just for the sake of someone else or the greater good – what nonsense! It’s all about being here in the now, living in the moment and having a great time doing it.

On the contrary, during a ‘We’ Cycle people are all about relationships, collaboration, cooperation… and yes, personal sacrifice is indeed necessary! Any other way would be selfish and inconsiderate of the people around you. In order to build connections with people, to build strong long-lasting relationships, personal sacrifice comes by default.

So it’s interesting that his review, coming from a ‘We’ perspective now that we’re in 2012, picks up on this clash in mainstream values between cycles.

Give it a try – re-read On the Road when you get chance and see if you now see it in a different light too 🙂

Are there any other books you can think of that might fall into the same pattern? Drop us a note in the Comments section below!




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