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Brittney Winters ACF Abstract FY12

"Between Innocence and Experience: Marginalization of the 'Other' in 'On the Road"'

The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900

Kerouac and the Beat generation are notorious for appropriating the language of alienated minority subcultures as their own to describe their disillusionment with mainstream society. Fascinated with the ways in which these minority groups manipulated language and subverted meaning to create countercultures, Beat artists incorporated these techniques into their own work and appointed themselves intermediaries between these minority subcultures and the mainstream masses. Though Beat writers contributed to the demand for representation by minority cultures, these same narratives serve to illustrate the benefits of white privilege. Kerouacs protagonist in On the Road expresses his dissatisfaction with the white, middle-class experience by fetishizing the marginalization of racial minorities during his travels, creating in the sense of Otherness a type of innocence that has yet to be sullied by the expectations of mainstream society, further reinforcing racist ideologies. By examining On the Road through postcolonial and African-American theoretical lenses, I will demonstrate how the language of othering serves to undermine the protagonists, and by extension, Kerouacs admiration of minority subcultures and also demonstrates a problematic reduction of the struggles that these minorities faced in postwar America.