THE ESENTIAL MANUAL
AN ORIGINAL EDITION
“on the road”
by Jack Kerouac
On the Road Summary
Jack Kerouac's On the Road is the defining work of the Beat Generation, a youth subculture of the 1940s and '50s that rejected the conformism of its time. It is a book of ideas and characters more than plot, and through the journeys of the main characters, the reader sees a picture of rebellious American youth and their attempts to subvert the cultural mandates they had been given in order to conform to white middle-class life. Kerouac's prose emulates jazz and the energy of the time. The book documents the four cross-country journeys of two friends, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty--the fictional alter-egos of Kerouac and the Beat writer Neil Cassady and their cast of friends, acquaintances, wives, and lovers.
The book begins with Sal relating how he came to know Dean. Dean had been released from a reform school prison and had come to New York to take part in its artistic and intellectual scene. Sal is enamored with Dean; he is a frenetic madman with a lust for alcohol, drugs, and women that is equally matched by his lust for living. Dean's energy sets off Sal's own desires for adventure and exploration, so after Dean returns to his hometown of Denver, Sal decides to set out on his own journey to meet up with his friends. Sal hitchhikes and takes buses to Denver, meeting an array of different characters. Many of these people are travelers as well, people who live in the impoverished and ever-moving world of hobos and hitchhikers.
Dean takes in the American landscape and the American West. In Denver he meets up with Dean and several other friends, and they spend their time partying, drinking, and doing drugs. As his time in Denver draws to a close, Sal departs for San Francisco to live for a while with his old friend Remi Boncoeur. Sal works a job as a security officer until his relationship with Remi deteriorates and he leaves San Francisco. On his way back to New York, he meets a Chicano farm girl, Terry, and they work in the cotton fields of California together for several months. Sal thinks he is in love and enjoys becoming a part of this marginalized culture, but the cold weather of winter eventually drives him back to his life in New York.
Sal's second journey begins as Dean drives from San Francisco to Virginia to pick him up at his family's house over Christmas. Driving Dean's Hudson car, they drive to New Orleans to visit Old Bull Lee, a mentor and drug addict who was taking care of the wife of one of Sal's and Dean's friends. They had abandoned the woman in a hotel on their way to Virginia, but she had sought them out through Bull Lee. The group drive through Texas and Arizona, stealing gasoline and food as they need it, until they finally reach San Francisco. Dean abandons Sal and his ex-wife Marylou in San Francisco to live with his current wife, Camille. Dean and Sal eventually meet back up, getting their "kicks" in San Francisco, visiting the African American jazz clubs, and drinking until dawn. Eventually Sal, wearied and broke from his travels, returns to New York.
The third journey begins with Sal in Denver. He has come to start a new life, but he finds that he is lonely and bored since none of his friends is there. He longs to be a part of the marginalized cultures he sees in Denver, to take part in the freedom that he believes their poverty and social status give them. Sal then decides to go to San Francisco to meet up with Dean and the rest of the gang. Dean had been trying to start a new, more domestic, life as well, but as soon as Sal arrives Dean's madness returns.
Dean's wife Camille kicks him out of the house, frustrated with his lack of responsibility for his children and family. Sal and Dean embark on another journey, this time declaring they will go to Italy. Their journey begins in San Francisco with a night of partying and jazz clubs with their old friends. They then catch a ride with a gay man from whom Dean tries to swindle money, and eventually they end up in Denver. In Denver, Dean's lust for young girls almost gets him shot, and the two spend a wild evening at clubs, doing drugs and getting drunk, and Dean begins stealing cars. He steals the wrong car, however, the car of a police detective, and they decide they need to get out of Denver fast. They find a man who wants them to drive his Cadillac to Chicago for him, and they eagerly jump at the chance. Dean drives the car wildly through the Midwest, often at over one hundred miles per hour, and they drive from Denver to Chicago in seventeen hours, an amazing and reckless time for pre-interstate America. In Chicago, Dean and Sal again party and visit the jazz clubs of the town before catching a ride to New York. In New York, Dean meets another girl at a party, Inez, and she becomes pregnant by him. Their trip to Italy never happens.
The fourth and final journey is not a trip West but a trip South. Sal sets out on his own this time to see Mexico, leaving Dean and Inez in New York. But Dean catches Sal in Denver and, with a friend named Stan Shephard, they take off for Mexico together in an old Chevy car that Dean bought with the last of his savings, abandoning his new child and lover in New York. Dean's alibi is that he wants a cheap Mexican divorce from his second wife, Camille. They drive through Texas and cross the Mexican border. They are enthralled by the culture and freedom that Mexico offers. They are set on getting to Mexico City, but along the way they stop in several small towns. In one, they meet a guide, Victor, who gives them drugs and takes them to a whorehouse where they have sexual encounters with underage girls, all for very little money. The police do not care, and the culture gives them the freedom that they had always desired in America. In the mountains of Mexico, they encounter the natives of the land and marvel at their impoverished and simple way of life. In Mexico City they find what might have been a kind of Beat haven, but Sal gets sick with dysentery, and Dean leaves him there. When Sal is well enough, he leaves Mexico City and returns to New York where he finds that Dean, having married Inez, has left her and the child to return to his second wife Camille in San Francisco.
The book ends with Dean traveling to New York to see Sal and Sal's new partner. Sal, despairing over the mess and trouble that such a mad and free lifestyle of travel has brought him, nonetheless remains inspired by Dean's madness. This time, however, he cannot follow Dean back to San Francisco. It is the last time that Sal ever sees Dean. As the novel closes, Sal sits by the bank of a river, thinking of the great American landscape that he has seen in his journeys, and thinking of Dean.
Study Guide for On the Road
On the Road Summary
About On the Road
Glossary of Terms
Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 1-4
Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 5-10
Summary and Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 11-14
Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Chapters 1-6
Summary and Analysis of Part 2, Chapters 7-11
Summary and Analysis of Part 3, Chapters 1-5
Summary and Analysis of Part 3, Chapters 6-11
Summary and Analysis of Part 4, Chapters 1-4
Summary and Analysis of Part 4, Chapters 5-6, and Part 5
The Cultural and Social Influence of Kerouac
Related Links on On the Road
Suggested Essay Questions
About On the Road
Jack Kerouac's On the Road can be considered among the most important novels of the twentieth century. It holds a great deal of historical significance, showing an underbelly of American culture full of sex, drugs, and lost youth, a culture that received little public attention during the 1940s and '50s. The novel documents a time in America when a post-World War II sensibility began to take over the general consciousness. Conformity and normalcy had become standards of the time after the upheavals of wartime. On the Road, however, showed the rest of America a culture it barely knew existed. The publication of On the Road in 1957 cemented the "Beat Generation" as an undeniable and important phenomenon. The Beats sowed the seeds of discontent in the youth of America that would grow into the radical movements of the 1960s and '70s. No writing of the time better characterized this generation than On the Road. The travels documented in On the Road were fictionalized yet based on real travels that Kerouac took with his friend Neil Cassady. Their journeys document a period in history in which America grew into its new status as the political, financial, industrial, and technological leader of the world-with some resistance. As soldiers returned home from war, family and jobs took on great importance once again. This was the era of upward mobility and the company man. The ideal male was, as of old, someone who would father children, settle down with a wife, and take one of the factory or office jobs proliferating in post-war America. Achievement in this period was classified as being able to rise to middle management and as raising children who conformed to the rules and sensibilities of the hegemonic culture. The pop culture of the time reinforced that culture through television programs including My Three Sons and The Donna Reed Show, and books like How to Win Friends and Influence People helped people gain success in their jobs. Politically, the world seemed to be torn between two Cold War extremes. The totalitarian authority of Stalin's USSR was clear on the left, while the repression of McCarthyism from the right was being given a pass by many citizens. The average American hoped to stay somewhere in the middle, out of the way and out of trouble, living in a culture where it could be dangerous to rock the boat. Kerouac's America, as depicted in On the Road, is a vastly different land. One could opt out of the political spectrum and even the traditional cultural norms in order to live a very different kind of life. America could now afford, within its borders, a youth culture distrustful of modernity and rebellious against notions of conformity. This alternative culture provided a new kind of diversity for America. It was concerned with experiencing a truer form of life than what younger people thought was characteristic of white middle-class Americans.
On the Road is thus a novel of ideas and characters more than plot. The novel follows the two main characters, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the fictional alter egos of Kerouac and Cassady, as they make four journeys back and forth from New York to San Francisco. Along the way they struggle with ideas of race and class, permanence and impermanence, and the conventional life and conformity that were expected of young people who were to join the white middle class. Instead of safety, however, Sal and Dean see the looming threat of death and destruction in the promises of modernity and white America. Ultimately, this is a world that they are both running from and seeking salvation from. What culture can they develop in its place? Along the way, the reader is introduced to a vast array of characters, all seeking these same experiences and all living on the fringes of modern America. Through their parties, their drinking, their drug use, and their promiscuity, the reader follows a journey that explores this darker (if more free) opportunity in America-a part of America that was truly off the map.
On the Road Characters
by Jack Kerouac himself
Sal Paradise: narrator and one of the main characters of the novel; lives originally with his aunt in New York; leaves on four different trips across the country with Dean Moriarty; the fictional alter ego of Jack Kerouac.
Dean Moriarty: main character; lives in San Francisco, but travels constantly back and forth to New York; a wild, mad character whose energy and craziness affect others, especially Sal; with Sal, drinks large amounts of alcohol, does a lot of drugs, and sleeps with a lot of different women, fathering four children by two different women; the fictional alter ego of Kerouac's friend Neil Cassady.
Carlo Marx: eccentric poet in New York; becomes best friends with Dean and Sal; the fictional alter ego of the poet Allen Ginsburg.
Old Bull Lee: writer and drug addict in New Orleans; has traveled the world; mentor to Dean and Sal; the fictional alter ego of William Burroughs.
Marylou: Dean's first wife and brief love interest of Sal.
Ed Dunkel: close friend of Sal and Dean; lives mostly in Denver and San Francisco; marries Galatea so that she will pay for his cross-country trip with Dean, then leaves her in a Denver motel.
Galatea Dunkel: wife of Ed; often left by him in difficult situations, but stays with him through the novel; the only woman not afraid of Dean--she gives him a piece of her mind.
Remi Boncoeur: friend of Sal's from prep school; Frenchman who lives in a shack in San Francisco; helps Sal get a job as a security guard; gambler and thief, but also often kind-hearted and settled in his life.
Lee Ann: Remi Bondoeur's girlfriend in San Francisco.
Sal's aunt: maternal figure throughout the novel; always willing to give Sal and Dean shelter and food at the end of their journeys; protects them in one scene by paying for a traffic ticket and keeping them out of jail.
Chad Gray: Sal's friend in Denver; interested in Indian culture and anthropology.
Tim Gray: Dean's and Sal's friend in Denver.
Roland Major: writer and friend of Sal's in Denver; patterns himself after Hemingway and is more acquainted with life's delicacies.
Camille: Dean's second wife; lives in San Francisco and fathers two of Dean's children; the final woman Dean goes back to at the end of the novel.
Babe and Ray Rawlins: brother and sister who live in Denver.
Elmer Hassel: Elmer never actually appears in the novel; he got lost in Times Square and was never seen again, though Dean and Sal always look for him when they are there.
Lucille: a brief love interest of Sal's; Sal believes he will marry Lucille, but he gets called to go on the road with Dean instead.
Terry: Chicano migrant worker Sal meets in California; Sal falls in love with Terry and spends several months picking cotton in the fields with Terry, her child, her family, and other migrant farm workers; Terry first symbolizes the purity Kerouac sees in marginalized cultures in America.
Slim Gaillard: jazz musician.
Inez: a woman Dean finds and lives with in New York; Dean has a child with Inez and leaves her to follow Sal to Mexico; after divorcing Camille, his second wife, Dean marries Inez only to leave her the next day to go live with Camille in San Francisco.
Stan Shephard: friend of Dean's and Sal's who accompanies them to Mexico City.
Victor: Sal's and Dean's friend and guide in Gregoria, Mexico; provides Sal and Dean with drugs and whores during their stay.
Eddie: hitchhiker Sal meets on the road; reminds Sal of his family in New York.
Rita Bettencourt: a girl to whom Dean introduces Sal.
Rollo Greb: beatnik scholar whom Sal and Dean greatly admire.
Hingham: friend of Sal's in Arizona.
Glossary of Terms
Alcatraz: a former federal prison located on an island in the San Francisco Bay
Barracks: temporary housing
Beat: a term Kerouac coined that represents the lifestyle he and his friends followed during the 1940s and '50s, which gained enough traction that one can call this time in American history the Beat Generation
Beatnik: a person who lives the Beat lifestyle, characterized by voluntary poverty, loose sexual morals, drugs, alcohol, and intellectual freedom
Bebop: a type of jazz music
Benzedrine: a stimulant drug
Bohemian: a person who lives an unconventional lifestyle
Bookie: short for bookkeeper; a person who takes bets and pays money depending on the results
Caesarian: a form of childbirth in which the child is brought out of the mother through a cut made in her abdomen
Charge: a person in someone's care
Chicano: a person of Mexican-American culture
Coit Tower: an art-deco monument on top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, California
Dilapidated: worn down, tired, deteriorating
Doldrums: a state of inactivity or stagnation
Dostoevski: a Russian novelist, considered one of the great writers of the 19th century
Embarcadero, The: the eastern waterfront roadway of the Port of San Francisco
Fellahin: (pl. fellaheen) a person from a marginalized culture
Frisco: short for San Francisco
Harangues: long, often pompous speeches
Highball: a glass tumbler used to serve alcohol
Hipster: someone influenced by jazz culture
Hudson: a popular brand of car in the 1940s and '50s
Hustle: a scam to steal money
Jalopy: a broken-down or ragged car
Jazz: an American musical style characterized by improvisation and unusual rhythms, made popular by African American musicians starting in the 1930s
Kicks: good times, good feelings, a party
Mann Act: a 1910 act that prohibits the transport of women for prostitution or immoral purposes
Okie: someone displaced from Oklahoma during the Great Depression of the 1920s; more generally, a poor white person
Pachuco: a subculture of Mexican-American youth in the 1940s and '50s
Patriarch: a man who holds authority over an extended family
Pimp: a person who finds and manages prostitutes
Route 66: a famous, historic pre-interstate highway that ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California
Shrew: a derogatory term for a woman, especially one with a bad attitude; a rodent
Sierra Madre: a Mexican mountain range
Tenorman: a jazz musician who plays tenor saxophone
Travel Bureau: an office helping travelers and arranging rides for and among travelers
Truman: Harry S Truman, the thirty-third President of the United States (1945-1953)
W.C. Fields: an American comedic actor
Sal's and Dean's friendship throughout the novel reflects the buddy themes found in much classic and pop culture. They are two men sharing travel experiences. Their relationship is a part of the male bonding stereotype. Yet, what they have transcends a typical friendship. Through their adventures and travels, they become comrades and brothers. Dean's madness envelops Sal; Dean can make the mundane extraordinary for Sal.
Their deeds and misdeeds bond them together in a way that ordinary friendship rarely does. Friendship also plays a role in the Beat culture that Kerouac describes. It is only when Sal's group of friends are together that he can truly experience the kind of life they want to live. While living briefly in Denver without his friends, Sal quickly becomes sad and despondent at the lack of vitality in his life. He immediately leaves for San Francisco, where he once again can experience the community of madness that fuels the adventures of the book.
In On the Road, however, friendship is also a power that can destroy. Sal eventually sees his relationship with Dean as destructive. During their final journey he laments Dean's coming to take him to Mexico. Dean, and the subculture represented by Sal's Beat friends, come to represent the destruction of the traditional values of American society like family and relationship. This kind of individualist subversion is one of the themes of the novel, and Sal can sense that something is being lost by this destruction. During the final journey, Sal realizes that the destructive nature of this kind of friendship can have severe consequences for the people surrounding him and Dean.
The American West
The American West has long been a part of American literature and folklore. Going West to explore and to see the country retains its charm; most of the West remains much wilder than the East. The theme has been celebrated in American literature, notably in Walt Whitman's writing about "the road" in his poetry. On the Road deals with this sense of adventure and exploration in two main ways. First, there is the story of exploration. For Sal, the country and towns that lie before him represent new adventures. Through his first journey, Sal understands himself to be one in the long line of explorers and settlers who went West to find a new life. Sal mythologizes much of the American West during his trip. He sees the possibilities of time and existence in the Mississippi River, echoing other great American writers such as Mark Twain. In the Denver mining town he finds a sense of the Old West, a time of cowboys and dangerous frontiers. As he picks cotton with other migrant farm workers, he imagines himself to be a part of that culture and those who farmed and worked civilization into being in the American West.
Yet, the second sense in which On the Road deals with the American West takes a much sadder tone. In this way, the novel comments on and criticizes its times. Just a year before the book was published, in 1956, President Eisenhower had signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which formally began the construction of the Interstate Highway System. A plan for the system had been in the works since 1921, and this was just one of many signs that America was taming its West.
Sal realizes through the novel that though modernity and technology are bringing greater access to transportation and to places in the West, there are fewer and fewer places to be discovered. Sal confronts this reality as he visits the Wild West Festival in Cheyenne, a tourist attraction that can only simulate the real Wild West.
The mining town outside of Denver has also ceased to be a true part of the West, being now a part of tourist culture. Sal and Dean also feel a sadness for the Indian cultures of the mountains of Mexico, for they realize that the coming of a highway means the destruction of their culture. By the end of the novel, the reader begins to understand that any road that leads to the American West brings with it the potential destruction of culture even as it gives freedom to the traveler or tourist.
The Natural Man
For Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty represents true freedom. Dean's motivations and passions, often foolish and criminal to the rest of the world, represent for Dean the true expression of what it means to be young and what it means to be a natural man. While all of Dean's and Sal's friends consider Dean to be irresponsible and not to be trusted, Sal instead sees Dean's erratic behavior as the proof that Dean thinks and lives on a higher plane than the rest of the world does.
When Sal first meets Dean, we learn that Dean was arrested in Denver for stealing cars. Instead of a fault, however, Sal sees such criminality as the result of Dean's unending energy and his search for true joy. Throughout the novel, Dean's behavior is portrayed sympathetically. Kerouac suggests that Dean's actions are only the result of his quest for a pure life and that he cannot be held responsible for what the rest of the world may or may not view as criminal or irresponsible. Engaging in such behavior is the only way, as Sal and Dean see it, to find the true meaning of life, "It" as they call it, throughout the novel. For Kerouac, the body's natural appetites must take precedence over any legal or social ramification that might come about by indulging in them. Stealing cars, doing drugs, or engaging in sexual relations with underage women are only expressions of the natural instincts of men who seek to live true and natural lives.
Conflicts Between Male and Female Desires
The aspect of On the Road that has been most criticized in the decades following the novel's release has been Kerouac's portrayal of the relationships between men and women. While Kerouac himself was roundly criticizing the social structures of family and work that kept men from finding a truer way of life, his novel failed to record the plight of the women being subjected to the same pressures and conventions of society. More to the point, the characters seem unsympathetic to the toll that the women have to pay in meeting the appetites and helping with the travels of the men. For Sal and Dean, the women represent a force pushing against their hope for freedom. At the end of the men's journeys, women are there to feed and shelter these men, but they are never meant to actually participate in the men's journeys.
Women are routinely abandoned in the novel. Dean is married three times throughout the narrative. All three women he divorces and leaves with children and responsibilities of their own. Ed Dunkel marries a woman, Galatea, in San Francisco, whom he then abandons on the trip to New York when her money runs out.
Women are seen as disposable objects of these men's desires, as though there is no natural ethic, just an individual ethic of self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. It is only in the brief instances when the women tell Dean and Sal how irresponsible the two are being that we see any of the women's true feelings or needs; it is by no means clear, however, that Dean and Sal are interested in resolving the conflicts by helping the women get what they want.
Marginalized Cultures in the Americas
Throughout the novel, Dean and Sal are mesmerized by the marginalized peoples of the Americas, specifically through African-American culture and Mexican culture. As On the Road was being published, America was still a racially and ethnically diverse society that privileged whites of Western European descent. Soon to come were the tumultuous racial conflicts of the 1960s. As African Americans are beginning new struggles to become full citizens in their communities, Sal and Dean revel and see freedom in the very idea of being marginalized. To be marginalized is to be left alone to do what you want, and if you do not care to be involved in the dominant culture, all the better.
This notion is a twist on the idea that greater civil and social rights were needed for African Americans during this time. Kerouac does not specifically mention the need for greater equality, but through the character of Sal, Kerouac shows the value of attempts to take part in the marginality of a subculture. Sal and Dean see, through this marginality, a freedom from the constraints of the white male American culture that held many of their contemporaries. In the African American jazz clubs, they find a freedom of expression that they cannot find in their own lives.
During their trip to Mexico, they see freedom and adventure in the poverty of the Mexican people, not oppression. (Of course, Mexican culture itself is not marginalized in Mexico, but it seems to yield such a feeling among these outsiders, who see just a few slices and subcultures.) Sal's months of living as a migrant farm worker, picking cotton, are perhaps the best example of such a view in the novel. During these months Sal comes to see himself as Chicano, a part of the impoverished and marginalized culture in which he lives and works. Instead of feeling the oppression of the culture, he feels freedom in making only a dollar and a half a day, living with his Chicano lover, Terry, and taking care of her son.
But Sal and Dean never expect to stay forever in the conditions of such cultures. Through their travels they always return to the white American culture that they came from, finding food and shelter when they need it. Sal's comfort in the migrant farms of California, perhaps, comes from subconsciously knowing that if he ever needed it, his aunt in New York could wire him money to come home. This is a luxury the rest of the farm workers do not have.
Rejection of Authority
The life that Sal and Dean want to live is one that rejects all notions of authority and rule. Dean has little regard for the law and conventions of society. Authority is seen in the novel through the pleadings of the maternal characters for Dean and Sal to settle down and fulfill their responsibilities, and it is most clearly understood in the various run-ins that the group of Beats has with law enforcement. Anarchy in the individual eventually confronts the authority of society.
On every journey, Sal and Dean are confronted with the realities of law enforcement and the laws that they have broken. This is vividly seen in a stop in Washington on the day of Truman's re-election inauguration. As they watch the festivities, a parade of military vehicles rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue, a display of the military might of the country. For Dean and Sal this display is nothing they want to be a part of. They are stopped and harassed by Washington police when they speed and drive on the wrong side of the road. The police want to arrest Dean on the ground that Dean's wife, Marylou, is a prostitute and that Dean is pimping her across state lines. The authorities of the novel clearly disapprove of the lifestyle that these young hipsters are leading. Others can tell, simply from their looks, that these people are rejecting the authority of the nation and the pressures to conform.
It is only in Mexico that they find a large measure of freedom from authority (and nearly full freedom from United States authority). The police there encourage them in their exploits, guarding their whorehouse as they pay for sex, and letting them sleep in their car in town-which would have caused suspicion among American police. American society is thus condemned in Sal's eyes for its paranoia and its insistence on following rules. But in Mexico, where the rules are relaxed and people are only worried about getting by, one finds true freedom from authority (although, of course, there are things one may not do in Mexico).
The Rainy Night of America
Kerouac's "rainy night of America" is a theme taken up several times in On the Road and in his other novels. The rainy night comes to symbolize for Sal the motion of time in the country. It is most clearly seen when Sal visits rivers-first the Hudson, most notably the Mississippi, and then the river that takes up the final paragraph of the novel.
Kerouac compares the cycle of water, from rain, to river, to sea, to evaporation and then all over again, to the movement of time and culture. This is a metaphor for life and history. What has come before will come again and then start all over again. It is in these moments of reflection on rivers that Kerouac glimpses his own impermanence in the flow of life. Sal's and Dean's own travels begin to take on this kind of rhythm. The things that they do, the problems they face, and the messes they always find themselves in are all part of the cycle of the road. As Sal and Dean cross the Mississippi, he reflects upon the meaning of the river. It starts in secret and flows through the lands of America, only to reach oblivion in the sea. The river's cycle starts again in the rainy night. Kerouac saw his own life and particularly his life on the road in this metaphor.
Part 1, Chapters 1-4
On the Road begins with the two main characters of the novel, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, meeting each other in New York after Dean has been released from reform school and he and his new wife, Marylou, have moved to New York. Dean is an eccentric and ecstatic character, a wannabe intellectual, who wants to learn to write from Sal and his group of friends in New York. After Dean and Marylou have a fight in which she reports to the police "some false trumped-up hysterical crazy charge," Dean moves in with Sal to Sal's aunt's house. The stay is short, however-Dean soon meets Sal's friend Carlo Marx and begins to spend all his time with him. Dean and Carlo become fast friends, and Dean becomes hysterically excited with life in New York, sharing intellectual ideas, writing, and chasing women. He does all this while working as an attendant at a parking lot, a job he undertakes with recklessness. Sal believes Carlo and Dean are mad but follows them because they are interesting. To Sal, Dean and Carlo are people who "burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles." Their intensity and, often, insanity drive Sal's curiosity and yield the definition of what it means to be Beat.
As spring approaches Dean leaves New York to travel back West. Realizing that his time hanging around his college campus needs to end and that he needs new experiences and ideas as a writer, Sal decides that later in the spring he will join his new friend Dean in his travels. In July of 1947, with fifty dollars in his pocket, Sal leaves New York for San Francisco. He decides to take Route 6 and hitchhikes to the road's beginning in upstate New York. After getting drenched in a rain storm, he hitches another ride back to New York, realizing that Route 6 doesn't have enough traffic to take him where he wants to go. He swears to be in Chicago by the next day, however, so he spends most of his money on a bus ticket to make sure.
After taking a bus to Chicago, Sal spends a day exploring the city before hitchhiking to Davenport, Iowa. Catching rides with a pair of truckers and a group of college boys from the University of Iowa, Sal ends up in Des Moines the morning, where he gets a cheap hotel room in which sleeps through the day. As he wakes at dusk, he has the distinct feeling that he does not know who he is anymore: "I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel ... I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else."
Looking forward to meeting his friends in Denver, Sal quickly leaves the hotel and hitches a ride with a new friend he meets, an enthusiastic New Yorker named Eddie who tells dirty jokes and reminds Sal of his cousin from the Bronx. Eddie and Sal hitch rides through Iowa and Nebraska and meet up with a cowboy who wants them to drive an extra car through Nebraska where he plans to meet his wife. Eddie drives, a little too fast, and after several hundred miles on the road and a stop at a roadside diner, Eddie and Sal hitch more rides into Shelton, Nebraska, where they get stuck.
After being solicited for work by a carnival owner, a Nebraska farm trailer going to Denver comes by and offers a ride to only one of the men. Without even discussing it, Eddie jumps on the wagon and takes off with a shirt Sal had let him borrow. Sal waits in Shelton until a young guy gives him a ride a hundred miles closer to Denver.
As chapter four opens, Sal gets the "greatest ride" of his life on a "flatboard" truck headed to Los Angeles full of hitchhikers: farm boys on their way to the harvests, high school kids hitchhiking for the summer, Montana Slim, Mississippi Gene and his charge, and boxcar hobos. Only a quick stop to eat and buy whiskey interrupts the drive into Colorado.
As they drink and laugh, playing practical jokes on each other while trying to urinate over the side of the truck, Sal and Mississippi Gene realize they have a common friend in a hobo named Big Slim, who "punches cows" in East Texas. Sal befriends Mississippi Gene and his charge and gives all his cigarettes to them. As Sal begins to get more and more excited about getting to Denver, they all continue to drink. They bundle up under a tarpaulin to keep from freezing in the cold Colorado night. When the truck reaches Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sal and Montana Slim jump off the truck to explore the celebrations of Wild West Week in the town.
The first two chapters introduce the reader to the main characters of the novel, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Sal, as a writer, is fascinated with interesting people and new experiences. Dean, spontaneous in his appetites for food, sex, drugs, and life, becomes a fascination for Sal and spurs his desire to travel. The opening chapters also present an overview of the lifestyle of the "Beat Generation." It is an ecstatic and stimulating lifestyle based on experiencing and living life, often involving sex and drugs. But it is also an intellectually stimulating lifestyle in which ideas and writing share primary importance. Dean and Carlo Marx share an especially deep intellectual kinship. As Sal prepares to begin his journey on the road, we see Sal as a character who is beginning to separate from his life as a student, a member of a working-class family, and a reclusive writer. Sal's aunt believes Dean is a bad influence but encourages the trip anyway. Sal becomes hungry for the lifestyle and adventures that he is sure his friends are having in the broad landscape of America.
Sal's initial mishap on his journey, choosing the wrong route, getting stuck in the rain, having to return to New York, and eventually spending most of his money on a bus ticket to Chicago, highlights his early naivete and eagerness to join the beatnik lifestyle. The reader will soon experience with Sal, though, a full immersion in the beatnik culture of America.
Chapters three and four introduce the reader to the sights and characters of the road as well as Sal's evolving character as he begins his journey. In several instances the reader is made aware of Sal's progression from an East Coast college kid into an example of the Beat lifestyle. Through chapters three and four Sal mentions that he only ate pie and ice cream during this first trip, an allusion to childhood choices. Eddie, the friend he meets outside of Adel, Iowa, reminds him of his family back East and gives him some comfort on the trip. In a cheap hotel in Des Moines, after crossing the Mississippi River (the gateway to the West), the first changes begin to take root in Sal's character. He wakes up in the hotel to find that he no longer knows who he is; he feels like a different person. While this transformation will continue to develop throughout this first cross-country journey, this moment marks a turning point for Sal from his New York life to his beatnik life.
As the trip progresses west, the characters begin to take on personalities that mirror the landscape. The Iowa truck drivers are loud and boisterous, and so is the cowboy in a diner in Nebraska. "I said to myself, Wham, listen to that man laugh. That's the West, here I am in the West," Sal says as he listens to the cowboy entertain the others in the diner. The reader also is introduced to the slowly fading culture of the Old West. As Sal pulls into Cheyenne, Wyoming, he is greeted by the Wild West Festival, a celebration that he sees as sadly trying to recreate a time that is already gone. Sal's fellow hitchhikers on the truck headed to Los Angeles also begin to represent the underbelly of a country Sal had not known in New York. Mississippi Gene and his charge are running from the law, and poor hobos cannot afford to buy food-they all contrast starkly to the diner full of pretty girls whom Sal sees at a stop in Colorado. As Sal continues on his journey to Denver, readers begin to see a segment of the American heartland who live on the fringes of society.
Part 1, Chapters 5-10
Sal and Montana Slim begin bar hopping and partying with the other revelers at the Cheyenne Wild West Festival. Sal gets drunk and chases various women, spending all but two dollars of the seven he has left. After almost taking a bus to a middle-of-nowhere town in Colorado with a girl he picks up, Sal eventually starts to feel bad about the situation he has put himself in: almost broke, drunk, and tired. He finds a spot on a bench in the bus station and sleeps till the morning. When he wakes, Montana Slim is gone. Sal is ready to leave Cheyenne and the Wild West Festival.
He picks up a few rides outside Cheyenne and again begins to feel the excitement of getting to Denver. After a brief nap at a filling station, he finally catches his ride into Denver and arrives in the city at Larimer Street.
In Denver, Sal finds his friend Chad King, and Chad picks him up from the bus station. He finds out that Chad in no longer friends with Dean or Carlo Marx, both of whom are in Denver, and begins to feel pulled between the two groups (Dean's friends and Chad's friends). He goes back to Chad's house to take a nap and eat some food, but he is worried about finding Dean and Carlo.
In chapter six the reader begins to learn some of the history of Dean Moriarty. Dean was from Denver originally and had been raised on Larimer Street. His father had been an alcoholic, and at the age of six Dean had pleaded before a judge to set his father free from jail. He had begged for money on the streets of Denver and eventually started hanging around pool halls. After he "set a Denver record for stealing cars" he was sent to reform school.
Sal moves into an apartment owned by the parents of another Denver friend, Tim Gray, and begins to take part in the life of the city, visiting its bars, drinking, and meeting old and new friends. Eventually, Carlo finds out that Sal is in the city and tracks him down. Carlo and Dean are making big plans for their lives. Dean is getting a divorce from Marylou but still sleeping with her in the interim, all the while carrying on an affair with another woman. Both are doing a lot of drugs, Benzedrine, and staying up all night to talk.
When Sal arrives at Dean's apartment, Dean answers the door naked and excitedly decides he must take Sal out on the town to find a woman. They go to Denver's Mexican-town, where they find the house of some waitress sisters and begin a wild party. Eventually, they decide to take the party to Sal's apartment, but Sal's roommate, Roland Major, refuses to let them in. They decide to head back to the downtown night spots instead, where Sal eventually finds himself alone and finally broke, having spent his last dollar.
The Denver group begins planning a trip to the mountains. Eddie, Sal's friend from the road, calls looking for work. Dean takes Sal and Eddie to the markets, and they get offered a job working from four in the morning till six in the evening. The next morning, Eddie shows up for the job but Sal does not. Instead, Sal spends his days and nights visiting various parties all over Denver, listening to Carlo Marx's poetry in late-night reading sessions, and observing Dean. Carlo and Dean, the "amazing maniacs," spend hours and hours talking, staying up all night discussing random and varied topics and making plans to go to San Francisco.
Sal then takes off for a trip to the mountains with Babe, Ray Rawlins, and Tim Gray. At an old mining town turned tourist attraction, they fix up an old shack for parties, go to the opera, and drink. The group throws a big party at their shack. It eventually gets crashed by fraternity boys, so instead they hit the town bars, where Ray Rawlins gets in a fight. Outside, standing on a mountain's edge, they yells and howl into the night, in awe of the vastness of the landscape. As the group leaves the mining town, Sal begins to feel the urge to go with Carlo and Dean to San Francisco.
Back in Denver, Sal finds out that Dean and Carlo had been in the mountains the whole time he had been there. Dean gets Sal together with Rita Bettencourt, the girl that Dean had originally wanted to get Sal together with when they first met up in Denver. Rita and Sal have awkward sex and talk about what they want from their lives. Sal takes one last lamentable walk through the streets of Denver, picks up the money his aunt wired to him, finds the shirt that his friend Eddie had left with earlier in the journey, and buys a bus ticket to San Francisco. In a last-minute phone call, Dean says that he and Carlo might join him there. Sal realizes that the whole time he had been in Denver, he had not talked with Dean for more than five minutes.
Chapters five, six, and seven introduce the reader more fully to the beatnik lifestyle that Sal and his friends try to live. Beginning with the Wild West Festival and continuing into Denver, the reader gets a sense of the kind of free-wheeling lifestyle that continues through the rest of the book: heavy drinking, drugs, multiple sexual partners, and other excesses are all available and are encouraged within the group. There is little thought of tomorrow. Dean offers to find Sal a job and comments that everybody is broke, but there is little worry about money. These first days in Denver set the tone for the kind of hedonist lifestyle Dean, Sal, Carlo, and the rest of the group seek out in the hope of truly living life to its fullest. They are days that are "filled with eminent peril," as Sal says, quoting W.C. Fields. Yet the peril is invited and enjoyed, not something to be afraid of.
Chapter seven also attempts briefly to show the reader the cultural lines that classify these beatniks. Sal's roommate, Roland Major, writes Hemingwayan stories about young Denver residents who become annoyed and despondent over the "arty types" of Denver. According to Sal, the point of the story is that "The arty types were all over America, sucking up its blood." The Beats, while concerned with intellectualism and writing, were not these "arty types." Instead, they sought to find and be a more real America, an America hiding behind the facade of popular culture and pretentious critics.
Chapters eight, nine, and ten deepen the frenetic and, often, insane lifestyle of Sal and his Denver friends. Sal continues to deal with his deepening involvement with this group on the fringes of society. He begins to even vaguely define what being a part of the Beats truly means. During his trip to the mountains he realizes that even among his Denver friends he is slowly becoming more like Dean and Carlo, being drawn into their dark and frenetic world. Sal describes Dean and Carlo as people of "gloom, rising from the underground, the sordid hipsters of America."
These chapters also continue to draw dividing lines between that "sordid" world of Sal, Dean, and Carlo and that of mainstream America. Central City, the mining town they visit in the mountains, becomes another emblem of how America is slowly turning into a tourist destination. Though Sal has the freedom to go wherever he wants, he finds fewer and fewer places worthy of exploration. While Sal and his Denver friends try to bring their life and insanity to this mountain town, ultimately, they find they do not have a place there, so they leave sad and hung over.
Sal also feels distress over the sad state of affairs between people-they are no longer able to communicate with each other because of the societal pressures being forced upon young people. In one passage, after having a poor sexual experience with Rita Bettencourt, Sal sadly notes that "Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without ... real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and ... precious." It is in these brief moments of reflection between the constant coming and going of Sal and the rest of the beatniks that the reader gets a sense of the cultural influence and post-war sensibility beginning to take shape in America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These brief reflections give rise to the outright rebellion that the Beat generation embodied during this time.
Part 1, Chapters 11-14
Sal arrives in San Francisco, two weeks late, and meets up with his old friend from college, Remi Boncoeur. Remi and his girl, Lee Ann, live by the docks in a housing project called Mill City, supposedly the only place in America where blacks and whites voluntarily live in the same neighborhood. After spending several weeks with Remi in his shack, Sal decides he needs a job, so Remi gets him one as a guard in the shipyard barracks. The other guards are former cops who sit around and tell stories of arrests they made and riots they put down in Alcatraz. One night, before a group of sailors are to ship off in the morning, Sal attempts to keep order in the noisy barracks. Instead of keeping order, however, he ends up getting drunk with sailors and raising the American flag upside down the next morning-an offense he is told he could go to jail for.
Most of his nights at the barracks are spent with Remi. They walk the halls, and Remi devises plans to steal money from the sailors who stay there. One night they accidentally sneak into the room of the barracks supervisor, a man they name Dostioffski (a name Remi creates from his mispronunciation of Dostoevsky), and almost get caught. They also sneak into the barracks cafeteria and eat ice cream and steal food. One night Remi steals an entire load of groceries for his house, claiming that President Truman mandated that "we must cut down on the cost of living."
Between day trips into the city to see the Banana King, an old man who sells bananas on the street, and jaunts to an old freighter ship in the bay, Sal spends nights in the city trying to find a girl. He dreams of robbing a jewelry store. He tries to scare the homosexual men who make advances on him in the bathrooms of bars. Sal is becoming tired and lonely in San Francisco, and his relationship with Remi and Lee Ann starts to deteriorate. After a night of gambling away all of their money at a race track, Remi and Lee Ann have a huge fight and Remi decides to break off his relationship with Lee Ann and his friendship with Sal. He only asks that Lee Ann and Sal pretend that everything is normal when his stepfather comes to town in a week. Both agree. Instead of behaving, though, Sal runs into one of his old friends from Denver, Roland Major, and they both get drunk and ruin the night for Remi, ruining what is left of their friendship. Sal, feeling as if he has reached the end of the road in his trip, decides to head back East.
Sal hitches rides down to Bakersfield and eventually has to take a bus into Los Angeles, where he meets a young Chicano girl named Terry who is running from her abusive husband. They hit it off and both think they are in love. In Los Angeles, they get a hotel room and begin to get drunk. Sal mentions offhand that a friend of his in New York could show her where to get work. Terry, getting drunk, misinterprets this and accuses Sal of being a pimp and trying to turn her into a prostitute. They have a fight, and Sal kicks her out of the room. Instead, Terry realizes she might be mistaken and they end up making love and falling asleep together.
In LA, Sal and Terry decide they need to get jobs to earn money before leaving for New York. Sal sees LA as a "jungle" filled with varying characters: hipsters, beats, criminals, and cops. They attempt to get jobs all over LA and Hollywood, but no one will hire them. They eventually decide to hitchhike back to New York with the thirteen dollars they have left. After Terry borrows some clothes from a friend and Sal buys some bad marijuana in a bar, they attempt to catch a ride out of LA, but only cars full of high school kids go by, making fun of Sal and Terry as they pass.
The next day they set off to try to find work picking grapes but still have no luck. Instead, they hitchhike to Terry's brother's house. Terry's brother and his friend Ricky take Sal and Terry all around the California countryside, drinking and trying to sell manure to farmers. They eventually end up in Mexico-town and get a hotel room. Sal and Terry are down to their last two dollars. For the next few days Sal, Terry, Terry's brother, Terry's son, and Ricky spend all their time getting drunk in a tent Sal rented. When their money eventually runs out, Sal gets a job picking cotton.
Sal enjoys picking cotton, even though his fingers bleed and his back aches. He is not very good at the job, though Terry and Terry's son help him. Each day Sal earns a dollar and a half, which he uses to buy food for the family that he sees as becoming his own. Sal begins to settle down into domesticity in the migrant worker tents with Terry and Terry's son. The months go by, the weather begins to turn cold, and the money begins to run out. Terry takes her son and Sal to her family, and they take Terry back in. Sal wires fifty more dollars from his aunt and prepares to go back to New York. After spending a night in a farmer's barn, Sal hitches his way to LA and buys a bus ticket to Pittsburgh.
When Sal reaches Pittsburgh, he hitches rides to Harrisburg. He meets the Ghost of the Susquehanna, an old hobo trying to hitch rides to Canada. They walk together for several miles in the wrong direction before Sal gets a ride back to Harrisburg. Sal realizes after meeting the Ghost that the East holds just as much wilderness and mystery as the West. Hungry, Sal eventually gets a ride with a salesman who apparently believes in forced starvation as a health benefit. The man eventually relents and offers Sal some food and drives him all the way to New York.
Sal arrives in Times Square in New York, and he relishes the busyness of the city. He panhandles for a quarter to take the bus to his aunt's house in New Jersey. He has made it home just in time, before the cold of winter sets in. He begins to settle in to his former life of writing. His aunt tells him that Dean was at her house to stay a few nights just two days before, but Dean then set off for San Francisco, where his girl Camille has an apartment.
Sal's arrival in San Francisco is met with great promise. His stay in Mill City, a city that houses both blacks and whites equally, is a promise of a progressive culture for Sal, an equality among human beings that he could not find in other places. His friendship with Remi Boncoeur (a name that means "good heart" in French) is emblematic of the hospitality that he expects to find in the city. But Sal eventually finds San Francisco to be just as lonely and conflicted as places in his previous travels. Remi and Lee Ann have a tumultuous relationship that is compounded by Sal's desire for Lee Ann. This highlights the theme of the separation between men and women, a theme throughout the novel that the reader encounters early with Sal's bad sexual experience with Rita Bettencourt. In the end, it is Remi's and Lee Ann's relationship, with Sal's unwillingness to conform to the codes of hospitality when meeting Remi's father, that causes the friendship to break apart.
Kerouac also deals with themes of authority and order in these chapters. Sal, having moved to San Francisco and needing money, takes a job as a security guard, a part of the police force. This kind of job represents a completely opposite lifestyle from the one he lived in Denver and hoped to find in San Francisco. His fellow guards, former policemen who keep to a strict regimen and take delight in enforcing the law and making arrests, are characters whom Sal does not understand in the book. There is a clear dividing line between Sal and Remi, who steal and gamble and participate in the unruly behavior of the sailors they are supposed to keep in check, and the other guards, who apparently want only to enforce the law and take part in the law's power and authority. Kerouac insinuates that the pressures of work to make money and to live a certain lifestyle are unjust, pushing people into roles they are not suited for. Sal and Remi rebel openly against the growing pressures of consumerism by taking advantage of their positions and stealing groceries from the barracks cafeteria, justifying the theft by quoting Truman's advice that Americans should live more frugally.
Sal's relationship with Terry, a Hispanic migrant worker fleeing from an abusive husband, is a turning point for him in the novel. This relationship moves Sal even farther from his middle-class New York upbringing and is his first experience with the "fellahin" lifestyle, the lifestyle and culture of marginalized people. Sal falls in love and begins to identify with this person of a different race. While Sal's behavior up to this point was not the usual behavior of someone from his background, this relationship was even more likely to have been looked down upon in his home; it marks a true separation from his life in New York and reflects his new life on the road.
Interestingly, in Los Angeles, the two lovers revert to stereotypes, Sal believing Terry to be a prostitute and Terry believing Sal to be a pimp. This illustrates the racial misunderstandings that existed at the time, which Sal and Terry have a hard time overcoming despite their growing love and lust. In the end, Sal interprets their dispute and distrust as a "fit of sickness" so that the two can reconcile-and make love.
The end of Part One of the novel finds Sal becoming part of the marginalized culture of Hispanic America before returning to his life in New York. By falling in love with Terry and becoming her provider and protector, Sal comes to identify himself as a Chicano migrant worker just like Terry. Sal, perhaps unwittingly, begins to encounter the racism of Los Angeles. He and Terry cannot get jobs in town, and they eventually have to head for the farm country of California to find the only jobs available to them, laboring jobs in the fields. Sal immerses himself in the migrant worker life, earning little more than a dollar a day picking cotton and living in a migrant worker tent village.
To this point in the novel, Sal had been purposefully rebelling from the comfort and status that his race provided for him. He could party and freeload off of friends up to this point because he knew that money was readily available when he needed it. Yet, when Sal becomes a part of the marginalized community of migrant workers, he finds he no longer is able to take those same privileges. Food and money run out, and because he now identifies himself as Hispanic (even though Terry's family does not identify him as such), he is forced to take the only work available to him. Yet, when the cold of the winter begins to set in, Sal recalls that he is allowed the privilege of leaving the fields. This is a privilege that Terry and Terry's son do not have, and she is forced to beg her family to take her back while Sal returns to his family as something of a prodigal son (more or less) in New York. The divide between the races that Sal and Terry first experienced in Los Angeles ultimately drives them back to their initial homes and cultures.
The pastoral passages of the cotton field are Kerouac's attempt to idealize, perhaps unconvincingly, the discrepancies and tensions between races at this point in American history. Sal's adventure as a migrant farm worker does not encompass the harshness and desperation of such work for most at the time, instead illustrating an idyllic picture of the hard work of migrants. Instead of becoming truly immersed in the hardships of the culture, Sal only plays the role of a migrant farm worker. It is a role that he knows he will eventually leave. As Sal arrives back in New York, he finds that he has not fully developed into the person he wanted to become. He has missed Dean, the inspiration for the journey, and now finds himself confronted again with the life of work and family he attempted to leave behind. His return home ends his first journey and Part One of the novel, yet Dean has already gone on ahead.
Part 2, Chapters 1-6
Part 2, Chapters 1-6
A year passes. Sal finishes his novel and attends school on the GI Bill. Through writing to Dean in San Francisco, Sal learns that Dean is coming back East. In Testament, Virginia, while Sal and his aunt are visiting Southern relatives for Christmas, a '49 Hudson pulls up carrying Dean, Marylou, and Ed Dunkel. Sal is surprised and happy to see his friend. Dean soon volunteers to haul furniture for the family back to New Jersey. Sal learns that Dean was living in San Francisco with Camille for the year. He and Ed Dunkel were working on the railroad, and when Dean saw the Hudson for sale he spent all his savings on it. Ed married a girl in San Francisco just so she would pay for the trip East, and thus they have headed to pick up Sal and return him to San Francisco. Ed's wife's money ran out by Tuscon, however, so the men left her in a motel and kept traveling, picking up various hitchhikers along the way to help pay for gas. Dean picked up Marylou, his former wife, in Denver. They decided that this time "they were going to stick." Through accidents and snowstorms the group made its way across the country and eventually to Sal's relatives' house in Virginia. Sal, Dean, Ed, and Marylou head to downtown Testament to buy supplies for their trip. Dean is as compulsive and frenzied as ever. As the group returns to Sal's relatives' house, Sal realizes that he although he had been spending a quiet Christmas in the country, "the bug was on me again, and the bug's name was Dean Moriarty." They load Dean's car with furniture and begin to drive the thousand miles to New Jersey. Sal tells the group about a girl he has been dating, Lucille, and talks about wanting to maybe get married and settle down. The group ends up eating free hamburgers in a diner after the owner asks them to wash the dishes. After driving through New York City, they head for Sal's aunt's house in New Jersey and sleep. In the morning, Sal gets a call from Ed's forgotten wife, Galatea. She had made it to New Orleans and was looking for Ed. Sal promises they will pick her up on their way back to San Francisco. The group meets up with Carlo Marx, who "quieted down" since the Denver days and now relates stories of a trip he took to Africa. After a quick meal of rice, Dean and Sal drive back to Virginia to pick up Sal's aunt and the rest of the furniture.
During the overnight drive to Virginia, Sal and Dean talk about the existence of God, his reformed behavior from his youth, and about how Dean was now a mystic. On the trip back to New Jersey, with Sal's aunt in the car, they get pulled over by a Washington police officer. With no money to pay the speeding fine, Sal's aunt has to pay. Sal's aunt believes that the world will never find peace until "men fell at their women's feet and asked for forgiveness." This exclamation causes Dean and Sal to reflect on how they do not understand the women in their lives. They arrive in New Jersey, where Sal's aunt cooks a meal for everybody.
Sal, Dean, and Ed head into New York to find a place to live for a while. While driving in, Sal becomes haunted by the idea that he forgot something-a decision he was supposed to make before Dean arrived. The decision had to do with the Shrouded Traveler, a figure in a dream whom Sal decides represents death. Dean thinks the Shrouded Traveler represents a "pure death," the state of bliss experienced first in the womb and not again until a person dies. Dean decides he will have nothing to do with this kind of death, and Sal agrees with him. They begin to visit friends in New York for the New Year's weekend. They party for three days. Lucille, Sal's girlfriend, becomes distressed when she sees how crazy Dean makes Sal. Marylou, realizing that Dean is going back to Camille in San Francisco, tries to get Sal to be her man, but he refuses. Sal realizes his affair with Lucille cannot last much longer because she wants things "her way" and Sal is not ready to give up his life of traveling. The New Year's parties get bigger and bigger, and a cast of characters and New York friends come in and out, including Rollo Greb, a beatnik scholar who Dean believes "get(s) it." When Sal tries to find out what "it" is, Dean's only response is "IT! IT!"
During the weekend, Sal and Dean visit a jazz club to see a musician Dean says also has "it." The musician, a blind piano player named Shearing, enraptures Dean and Sal, partly because of his playing and partly because of the marijuana they are smoking. When Shearing is finished, Dean points to his empty chair and exclaims, "God's empty chair ...." Sal feels the madness of the weekend overcoming him. After a rest at his aunt's house, Sal decides to go back West with Dean, partly to see what "Dean was going to do" and partly so that he can try to have an affair with Marylou once Dean goes back to Camille. The group spends a few more days in Carlo Marx's apartment where Carlo lectures them on what they are making of their lives; Carlo talks to them about his new role as "The Voice of Rock"-a new period of madness for Carlo. One night in a "hoodlum" bar, Dean proposes that Sal try to sleep with Marylou, just so that Dean can know what she is like with another man. They drive back to the apartment and wake Marylou. While Dean watches, Sal and Marylou try to make love, but Sal confesses he wants to wait until they get to San Francisco because his "heart isn't in it." Dean returns and makes love to Marylou, an act that Sal believes is Dean's attempt to realize the "origins of life-bliss," a need he developed from his neglectful parents and his time in prison.
The group call their friend Old Bull Lee in New Orleans, who has been taking care of Ed's abandoned wife, and they promise they are coming to get her. Sal tells his aunt goodbye and that he will be back in two weeks-and the group is off for California. Back on the road, Sal realizes the group is "performing our one and noble function of the time, move." Dean encourages the others to forget their worries and fights of the past and to focus on the good time they will be having in New Orleans. Dean and Marylou make plans to sneak around behind Camille's back when they get to California, and Sal realizes he is not going to get to "make it" with Marylou after all. They arrive in Washington, D.C., on the day of Harry Truman's second inauguration and watch a military parade go down Pennsylvania Avenue. They get pulled over again in Washington, and the cops try to put Dean and Marylou in jail under the Mann Act, a 1944 law that prohibits the transport of women for prostitution. The cops threaten them but end up only giving Dean a $25 fine. Sal accuses the police in America of being engaged in psychological warfare against its citizens, making up crimes and invading people's privacy.
In Virginia, they pick up a Jewish hitchhiker before they reach Testament. The hitchhiker says he will get the group some money, but he never shows back up, so they leave. The group drive through the South stealing gasoline and cigarettes. In Alabama Dean begins telling stories of his childhood. They arrive in New Orleans to the sound of jazz music on the radio. They take in the sights and smells of the South and of New Orleans and exclaim their love for women. They find Old Bull Lee's house outside of town. Ed and Galatea, his forgotten wife, are reunited. Bull Lee is a schizophrenic drug addict who held a myriad of odd jobs all over the world, but he is warm and cordial to the "maniacs" he finds when he comes home. Sal relates several old tales about Bull Lee: he had studied multiple disciplines all over the world and now wanders the streets of New Orleans with different shady characters feeding his Benzedrine habit. Bull Lee takes the group into New Orleans, but they hit only the "dull bars in the French Quarter." They cross the Mississippi on a ferry, and a girl commits suicide on the boat. Back at Bull's house Marylou takes every drug that Bull will give her, and the rest of the group get high on marijuana. Sal tries to take a walk to the river but cannot reach it because of a fence. With a volume of Kafka on his lap, Bull Lee muses, "When you start separating the people from their rivers" what you get is "Bureaucracy!"
Part Two begins with Sal's rebirth from his family life to his life on the road once again as Ed, Dean, and Marylou arrive to take Sal back West. These first three chapters begin to explore the notion of male freedom within the structures of heterosexual family and marriage that defined this time period of the Forties and Fifties. Dean and Ed treat Ed's wife as disposable, leaving her in a hotel on the journey, and Dean leaves Camille, his love interest from earlier, to return to his wife Marylou. Dean comments that he truly does want real love, but he only wants it "free of hassles," meaning the freedom to come and go and do as he pleases. In On the Road women are portrayed as being able to provide food, shelter, sex, and warmth at their own cost and in exchange for both freedom and adventure for men. There is no sense of commitment in Dean's life, and Sal follows this lead by giving up his dreams of marriage and family with Lucille to follow Dean on the road. In Sal's eyes, Dean has transformed in a year from a merely excited individual to an ecstatic prophet. His thoughts and actions take on religious significance in Sal's eyes. Dean's presence interrupts the quiet family gathering in Virginia, and Dean, also likened by Sal to a virus, brings Sal back to the road.
Themes of matriarchal rule also come up in these chapters. After the speeding ticket, Sal's aunt is the one who takes control, paying the fine and returning home to cook and care for the young people. Just as Kerouac did in his real life, Sal is caught in the position of assigning roles to women-either of mothers or of sexual objects-making it unclear how he will achieve true love and marriage.
The reader gets a further glimpse into the racial fascination that Kerouac develops throughout the novel. Dean dances to a Bebop record that Sal has bought, and he idolizes an old black man riding a mule on a farm. Carlo took a trip to Africa, where he immersed himself in African culture. Kerouac suggests that black culture carries forward certain truths that white American culture has lost. As in Part One, when Sal idealized migrant farm life, the theme of race and its interplay with "It" plays an important role and will continue to do so. With the return of Dean and the promise of another adventure out West, both Sal's life and Kerouac's narrative begin to increase in disorder. Kerouac's writing begins to take on a more frenzied nature, emblematic of the characters he is describing. His sentences often run into each other without punctuation, and he jumps from theme to theme, sometimes within the same paragraph or the same sentence. As with the writing, Sal's life becomes more frenzied and disordered. The sexual lives of Kerouac's characters become entangled with each other as Sal and Dean want to exchange lovers and Dean propositions Sal to sleep with Marylou while he watches.
Sal's philosophy of life also becomes darker and more disordered. He relates his vision of the Shrouded Traveler, a representative of death. Dean, having become more intense since the earlier chapters, assures Sal that one can reach a true understanding of life if one only moves fast enough. Kerouac suggests that his characters are trying to take on immortality by the very speed and pace of their lives as well as through their travels. Dean's motto for life and path to immortality is twofold: move and don't worry. This quest for immortality and individuality is arrested, however, by the police and military presence the travelers encounter in Washington. As Bull Lee comments at the end of chapter six, this "bureaucracy" intrudes into people's lives and keeps them from expressing themselves and living life to its fullest. The group's reaction to these machines of war parading in Washington and the police that later pull them over shows just how removed they have become from mainstream American values.
Arriving in New Orleans, Sal and Dean are once again excited by the novelty of the African American culture in which they hope to participate. They meet up with Bull Lee, a character modeled after the legendary Beat poet William S. Burroughs, who models an eccentric, drug-addled lifestyle for the group. The stay at Bull Lee's only intensifies the disorder taking over on this trip out West. The Mississippi River makes another appearance in the novel as gateway to the West. Sal begins to create an American mythology out of the river as both a chance at new life, symbolized by his crossing of the great river, and as a peril of death, symbolized by the oft-used literary trope of the girl who commits suicide.
Part 2, Chapters 7-11
In the morning, Old Bull Lee, Sal, and Dean attempt to pull nails out of an old piece of wood. This gives Bull time to talk about his theories of government conspiracy, his crazy relatives, and his invention for warding off cancer. In the afternoon Bull and Sal go to a "bookie joint" to gamble, where Sal has a vision in which a racing horse reminds him of his father. On the way home, Bull tells Sal that he believes mankind will soon realize they can talk to the dead. Back at Bull's house, the travelers compete in athletic competitions like running and jumping, and Dean wins them all. After an afternoon in New Orleans where Dean shows Sal the ins and outs of the rail yard, the group say farewell to the Lees and leave New Orleans. Sal muses about the feeling of seeing someone become smaller as you drive away until they are just specks on the horizon.
They stop at a filling station and steal more food, gas, and cigarettes because they only have just enough money to get to San Francisco. As they enter the swamps of Louisiana, they become frightened and awed by the night and the wild forest surrounding them. Exiting the swamp, they can see the oil tanks and refineries of Texas. They enter Houston, and Dean tells stories of his Houston days with Bull Lee and Carlo Marx. Sal takes over driving through Texas in the rain and gets the car stuck in mud after a car full of drunk field workers runs them off the road. The next day there is snow on the ground, and Marylou tempts Sal with promises of a relationship in San Francisco. They drive all the way to El Paso, stopping only once for Dean to take off all his clothes and run through the fields of sagebrush. Dean convinces Sal and Marylou to take off their clothes as well, and they all sit in the front seat together and drive on. In El Paso Dean takes off to "dig the streets" and leaves Sal and Marylou alone in the car. She tries again to come on to him, but he wants to wait until Frisco. Marylou confesses her confusion over her love for Dean and how she is sure he is going to leave her. Dean picks up a hitchhiker, and they decide to go to Tucson, Arizona, where a friend of Sal's owes him five dollars. In Arizona Sal pawns his pocket watch for a dollar of gas money, and a cop stops them to check their papers. Dean comments that the cops are always skeptical of groups of young people who come into town and start pawning their possessions. In Tucson they meet up with Sal's friend Hingham, a writer, who gives Sal five dollars and feeds the group. As they leave Hingham, Sal again thinks about watching his friends become smaller as they drive away.
They pick up another hitchhiker, a musician, who promises them money in Bakersfield. They roll into California, and Dean tells stories about his days in Bakersfield. The hitchhiker finds his brother in Bakersfield and gives the group money for gas. They drive the rest of the way to San Francisco, where Sal and Marylou get stranded on the street with no money for a hotel room while Dean makes arrangements with Camille. Having been abandoned by Dean, Sal and Marylou get a hotel room on credit and scrounge for food. Sal realizes Marylou has no real feelings for him and was only trying to get to Dean through him. As they lie in bed at night, and Sal tells myths of God and Satan that he has conjured up. When Marylou leaves him for a club owner, Sal wanders the streets of San Francisco, where he has visions of his past and of reincarnation. Dean, who has taken a job as a door-to-door salesman, finally takes Sal back in. After a few days of selling steam cookers, Dean and Sal become tired of life and Dean quits his job. They become "mad" again, however, when they go to a show by a jazz musician/performance artist named Slim Gaillard. Later, Sal and Dean experience the "madness" of African American jazz all over the Bay area. Sal finally becomes overwhelmed and tired by the scene and catches a bus back to New York, "thinking we'd never see one another again and we didn't care."
The continuing trip to San Francisco gives Sal time to think about the transitory nature of life. Watching his friends fade away in the rear window of a car makes Sal realize the flow of time and the process of continual loss. It is a feeling that Sal finds both futile and liberating. For Dean, it becomes a necessity to retell the stories of his past as they drive through the towns of Texas and into California. The stories are often amoral and shocking, especially when the reader keeps in mind the cultural sensibilities of the 1950s when On the Road was published. These stories are Dean's own way of dealing with the idea of impermanence. The group's journey through the Louisiana swamps is again a way in which Kerouac mythologizes black culture in America. The group longs to find a jazz club in the swamp to experience this culture, but they end up being just as frightened of the swamp as they are excited by it. As Sal, Dean, and Marylou continue to drive west (Ed and Galatea Dunkel have disappeared from the narrative, apparently staying in New Orleans), Dean's behavior becomes even more erratic, driving naked and talking nonsense.
Once they reach San Francisco, Sal and Marylou find the town not as exciting or accommodating as they had hoped. They end up being left broke and homeless as Dean abandons them for other adventures. Unlike his earlier experience, Sal now only sees the "disenchanted" and sad side of San Francisco. Hungry and abandoned in San Francisco, Sal has a vision on the streets that begins to grasp the truth he has been searching for in his journeys. In this vision of reincarnation and divinity, Sal begins to see the fluidity, not permanence, of time. Many of the themes of this passage use Buddhist notions, ideas that would gain more importance in Kerouac's later work. Throughout the novel, Sal's character has been increasingly fluid in his identity: he has been a hobo, a traveler, a prophet, a family member, and so on. It is in this passage of visions that Sal begins to grasp the notion of his identity as being truly fluid.
In the final chapter of this second part, Dean takes Sal back in, but Dean's character has also changed. No longer a wild, amoral youth of the road, Dean has come back to San Francisco to provide for a family, take a job, and become stable. Yet, this new role for Dean cannot last long, and it is only a few days later that Sal and Dean lie around Dean's house, "sick and tired of everything." It is, again, the underground jazz of African American culture that drives Sal and Dean "mad" again and renews their faith in life. Kerouac's prose takes on the unresolved, confused nature of the music itself as he attempts to describe several of these African American characters and the madness that they bring with them. After an exhausting night out in which Dean, Marylou, and Sal "hit ... the Negro jazz shacks," Sal decides to head back east. Sal is now burned out by the frantic pace of his travels.
Xiron, Xin. Kerouac Vrac - Full Text - Slot One, Slot Two.
Xiron, Xin. Kerouac Vrac - Full Text - Slot One, Slot Two.
Anabasis Kalikanzaros Blogspot 2011
Last Yet Least Too
Posted for informational purposes only!
On the Road Study Guide
by Jack Kerouac
by Jack Kerouac
matrix post at
Jan Kerouac in vamp makeup, age 13
Lower East Side, New York City - at a time
when she was working as a prostitute
*See Slot Two below