I enjoyed Jason Spangler’s We’re on a road to nowhere: Steinbeck, Kerouac, and the Legacy of The Great Depression about as much as I’ve enjoyed any reading this semester. The reading was insightful and provided a lens into how two of the seminal American literary masterpieces, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road are actually much more alike than one would think upon reading both novels for the first time. The statement that first jumped out at me from the reading was
Kerouac remained throughout his life a “child of the 1930s.” His works are products of a philosophical imagining of America that include the anxiety born of a youth spent in the throes of socioeconomic decline (2)
I know that we are not supposed to personally relate to much in our blog posts, but this quote resonated with me on a personal level. No, contrary to what you would think, I was not born and raised in the 1930s. However, being a child of the 2000s, I was born into a philosophical imagining of America that included the anxiety born of a youth spent in the throes of sociopolitical decline and sociomoral decline. I distinctly remember the dismay that many folks New York felt upon the election of George W. Bush in 2000, and the memory of the attacks of 9/11 will be seared into my memory forever. In addition, while my early teenage years brought about the election of America’s first black president, Barack Obama, my early 20s brought about the election of Donald J Trump, America’s least qualified president ever.
Spangler then draws another throughline between the work of Kerouac and Steinbeck, when he states
Steinbeck and Kerouac are both interested in how nomadic existence disrupts the concept of family. This simultaneous embrace of modern aesthetics and antimodern themes is also evident in their treatment of the family unity. The Depression fractured countless families who were forced to break up in order to improve their chances for work, and therefore for survival itself
There is a strong neoliberal theme that has presented itself in many of our readings this semester, and Spangler ties this theme between the two books wonderfully in this passage. Nomadic existence, or the experience of the travelling working class, quite simply, disrupts the concept of family. The idea of home and rest, familiarity and routine, is thrown out of the window when you are in constant worry about where your next meal will come from, and how you will next get a job. It is a main tenant of neoliberalism, that basic conditions of humanity are abandoned in the pursuit of making money, as is highlighted by Spangler when he stated that the Depression (the catalyst of breaking people’s incomes) forced families into such dire situations that they had to break up to find work and make money; that the only thing that still tied them together as a family in theory, was the same thread of money that they all survived off of.