Directions: Use the themes, questions and video clips below to teach and learn with portions of C-SPAN's American Writers program featuring Jack Kerouac, and On the Road. Link to the complete video clip list to identify clip descriptions and create your own lessons. Each theme contains questions and video clips appropriate for varying grade levels.
Lesson Credit: Curriculum Advisory Team Member, Michael Moore.
1. What was mainstream culture like in the 1950's? In what ways was America trying to "get back to normal" in the 1950's? Do you think it was possible for American culture and society to return to its pre-World War II state? Why or why not?
2. How and why were Kerouac and others resisting the "conformist" culture?
How did young people of the 1950's respond to Kerouac?
3. What was the "baby boom"? What were some of the effects of the baby boom?
What kinds of societal changes would have resulted from the following
trends: more automobiles and televisions; an increase in the number of homes
and especially in the suburbs. How was day-to-day life different in the
4. What social problems persisted or arose during the 1950's? Consider
especially issues related to politics, race and gender.
5. What was confusing about the time from 1945-1960? What examples can you think of from politics, music, television, media and movies to support the theme of contrasts?
1. What was the Beat Generation? What role did Jack Kerouac play? What did it mean to be "beat"? Is the term complimentary? Has the meaning changed today? What other words today do we associate with the Beats?
2. Was Kerouac in the military during World War II? Why did he leave the
3. What did the Beats have in common? Were they identical in their beliefs
to one another? From where did they draw their inspiration?
4. How did others view them? From where did the phrase "beatnik" come?
5. Were the Beats political? Did the Beats attempt to address or reconcile some of the political issues within society? Explain your answer.
1. How did Kerouac and others "open" up America? What would a reader of
Kerouac learn about America in the 50's? How do later art forms like road movies and rap music owe homage to the Beats?
2. How did Kerouac connect with the worlds of music and art? What did
Kerouac attempt to do in breaking with old traditions of American writing?
3. How did his writing process reflect his approach to life?
4. Compare the "growth" of America in the 50's to the individual growth
Kerouac explores with the characters in his novels. How does Kerouac's own life mimic that of his characters?
5. The invention and proliferation of the automobile allowed Kerouac and others to go on the road and report on their explorations. What contemporary inventions have allowed for similar explorations? Has America been "opened" further since Kerouac's time?