Negative Consequences of the Postmodernist Movement: Critical Analysis of On the Road

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The postmodernist movement was a backlash against the consequences of WW2, and rejected the idea of order and authority. This was not necessarily beneficial. As the Beat generation was born, it eventually progressed into post-modernism. The beginnings of the beat generation and post-modernism were in fact not negative, just new. However, as post-modernism grew, people's urges to reject order and authority grew as well. This authority included the US government. As it turns out, the Vietnam war had just begun as well. Viewing war as immoral, these non-conformists turned their eyes upon an obvious target: the Vietnam War. Protesting and Ridiculing the war, this generation was looking for a source, something to grab a hold of to blame for this “horrendous” war. Where could they find such a thing? Well, it was right in front of them. The thing they had been trying to distance themselves from all along: American society. Once they were able to latch on to this idea, what was to be done? It was obvious! Deconstruct the very society at fault for the “immoral” and unneeded bloodshed in a country they could not see for a cause that did not affect them personally. Thus began the grave descent of post-modernism into Anti-Americanism.

Jack Kerouac was one of the pioneers of the beat generation, writing the book “On the Road”, detailing the adventures of his non-conformity to society. After World War II, the societal norm was to settle down, get married, move to the suburbs out of the city, and have a corporate career. Jack Kerouac saw these “societal norms'' as chains, and set out to break them. In 1957, Jack published his book,”On the Road”, a true story with himself and his intellectual friends represented by multiple characters, with Himself as Sal Paradise, William S. Burroughs as Old Bull Lee, Allen Ginsberg as Carlo Marx, and Neal Cassady as Dean Moriarty. These four Characters set out to travel in 1947 to live off of what they could make on the way, basically unheard of back then. Their travels laid the groundworks for the beat generation and eventually Post-Modernism. Jack Kerouc’s escape from American social norms is best represented in his book, “On the Road” . Here is the last paragraph of the book, showcasing his break from American society:

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”

A primary figure in the beat generation and a major post-modernist author, William S. Burroughs lived his life as an artist, living a fulfilling life in artistry and literature. William was one of the paramount people that led the beat generation into what we now know as post-modernism. However, as he became more popular, he started getting into drugs such as heroin. He talks about this and many other troubles he had in his book “Junkie”. He was also very interested in magic and the occult. Here are a couple of quotes by William himself:

“In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen. The dogma of science is that the will cannot possibly affect external forces, and I think that's just ridiculous. It's as bad as the church. My viewpoint is the exact contrary of the scientific viewpoint. I believe that if you run into somebody in the street it's for a reason. Among primitive people they say that if someone was bitten by a snake he was murdered. I believe that.” - William S. Burroughs, quoted in Morgan, Ted (1988). Literary Outlaw. Pimlico.

“Since the word 'magic' tends to cause confused thinking, I would like to say exactly what I mean by 'magic' and the magical interpretation of so-called reality. The underlying assumption of magic is the assertion of 'will' as the primary moving force in this universe - the deep conviction that nothing happens unless somebody or some being wills it to happen. To me this has always seemed self evident ... From the viewpoint of magic, no death, no illness, no misfortune, accident, war or riot is accidental. There are no accidents in the world of magic.” - William S. Burroughs, in conversation with Stephen Davis, Rock Magic, Crawdaddy Magazine. 1975. Published in LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour. Penguin Publishing Group. 2010.

William’s ideas that nothing is an accident helped spark the flame of magical realism (part of mysticism and occultism) as an idea within the postmodernist movement. Magical realism, occultism, and mysticism had heavy ties with drug use, looking to “amplify” the senses. As he swayed post-modern society heavily, his previously mentioned beliefs that were influencing the post-modern movement led to excessive drug use among the individuals within the movement. William was not actively promoting drug use, however people seeking to emulate him used his experiences for their own self indulgence, thus creating the dogma for other post-modernists leading into this drug use. It was at this stage that much of the previous intellectualism left the post-modernist movement.

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Although not Anti-American, Kurt Vonnegut was very anti-war. After being captured by the Germans and witnessing the fire bombings of Dresden, his view of war was drastically changed. It wasn’t until roughly 29 years later, 1969, that he wrote his first bestselling novel, Slaughterhouse 5, writing about his experiences in the War. He had previously written books showcasing his distaste of battle, but in light of the Vietnam War, it was Slaughterhouse 5 that skyrocketed to popularity.

This Novel was a major part of the post-modernist movement, as many members of the movement latched onto it and hailed it for its sentiments, reinforcing the anti-war outlook of post-modernism. Though not intended for it, Slaughterhouse 5 was one of the key components correlating the post-modern movement with anti-war emotions.

“It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers , and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.”

In this excerpt, you can see the anti-war sentiment within, as the planes fly backwards and suck up their bombs, and the flack shells are removed from the planes and men, and the crashed aircraft are removed from the ground to fly again. You can see the destruction that has happened, and the reversal of it to never cause destruction again. It was excerpts like these that resonated deeply within the individuals of the post-modernist movement. However, even peaceful and well meaning literature such as this can be twisted for purposes other than its own.

With all of these mixed emotions; anger towards American Society, disillusionment towards the US government, and the hate of the Vietnam War, all stirred up in a pot alongside heavy drug use, nothing good was bound to happen. It was at this point that some members of this movement turned to other ideologies, such as communism and socialism, the opposite of American Capitalism and its values. This was the true start of domestic anti-americanism. Everything had to be deconstructed; heritage, history, culture, literature, morality, religion, law and order, everything about American Society. These individuals took the critiques of post-modersism, such as the non-conformism of Jack Kerouac, the drug use emulated from William Burroughs, and the anti-war sentiments of Kurt Vonnegut, and perverted them to fit their own ideals, the ideals of the destruction of American Society.

  1. Burroughs, William S. Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. Digit Books, 1957.
  2. Farrell, Susan Elizabeth. “Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work.” Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, 2009,
  3. “On the Road.” SparkNotes, SparkNotes,
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Negative Consequences of the Postmodernist Movement: Critical Analysis of On the Road. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Negative Consequences of the Postmodernist Movement: Critical Analysis of On the Road.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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