I wrote this piece almost (gasp) seven years ago, but it feels like it was written yesterday. Time flies when you write something dear to you and try to act out the message.
This piece in particular discusses the messages laid out in prose by Jack Kerouac, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman — or, three of my favorite people. It was my sophomore year in undergrad, and I took an English class with a teacher who I still recall as being an oddball. His mannerisms and thought processes always interested me because as passionate as he tried to seem, I always felt he could have done more to liven group discussion. Maybe that’s the teacher inside me waiting to get out, and it probably alludes as to why he and I clashed on various essays and theses that I wrote. (Let’s just say my final grade that semester was a tad criminal, to say the least.)
But, in the end, I learned from him. I learned from the material we were told to read. And that was the point of school — and college especially — in the end: to educate myself beyond a grade scale that ultimately determined absolutely nothing.
Anyway, here is a paper I wrote for the man whose name currently escapes me. He looked like a Tom. Or a Bill. Whatever.
A Revised America:
The Unique Views of Three Legendary Writers
Jack Kerouac, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman are three of the most revolutionary writers in the last few hundred years. Kerouac’s masterpiece, subtly titled On the Road, tells a tale of traveling out west and experiencing things that one could never expect, basically displaying the sense of counter culture that plagued the United States throughout the 1950s. Kerouac’s reputation as a spokesperson for the Beat Generation only further confirmed his importance and relevance in pop culture and American life. Emerson led the charge as an ambassador for Transcendentalism; his works have cultivated plenty of thought and opinion on politics, nature and life subtleties in general. His words are either seen as very intuitive or very hypocritical, depending which angle one comes from. Whitman is one of the most influential poets in literary history, acting as a spokesman for transcendentalist and realist ideals. The three of these literary figures hold a unique place in American literature because of their outlook on life, more particularly their views on the United States. It is important for writers to analyze the very place they call home and document such experiences that would only make people more attentive to the kind of environment that impacts their daily life. The works presented by Kerouac, Emerson and Whitman display the urgency for people in America to live dangerously and take advantage of their opportunities, therefore encouraging following generations to adopt a newer set of values.
The United States is a nation unlike any other. It is an area known for its diversity, often labeled as a “melting pot” to describe the many types of cultures that call America home. The recognition of these different cultures is a step that has still been difficult to overcome. With so many different types of people roaming the land that was once instilled to us by white slave owning aristocrats, Americans sometimes become forgetful as to what the main priorities were when the country was founded. The United States was founded upon principle, traits distinguished by our Four Fathers that designated a certain feeling of hope and success. The desire of people to search for new opportunities and see the country from the other side of the microscope is fading more and more. This type of environment has mostly aided in the development of a country that welcomes miscellaneous ethnicities and various cultural hearths from around the world. When I say that the cultural makeup of the United States “has mostly aided in the development,” I mean to say that issues are still plaguing our nation in the entire realm of internationalism. Diversity, like many other social aspects, is an issue because it affects every facet of life in the United States.
Whenever one analyzes the current state of affairs in a country such as the United States, technology is one of the biggest sparks of discussion. Our country, along with other foreign lands that correspond to the same use of machinery, is swallowed by mass mediums that have literally taken over our existence. Rather than driving cross country and feeling the wind flow by on the open road, people just take planes because time is always of the essence, as if they are too busy to live their own lives. Instead of sitting in a field documenting nature’s beauty as Emerson loved to do, we are enamored in blogs and websites that connect us only on a virtual scale. These are only a couple examples of the technological stronghold that exists not only in the United States, but worldwide. Its universal effects have completely exceeded anyone’s expectations. It is as if our technological equipment takes the place of true feelings and true emotions.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” (Kerouac, On the Road 125-126). These words by Kerouac mirror today’s world more than ever, which is an astounding feat considering that he wrote those words about fifty years ago. Some could argue that Kerouac was the most influential writer out of the three aforementioned, in the sense that he made readers succumb to the sheer thrills of living on the edge without a care in the world. Every day is a struggle, but it really doesn’t have to be. The quotation makes perfect sense; we have good days and we have bad days, yet every day is a new day. One day’s mistake is another day’s lesson. We should live in the moment because the possibility of getting a second chance is never a certainty. What is the worst thing that could happen with going out on a limb and taking a risk? At least in the end one will not have any regrets.
Attempting to compare our environment with that of Emerson and Whitman is a far cry, a worthless observation; however, comparing Kerouac’s United States with the present isn’t much help, either. The times have definitively changed maybe more so than ever before, which is a mouthful of a statement to make over two hundred years after the inception of our great country. While Kerouac was traveling cross country to find out about himself, he was inspiring others to do the same. In today’s society it is just the same old routine. People rarely act on those types of impulses anymore. Environments change and demographics change, but life in the United States is still about the core ideals of getting jobs, being part of a family, and other commonplace events that seem mundane at this point. Opinions change as time progresses and that is completely normal.
Although, that is the very point I am trying to make. Just because the foundation of a routine existence is thrown onto the plate in front of you, it does not necessarily mean that one has to live by such ethics and follow the “plan.” Living dangerously involves rebelling against the norm, showing others that a different path exists that can lead to the same exact place. That place is whatever you make it. Walt Whitman wrote “I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents, I am afoot with my vision” (“Song of Myself,” 52). Just attempting to interpret such a statement involves so much thought, but the basis consists of knowing that anything could be achieved if you reach out and try to grab it. Our lives are fragile and timeless, so why waste precious moments thinking about what could have been as opposed to what could be.
In today’s world more than ever, people seem to be never satisfied. It reminds me of Kerouac’s character attributes in On the Road. He is a guy trying to make a living for himself and learn the ways of life through efforts which may seem unorthodox to some, but not him. I wish I could spend my life in the same manner. Calmly staring towards the sunset and dropping back an ice cold beer could be classified as paradise. Dropping every task and aborting the things that really do not matter would be a personal victory. Society is so glued to the same routine it is almost sorrowful to see. In a country which consists of celebrities as being looked up to and the internet taking over almost every aspect of daily life, how could one argue against the fact that our society is treading the waters of monotony? We cannot let electronics take over our sense of thought.
It is only natural to progress over a long period of time and that is exactly what has occurred in the United States. Dissent occurs sparingly compared to thirty, forty years ago. One thing I am sure about is the fact that people need to be more involved in their government, while at the same time decreasing the power given to government officials. We cannot coexist when half of our nation is divided due to political affiliations, yet we cannot conform towards views that are not shared by everybody. . The government must not take the individuals of such a nation so lightly, especially when the power is really in our hands. There are more of us than there are they. We have to be outspoken and make sure our politicians listen to our message, just as people protested the war in Vietnam during the 1970s. It only takes one man to start a revolution, and maybe that is what our country has been lacking over the years.
Vietnam is a strong point pertaining to the entire notion of living dangerously and being outspoken. People during the war protested constantly, repeatedly refuting the choices made by the American government. You just don’t see any signs of such unity in the present day and age. A war is not needed to rebel against society; a rebellion does not even need to take place at all. That entire ordeal just goes to show that there are those out there who like doing things a different way, learning the facts of life in a different manner. Morals and ethics are obtained through experience.
Common ground is getting more and more difficult to achieve, particularly because the present generation is arguably the most intelligent group of people to ever live within the boundaries of our country. Yes, many people are on the opposite end of that totem pole, but the majority seems to understand and grasp the concepts of what is taking place: an intellectual revolution.
It is important for people to lead by example, and in this case leading involves living life in a different manner. It is preposterous to think that so many clever individuals surrender to the norms of society. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “We are not built like a ship to be tossed, but like a house to stand. It is a natural consequence of this structure, that, so long as the active powers predominate over the reflective, we resist with indignation any hint that nature is more short-lived or mutable than spirit” (Nature, Ch. VI). Emerson’s words ring to be true; we are all given the opportunity to be tossed amongst massive waves, yet only those who are brave enough will scale such waters. One person can make a difference and set new standards for living vicariously, and then hopefully others will see the meaning of acting so carefree. It is amazing to think back and attempt to comprehend the hundreds of ways that our nation has changed over a period of a little over two hundred years. We went from being colonial stalwarts to pop culture aficionados, caring more about the money we make than the environment we inhabit. Priorities have definitely transformed into something many of us thought we would never expect, let alone be a part of. Even comparing the last twenty years seems like a stretch considering the vast amount of information that has been conceived and the events that have shaped our world.
Those who read between the lines, just like Jack Kerouac, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman, understand the true meaning of life and attack it at its throat. Human beings cannot sit around and keep saying they are going to make a change; they have to be the cause of such a drastic transformation. One gains the title as a revolutionary by going against the grain and rebelling against normalcy. Such behavior is difficult to discover in a society that is so full of itself. Other countries that once looked up to us are now looking down, based on the type of values we have instilled.
There is nothing to change in the United States beyond anything that is a part of us. Unity can be achieved and a society full of righteousness can take full effect if we give it the opportunity. As these authors have written about straying from the norm and understanding the beauties of life, such beliefs are still extremely credible years and years later. Values are not inherited, but rather gained through experience. You become the person you want to be and whoever that is, you will probably be fine with it. Although, there are those choice human beings who like to take the different route to discover the ways of the world. Such people should be looked upon as an inspiration. Whitman wrote “Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me (“Song of Myself”, 46). Things could always end abruptly, but looking at life in such a way is unfair. Doing the same thing every day ultimately harms one’s own self and it is important for that person to escape the conventional aspects of reality before it is too late. We are smarter than we think; we just have to give ourselves the chance to reach deep within our souls and grasp happiness. Nothing can amount to a feeling of pure ecstasy, especially when you least expect it.