On the Road

On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
   Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has been called the Bible of the Beat Generation and is arguably the most important literary text to come out of that movement. In his review of the book in 1957 for the New York Times, Gilbert Millstein wrote, “Just as more than any other novel of the Twenties, The Sun Also Rises came to be regarded as the testament of the ‘Lost Generation,’ so it seems certain that On the Road will come to be known as that of the ‘Beat Generation.’ ” Kerouac wrote the original manuscript of the novel in three weeks as one continuous paragraph on taped-together 12-foot strips of onionskin paper. The novel would not be published until six years later.
   The novel begins by introducing the main relationship between Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (based on neal cassady). Sal has just divorced his wife, just as Kerouac had divorced his first wife, Edie Parker, and feels “that everything was dead.” (In fact, On the Road was written in part to Kerouac’s second wife, Joan Haverty, as a way of explaining his life to her.) Dean becomes the rejuvenating spark of life that Sal needs. Dean, who meets Sal through Chad King (based on Hal Chase), is portrayed as an irresistible but harmless con man who wants Sal to teach him how to write. He watches Sal write and enthuses about writing that is not “all hungup on like literary inhibitions and grammatical fears” (sentiments straight from letters Cassady sent to Kerouac). Dean is a breath of fresh air from the West who says “Yes” as opposed to the East’s “No.” He has a cowboy’s charm and freshness and even looks like a young Gene Autry. He also reminds Sal of a “long lost brother,” an aspect of Cassady’s relationship with Kerouac that is emphasized in letters from this time. Kerouac saw a mystical significance in the fact that Cassady was born about the same time that Kerouac’s brother Gerard, immortalized in visions of Gerard, died. Sal’s primary interest in Dean is explained in one of the novel’s most memorable lines that describes Dean and Carlo Marx (based on allen ginsberg): “But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ” Dean and Carlo take to each other to the exclusion of Sal. Yet the sexual nature of the relationship between Cassady and Ginsberg is only hinted at in the novel.
   Sal is invited by a prep-school friend, Remi Boncoeur (based on Henri Cru), to join him in San Francisco, where they can then ship out together. On the way, he plans to stop off in Denver to see Chad, Carlo, and Dean. His plan is to hitch all the way from New York to California by following Route 6. His first day ends in disappointment as he is stranded 40 miles north of New York City in the countryside near Bear Mountain.
   After Bear Mountain, he takes a bus (instead of hitching) to Chicago, where he briefly samples the bop nightclubs before beginning his travels proper. The following chapters are travelogues recreated from notebooks that Kerouac kept during his 1947 journey west. He hitches from Chicago west into Iowa, where he sees the Mississippi River for the first time. A series of rides in trucks take him across the Iowa prairies. In Des Moines, he spends the night in a YMCA and wakes up disoriented, unable to remember who he is or where he is. He feels like a “ghost,” and marks this point as being “the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” He rides across the Midwest entertained by a truck driver who tells him about the Depression; Kerouac recorded such unembellished tales in his notebooks from the time. In Shelton, Nebraska, he is temporarily stranded.
   The book is a youthful one and is full of superlatives. Such sentiments turned off some early readers (as Dan Wakefield says of himself in New York in the Fifties) who did not understand that this language accurately captures Sal’s enthusiasm. For example, Kerouac describes “the greatest ride of his life” with two young blond farmers who are delivering farm machinery to California and who pick up every hitchhiker along the way, allowing them to sit out the long journey on a flatbed trailer. With Denver as his destination, he leaves the farmlands of the Platte behind and descends into the rangelands. In Wyoming he congratulates himself on how far he has come since Bear Mountain. However, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he witnesses “Wild West Week” and is depressed at how the West had betrayed its traditions for entertainment.
   Sal says good-bye to the Minnesotans and stays in Cheyenne, wandering through the street party. He meets a beautiful blond and wants to pick prairie flowers for her, but all she wants to do is leave Wyoming and head to New York. He tells her that there is nothing there. He spends all his money on this fruitless romance and laments that he has tarnished the spiritual nature of his pilgrimage. He hitches out of Cheyenne the next morning and sees the Rocky Mountains for the first time. He is let off in Denver on Larimer Street. Because he does not know Dean that well at the time, he first looks up Chad in Denver. Chad is an anthropology student and works at a local museum. When he asks about Dean, he finds that Dean and Carlo are in exile in the Denver community. Dean was the son of a Denver wino, and Chad and his crowd come from Denver society, including Roland Major.
   Roland Major (based on Bob Burford), is a Hemingwayesque writer who represents the “arty” types that alienate Dean, even if Roland himself makes fun of them in his stories. Sal finally contacts Dean through Carlo, who tells him all about Dean’s schedule, which includes having relationships with two or three women at the same time. Camille (based on carolyn cassady), then a Denver art student, and Marylou (based on Lu-Anne Henderson), are the important women in Dean’s life. Dean answers Sal’s knock on his apartment door naked, and Sal sees an undressed Camille on the couch and also a nude study that she has drawn of Dean. Sal refers to Carlo’s “Denver Doldrum” poems, which is the title of a series of poems that Ginsberg wrote in the late 1940s in Denver and that dramatize (albeit indirectly) his frustrated desire for the promiscuous Cassady. Kerouac re-creates Cassady and Ginsberg’s nightlong conversations in which they attempted to be completely honest and straight with each other. Both men shared a capacity for this kind of extended analysis and debate, but Sal falls asleep listening to them. Carlo dismisses Sal as a “Wolfean” (a term derived from the name of author Thomas Wolfe)—a reference to the division between Wolfeans (heterosexual, all-American types) and non-Wolfeans (homosexual, cosmopolitan types) that was made one night in the fall of 1945 by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Hal Chase, and William S. Burroughs.
   Sal mingles with the “arty” types who put on an opera every season in Central City, two miles up in the mountains in rich silver-mining country. The opera that year is Fidelio, and Sal relates to the “gloom” of the central character, who rises up onstage carrying a boulder on his back. He wishes that Carlo and Dean were there, but he knows that they would feel out of place, even if they could understand his feelings of gloom. Sal says, “They were like the man with the dungeon stone and the gloom, rising from underground, the sordid hipsters of America, a new beat generation that I was slowly joining.” Sal celebrates wildly that night in an abandoned mining shack, and there he looks east and imagines their raucous laughter being silenced. Throughout the book, the East is associated with repression and a silencing of Sal’s enthusiasm. By the time he wrote On the Road, Kerouac was embittered by the East with its New York publishing industry and by the poor sales of his first book, The town and tHe city, which he believed his editors had destroyed with extensive cuts and forced revision.
   Sal realizes that during his entire Denver stay he has not talked to Dean enough—a refrain of the book, which has the structure of an obstructed romance. Talk is more important than sex here. Sal sleeps with a woman named Rita and despairs that, postcoitus, they cannot talk honestly. Sal takes the bus from Denver to San Francisco and is dropped off at Market and Fourth. In nearby Mill City, he stays with Remi, whom is living with a sour woman named Lee Ann. Sal wants to write a screenplay that he will sell to Hollywood, but he can only write a gloomy story. The screenplay a failure, he has to go to work with Remi as a security guard. In an ill-fitting uniform, he looks like Charlie Chaplin playing a cop. He works at a dockside barracks, and his job is to make sure that drunken sailors who are shipping out to Okinawa do not tear down the quarters. Sal critiques America’s police-state mentality, similar to Burroughs’s views in junky. His stay with Remi and Lee Ann falls apart when the money runs out; then Sal embarrasses Remi at a dinner with Remi’s stepfather. At the end of his stay, as he did in Denver, he climbs a mountain and looks east, this time seeing something “holy” there and finding California by comparison “emptyheaded.”
   He hitches south to Los Angeles and is stranded in Bakersfield, where, at the bus station, he instantly falls in love with the “cutest little Mexican girl,” Terry. She is on the run from an abusive husband back in Fresno, and Terry and Sal take to each other in their mutual loneliness. How ever, both suspect each other: He thinks that she may be a prostitute, and she thinks that he might be a clever pimp. They confess their suspicions in a hotel room and afterward make love. This part of the novel was excerpted in The Paris Review (Winter 1955) and titled “The Mexican Girl” and can be found in The Best American Short Stories 1956. It was one of Kerouac’s few publications in the period between The Town and the City and On the Road. Terry and Sal decide to hitchhike to New York together, and they first head south to Los Angeles where Terry can get some money and clothes. In Los Angeles’s crowded main street Sal is reminded of Elmer Hassel (based on herbert huncke). Various plans fall through, and they hitch back to Sabinal, where Terry has left her son, and they meet up with her brother Ricky. For a week or so, Sal lives the shiftless life of a migrant farm worker in California’s San Joaquin Valley. They think that he is a Mexican, and he says “in a way I am,” a reference to Kerouac’s belief that his “Canuck” ethnicity links him to other immigrant Americans. Sal is a poor fieldhand, though, and cannot pick enough cotton to support Terry and her son (who is a better cotton picker than Sal). When winter comes and they have no stove in their tent, Sal’s old life of writing in New York begins to call him back. They make vague plans to reunite in New York. The separation from Terry is quick and, on Sal’s part, callous: “Well, lackadaddy, I was on the road again.”
   Sal returns from the West Coast to the home of his aunt (based on Kerouac’s mother), who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He takes a bus all the way to Pittsburgh but has to hitchhike the last part of the journey. Wandering in the dark on a back country road that follows a river, he meets a crazy old man whom he calls the Ghost of the Susquehanna. His strange stories teach Sal that “there is a wilderness in the East,” not just out West. By this point he is near starving; unfortunately, he hitches a ride with a man who believes in the revitalizing power of voluntary starvation. Before he knows it, he is dropped off in the middle of Times Square, and his road-wasted eyes see it clearly as a place where materialism has gone mad, an important theme in this and subsequent works by Kerouac. At his aunt’s house he learns that Dean had recently been there. Once again, they just miss each other.
   Sal does not see Dean again for a year. He finishes his novel (based on The Town and the City) and is staying with his brother (based on Kerouac’s sister) in Virginia when Dean shows up, driving a brand new 1948 Hudson. Marylou and Ed and Galatea Dunkel (based on Al and Helen Hinkle) go along for the ride. They plan to visit the East Coast and bring Sal back west with them. This begins life on the road for Sal and Dean. The original plan is crazy: Dean will help move some furniture back to Paterson, where they will pick up Sal’s aunt and bring her back to Virginia. On the trip, Dean describes the heroic drive from the West Coast, and Sal realizes that Dean has changed in a year “into a weird flower.” On the drive to New Jersey, Sal tells Dean that what he really wants is to settle down. Dean, on the other hand, has abandoned his wife and children to “go on the road.” (Carolyn Cassady’s off tHe road tells the far less romantic “homefront” side of this story.)
   They sleep at his aunt’s house in Paterson; the next morning Sal receives a phone call from Old Bull Lee (based on Burroughs) in Algiers, Louisiana, where Galatea is stranded, waiting for Ed to come get her. Sal says that they will come for her soon. Instead, they call Carlo, who has had visionary experiences (based on Ginsberg’s visions of William Blake) that are recorded in his poetry known as the “Harlem Doldrums.” Carlo is openly skeptical of their road trips, which appear to have no purpose. They leave Carlo in Times Square and drive back to Virginia in 10 hours. On the road, Dean and Sal have the long talk that they both wanted to have since meeting. Dean has become a mystic in the last year and declares God’s existence. They make it back to New York in time for New Year’s Eve, 1948. Along the road, Sal and Dean discuss the “Shrouded Traveler,” an allegorical death figure that was invented by Sal and Carlo. Dean wants nothing to do with such concepts because he is interested only in life—unlike his two brooding writer friends. The parties go on for days, with Dean saying “Yes” ecstatically in response to everything. At a George Shearing concert at Birdland, he yells “Go!” and is possessed by Shearing’s piano playing. Such descriptive passages lead some critics to say that On the Road is one of the best jazz novels.
   Off the road the gang grows “sloppy,” as Sal says. His aunt warns him away from Dean and his friends, and Carlo questions their behavior as well. They hang out in a bar (probably the San Remo) that is notorious as a rendezvous for criminals, sex deviants, and adulterers. In such bars Alfred Kinsey interviewed some of the Beats about their sexual behavior. Dean even suggests a three-way with Sal and Marylou. However, Sal finds himself overcome by his shyness and cannot perform.
   Old Bull calls again about Galatea, and they head out West with a stop off in New Orleans to reunite Ed with Galatea. Now on the move, the gang loses its sloppiness. In Virginia they are ticketed by a cop and have to spend most of their money on the fine. For the rest of the trip they pick up hitchhikers for money and steal gas and food at every opportunity. Dean tells Sal stories from when he was being raised by his wino father, material found both in Cassady’s The first tHird and in Kerouac’s visions of cody. They arrive in New Orleans and take the ferry to Algiers, where Old Bull lives. Kerouac’s account of Bull’s life with his wife Jane (based on Joan Burroughs) and their two children is the most detailed account that we have of the life of Burroughs in Louisiana and covers material that Burroughs left out of Junky. Bull is their teacher, Sal says, and all of them sit at his feet listening to his philosophical discussions. Old Bull in 1948 is already ranting against the police state, government bureaucracies, and unions. In Burroughs’s letters to Kerouac in the late 1940s, it is apparent that he knew such rants would find a sympathetic audience with Kerouac. In fact, Old Bull’s opinions can be seen to inform On the Road, particularly Kerouac’s repeated indictments of America’s emerging police state. Sal’s description of Bull’s relationship with Jane is as good a description of Burroughs and his wife that exists: Sal says Jane “loved that man madly,” and that they stayed up all night talking.
   Readers of Burroughs will be interested to see here a much more lively and interesting Burroughs than the self-portrait he created in Junky—emotionless and factual. Old Bull rants against the planned obsolescence of American manufactured goods and explains the revivifying powers of Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator. A scene at the racetrack describes Old Bull missing the jackpot on a slot machine by a hair and saying, “Damn! They got these things adjusted. . . . I had the jackpot and the mechanism clicked it back. Well, what you gonna do.” When Sal’s GI check comes through, they are able to leave Algiers but not before Dean tries to con Old Bull out of some money, but Old Bull, who knows Dean well from their Texas days, is not fooled. Old Bull says to Sal about Dean, “He seems to me to be headed for his ideal fate, which is compulsive psychosis dashed with a jigger of psychopathic irresponsibility and violence. . . . If you go to California with this madman you’ll never make it.” A close reader of On the Road will notice that, surprisingly, only Sal and Dean romanticize their road lives.
   They head West through Louisiana and into Texas. When they reach Beaumont and Houston, Dean tells stories of his Texas days with Old Bull, Carlo, and Hassel. Marylou tells Sal that when they get to San Francisco, she will be his girl. At one point, they are all naked in the car, with Marylou applying cold cream to the men, causing rubbernecking truck drivers almost to lose control of their rigs. (LuAnne Henderson, in Jack’s Book, says they took their clothes off because they were hot and that they had no cold cream, although she would have loved to have had some.) They pick up hitchhikers through El Paso and on to Tucson. There is a spectacular description of Dean saving precious gas by driving with the engine dead for 30 miles as they descend from the Tehachapi Pass into the San Joaquin Valley of California. They make it to San Francisco, and Dean, anxious to get back to Camille, strands Sal and Marylou, leaving them off in downtown without money and without a place to stay. “Dean will leave you out in the cold any time it’s in his interest,” says Marylou, who knows him well. Sal says of the inconsiderate Dean that he “lost faith in him that year.” He spends the “beatest time” of his life on the streets of San Francisco with Marylou. She eventually leaves him for a man who will pay her for sex. Sal is nearly starving when he has a vision that reveals to him the numberless lives which he has lived and that allows him to confront the idea of death, an issue with which he was struggling before he met Dean. Dean rescues Sal from starvation and moves him in with him and Camille, “a well-bred polite woman”—as opposed to Marylou. Dean and Sal hit San Francisco’s jazz clubs, which Sal describes as featuring the wildest musicians in America. Eventually, Camille asks him to leave. Sal makes 10 sandwiches for himself and buys a bus ticket to New York. He does not expect to see Dean again. Their lives seem to have moved off in different directions.
   In spring 1949 Sal heads back to Denver but can find none of the old gang. In a controversial passage, Sal states, “At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. . . . I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a ‘white man’ disillusioned.” This passage inspired James Baldwin to write in Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961), “Now, this is absolute nonsense, of course, objectively considered, and offensive nonsense at that: I would hate to be in Kerouac’s shoes if he should ever be mad enough to read this aloud from the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater.” In one of the most scathing attacks against Kerouac and the Beats, Norman Podhoretz in the Spring 1958 Partisan Review singled out this passage and wrote, “It will be news to the Negroes to learn that they are so happy and ecstatic; I doubt if a more idyllic picture of Negro life has been painted since certain Southern ideologues tried to convince the world that things were just as fine as could be for slaves on the old plantation.” The African-American Beat poet LeRoi Jones/amiri baraka came to Kerouac’s defense in a letter found in the Summer 1958 edition of the Partsan Review where he says On the Road “breaks new ground, and plants new seeds.” Eldridge Cleaver, in Soul on Ice, called the passage that Baldwin found offensive “remarkable,” and cited it as an example of one of the stages whites needed to go through in the fight against racism.
   Later, Sal shares a ride to San Francisco with two pimps and arrives at Dean and Camille’s house. Dean is sincerely impressed that finally Sal has come to him, not vice versa. The nights are spent talking and drinking, but Camille soon throws them out. Sal tells Dean that he has a little money and will finance their trip back to New York; there, he will pick up his advance on his recently accepted novel, and they will go to Italy. This is a pivotal moment in their friendship, for Dean realizes that Sal has spent some time thinking about his welfare—a rare experience for this child of a Denver wino.
   Before they leave San Francisco, they decide to hit the town for a few nights. They go to Galatea’s apartment to see about a place to sleep. Ed has left her again, and she is in no mood for the two happy-go-lucky men. She and several other women circle Dean and lay into him about how irresponsible he is to leave Camille and their young daughter and run off on another adventure. Dean can only simper and mug comically in response. Sal defends him by trying to get them to admit how fascinated they are by Dean. Kerouac said that Helen Hinkle was the only woman whom he knew who could tell off Cassady and get away with it. After Galatea has laid into Dean, they all go to hear some jazz. Kerouac published this section as “Jazz of the Beat Generation” under the name Jean-Louis in the 1955 New World Writing. It features Kerouac’s best extended attempt in the novel to render into prose the sounds of jazz. In an odd coincidence, they encounter a young man who looks just like Carlo, playing tenor saxophone. After the round of nightclubs, Dean and Sal head back to the East Coast.
   They share a ride East with a “thin fag” who drives an “effeminate” car. The owner drives, and Sal and Dean sit in back talking nonstop. Dean tells Sal that the alto man the previous night had “IT” and Sal wants to know what “it” is. “It” is when “time stops” for everyone, says Dean; one of Dean’s refrains in the book is that they “know” time and others do not—others spend their lives worrying about the future, but Sal and Dean “know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE.” Dean feels that he has IT at that moment and “blows” a story of his Denver days. When they stop for the night, the “thin fag” tries to get Dean into bed, but Dean cons him for some money with vague promises of sex favors when they reach Denver. (In Visions of Cody, Kerouac describes another version of this story: Cody agrees to the deal, and Duluoz spends a long night in the bathroom listening to Cody sodomize this man.) With the “thin fag” in his confidence, Dean takes the wheel and terrifies the passengers with a demonstration of how “not to drive.”
   Dean and Sal have their first falling out, and there is no good explanation for it in the book. Dean kids Sal about being older than he is and having kidney problems, and Sal responds, “I’m no old fag like that fag”—perhaps in reference to his disgust with Dean’s bisexuality. In telling off Dean, he realizes that he is actually wounding himself by projecting his repressed animosity. Sal apologizes for this odd episode, and they go to stay with a woman named Frankie whom Sal had met previously in Denver. Dean gets in touch with a cousin who meets him at a bar but will not drink with him; he tells Dean that the family wants nothing more to do with him. Sal sticks up for him and reassures Dean that he trusts him if no one else does. Denver brings back bad memories for Dean, and he gets drunk and goes on a car-stealing rampage. They leave the crime spree and drunkenness of Denver behind and are fortunate enough to find a 1947 Cadillac that they are hired to drive to Chicago. The Cadillac is a dream machine for Dean, and he drives it at a steady 110 miles per hour. They are making such good time that they stop off at a ranch where Dean worked while on probation from reform school, but his old friend there no longer trusts him and believes that the Cadillac is stolen.
   They tear across the state of Nebraska while Dean tells stories of his days in Hollywood in the early 1940s and of his meeting Marylou in a Denver drugstore when she was only 15. There are also descriptions of Dean’s incredible feats as a driver. He is so daring on the road that Sal crawls into the backseat. When the trip to Chicago is done, they have gone 1,180 miles in 17 hours—“a kind of crazy record.” In Chicago, they of course head to the jazz clubs. They follow a group of young musicians into a bar, and their music allows Sal to give a brief history of jazz and bop. They return the Cadillac to its wealthy Chicago owner; it is so battered that the man’s mechanic does not recognize it. They take a bus in Detroit, and Sal reveals to the reader in a description of a bored beautiful girl that the meaning of life is to be passionate about what you are doing, even if it is only making popcorn on a porch. It is important for readers to note that Sal does not believe that the only way to live passionately is through the recklessness of Dean. Another ride gets them to his aunt’s new house in Long Island, but she will not let Dean stay. Sal hooks up Dean with a girl named Inez (based on Diane Hansen) who always wanted to meet a “cowboy,” and Dean’s romantic complications keep Sal and Dean from ever making it to Italy. It is springtime, and Sal needs to go on a pilgrimage. Dean is living with Inez, who is pregnant, and he has a job parking cars. Sal leaves Dean in New York and goes West without him. Everyone is older and has responsibilities, children, jobs, a family—everyone except Sal. In parting, Dean expresses their mutual wish that they would grow old together with their families, living on the same street.
   Sal takes a bus west, and in Terre Haute he befriends a young ex-con just released from prison. He promises to set him up on a straight path when they get to Denver: the kid reminds him of a young Dean. In Denver, he hooks up with Tim Gray, Babe Rawlins, and a young man named Stan Shephard, who has heard of the legendary tales of Sal and Dean. Stan knows that Sal is going to Mexico and gets Sal’s permission to go along. Word from the East arrives that Dean is coming. Sal says, “Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me.” Dean arrives driving a 1937 Ford in which he will drive them to Mexico City. For him, the trip will be partly for business. He intends to get a Mexican divorce from Camille to marry Inez. With the old Denver gang reunited, Dean reflects on how they are all older now but little changed. However, that night, he gets drunk in an old gold rush saloon above which he and his father once lived, and high and raving he appears to Sal as if he is “the ghost of his father.” The axis of their journey has finally changed. Now they go South, rather than West and East.
   They drive down through Texas, each of them telling their story on the long trip, made longer by the 1937 Ford’s top speed of 40 miles an hour. In San Antonio, Sal looks at the Mexican-Americans on the streets and thinks of the fate of Terry. San Antonio only inspires Dean to keep going to Mexico, and they head to Laredo. This border town is “sinister,” “the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink.” They feel differently almost immediately after the enter Mexico. Dean observes that the cops are kindhearted. This famous section of the book inspired thousands of young Americans to make a pilgrimage to Mexico in the 1950s and 1960s, and to this day Kerouac’s infectious account of Mexico’s charms and allurements is a guide and inspiration for youthful adventurers who are heading south of the border. Burroughs criticized Kerouac for romanticizing Mexico, which Burroughs called a “place of death,” but Kerouac’s description of Mexico is very similar to and perhaps, in part, is inspired by Burroughs’s early letters to Kerouac from Mexico City: The cops are benign, the whorehouses are exciting, drugs are readily available, and expenses are ridiculously cheap. Dean intends to be the first American who comes to Mexico not to conquer or exploit it but to “understand” it. Dean sees himself in the Mexican Indians. While Dean sleeps, Sal takes the wheel and applies Oswald Spengler’s idea of the “fellaheen,” primitive cultures from The Decline of the West to what he sees in Mexico: These Indians are “the essential strain of the primitive” who will survive the coming apocalypse. They arrive in a town where an obliging and charming young man named Victor provides them with marijuana and prostitutes. At last, their desires are satisfied completely, and they believe that they are in a dream. Stan has to be dragged away from the whorehouse. They press on to Mexico City and spend the night in a jungle town where they sleep outside, their bodies covered with insects. They study the Indians whom they see by the roadside on the Pan American Highway and stop and trade with them for rock crystals. To the children, says Sal, Dean appears as if he is a prophet of some kind. Sal ponders the fact that these people have no idea that a bomb has been invented that could “reduce them to jumbles.” They cross over the mountains and descend to Mexico City. Sal says little of this city, as if they were already too exhausted to experience it fully. He becomes ill with dysentery, and Dean, having obtained his Mexican divorce from Camille, abandons him to the care of Stan. Only after his fever breaks does Sal consider what a rat Dean is, but he forgives him, knowing that he needs to get back to his two families. The final section of the book is a brief coda. Sal is back in New York and is in love with a girl named Laura (based on Joan Haverty). He is going to a Duke Ellington concert with Laura, Remi, and Remi’s girl in a chauffeured Cadillac. Sal has to leave Dean on the cold sidewalks of New York because Remi, still wary of Sal’s friends, will not give Dean a ride. This is a far cry from going to bop nightclubs with Dean in a beaten-up car. Many detractors and fans of the novel fail to see that On the Road has a sober ending, with Sal getting off the road and Dean appearing defeated, “eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again.” The novel thus ends with this, one of the greatest lost lines in American literature: “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 movie based on Kerouac’s novel, directed by Walter Salles with screenplay by Jose Rivera, is in production, with an anticipated 2007 release date. In 2000 Caedmon Audio released an excellent 11-hour unabridged reading of On the Road by Matt Dillon on 10 CDs. Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, bought the original scroll manuscript of On the Road for $2.43 million, a record for a literary manuscript at auction. He put the scroll on a 13-stop, four-year national tour. A book version of the On the Road scroll is scheduled for publication in 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniersary of the novel’s original publication. It is believed that the various editions of On the Road worldwide sell more than 100,000 copies annually.
■ Charters, Ann. Introduction. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
■ Hunt, Tim. Kerouac’s Crooked Road: The Development of a Fiction. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1981.
■ Kerouac, Jack. Selected Letters 1940-1956. Edited by Ann Charters. New York: Viking, 1995.
■ ———. Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. Edited by Douglas Brinkley. New York: Viking, 2004.
■ Millstein, Gilbert. “Books of The Times.” New York Times, 5 September 1957: 27.
■ Swartz, Omar. The View from On the Road: The Rhetorical Vision of Jack Kerouac. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.
   Rob Johnson and Kurt Hemmer

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Игры ⚽ Поможем написать курсовую

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Road Not Taken — is a poem by Robert Frost, published in 1916 in his collection Mountain Interval . It is the first poem in the volume, and the first poem Frost had printed in italics. The title is often misremembered as The Road Less Traveled , from the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road of Kings —   The Road of Kings by …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Home — may refer to:* The Road Home (song), a song by American Country music artist Travis Tritt. * The Road Home (Heart album), a 1995 album by Heart. * The Road Home (band), a band of Bill Sprouse Jr. * The Road Home (1999 film), a Chinese film… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Runner Show — was an animated anthology series which compiled theatrical Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies , which were produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons between 1948 and 1966. The Road Runner Show ran for two… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Less Traveled — is the title of a number of works. Robert Frost s poem The Road Not Taken is sometimes mistakenly entitled The Road Less Traveled which comes from the final lines of the poem:: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less traveled by,… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Back —   …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Home (agency) — The Road Home is a private non profit social services agency in Salt Lake City, Utah focused on providing assistance to homeless and low income individuals and families. The Road Home was established as the Travelers Aid Society in 1923 with the… …   Wikipedia

  • The End of the Road — (1958, revised 1967) is John Barth s second novel. It follows Jacob Horner as he deals with an extreme case of psychological paralysis. Plot summaryAfter some therapy with the extremist Doctor D, Horner gets a job as a grammar teacher at Wicomico …   Wikipedia

  • The Fause Knight Upon the Road — is Child ballad 3, Roud 20. It features a riddling exchange between a schoolboy and a false knight, the devil in disguise. [Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, [http://www.sacred texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch003.htm The Fause… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Not Taken (disambiguation) — The Road Not Taken is a poem by Robert Frost.Other uses for this title include:* The Road Not Taken (Stargate SG 1), an episode of Stargate SG 1 * The Road Not Taken (short story), a short story by Harry Turtledove * The Road Not Taken (song), a… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Company — was an improvisational touring theater company, based in Johnson City, Tennessee, and active from 1972 1998. Robert H. Leonard, the founder and artistic director of the Road Company originally envisioned it as a political theater presenting an… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”