On the Road – Jack Kerouac

The definition of freedom within a novel. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road tells the story of the Sal Paradise and his wild, drug intoxicated travels across 1950s America with his friend Dean Moriarty.

This autobiographical tale is considered the key novel in defining the beat generation with jazz, poetry, heavy alcohol and drug use prominent themes throughout. The characters in this novel are all representations of real people in Kerouac’s life, Old Bull Lee as William S. Burroughs, Carlo Marx as Allen Ginsberg, Dean Moriarty as Neal Cassady and Sal Paradise as Jack Kerouac.

Sal is a simple narrator, observing the crazy wild life of Dean Moriarty who leads him on mad road trips all over American back and forth between San Francisco and New York. Dean comes to Sal at a dark time in his life, just after his divorce, a provides escapism from the real world.

Starting his travels with only fifty dollars in his pocket, hitchhiking and riding buses to Denver. Despite his limited funds, Sal manages to travel across America, in a beautiful, inspiring quest to find fulfilment and adventure.

Whilst in LA, he meets a girl called Terry on a bus, has a mad summer-fling-style relationship with her, but he runs out of money and has to flee back to New York. Even though he’s happy, Sal and the other characters, cannot get off the road. As soon as a character settles down they fear being stuck, they fear missing out on the excitement of the road. It can be frustrating when either Dean or Sal seemingly find a love to settle down with or a job that can support them, but they cannot avoid the road in an almost self-destructive pattern.

The original manuscript of the novel was written in three weeks on a continuous scroll, which on the 50th anniversary of the novel was turned into a book, with the real names used. The original published version of On the Road still has a mostly continuous stream of consciousness feel, despite the editing and changing of names. The writing style is the true emphasis of the beat generation. The drug induced rambles, which can be hard to read or understand, only convey the energy and excitement Kerouac felt whilst on the road.

I have read this book multiple times, both the original published version and the original scroll version. It’s filled with crazy, drug induced philosophies that are both interesting and inspiring. The fear of settling down and the desire to escape are strong relatable themes that everyone can connect with.

About the author: Jack Kerouac

  • Born in 1922 in Massachusetts and died in 1969 aged 47 in Florida.
  • Along with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, he founded the Beat Generation.
  • Some of his most famous works include The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Big Sur and Visions of Cody.
  • His style was known as spontaneous prose.
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