Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
Language: This is the most famous and widely read Beat novel. Although this work seems dated now, it was important for a number of reasons in American culture, not least of which is language. Consider the following words, many of which came from the Negro ghettos, and the argot of black and white hipsters, but which gained wide currency throughout the Fifties and even after: ball, cat, chick, cool, dealer, dig, flip out, get high or stoned, gone, head, hip, hipster, horse, make it, pusher, split, turn on, joint, reefer, tea, grass, pot, weed, work. Such terminology implies a common culture, a counter-culture in fact, well before this term came to define the youth of the Sixties. The Beat culture is partly defined by its emphasis on drugs and sex as primal experiences (as the words indicate) and the total absence of the protestant work ethic so essential to the “square” American culture of the times. It is significant, for example, that the terms “work” and “making it” in this context refers to having sex and not their usual meanings (to make it = become a success).
Non-Fiction Novel: although the Beats in general and Kerouac in particular were anxious to experiment in prose and poetry and try to create something new, in some ways they were rather traditional, which can be seen if we situate the novel in literary history. Gerald Nicosia has connected On the Road to 19th century American non-fiction novels (though they were not called that) like Mark Twain’s Roughing It and Innocent’s Abroad (108) and one thinks of a number of Melville’s loosely disguised autobiographical fictions. The so-called New Journalism of Tom Wolfe and others is, in this view, a continuation of a fiction based directly on life-experience, a recording as well as a shaping and imagining.
Another writer, whom Kerouac consciously set out to imitate, was Thomas Wolfe, who wrote long, sprawling, autobiographical novels with lyrical and dramatic intensity in the first half of our century.
Naturalism: Frederick Karl relates the beat novel to the fiction of naturalism, a literature in which life is seen as being determined by natural forces like heredity and environment. This definition would seem to be the opposite at least of what is intended in On the Road’s celebration of freedom from restraints, but the connection is clearer in the historical context when one looks backward to the naturalist tradition of the “underside” of American social life, such as is first found in Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and the novels of Theodore Dreiser. More recent works in this line are John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), which relate the adventures of cheerful drop-outs in Monterey, California, from middle-class American culture and values, with characters who value leisure over work. Karl also cites James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonnigan trilogy (1932-35) about Irish Catholic slum youth in Chicago, George Mandel’s Flee the Angry Strangers (1952), about the Greenwich village bohemian culture of the post-war period and Nelson Algren’s The Man with a Golden Arm (1949), which deals with the underground urban drug world, and therefore looks forward to William Burroughs’s novels about drug addicts, Junkie (1953) and the highly unconventional Naked Lunch (1949; US 1953) and the Beats, who also claimed Burroughs as a founding father for his linguistic experimentation, such as the collage technique. These novels, and I include Kerouoac’s here, feature the pursuit of leisure time, as an indictment of a society obsessed by material possessions and wordly ambition. The characters prefer to beg, borrow, or steal rather than work and pay. Their leisure is given over to experimenting with drugs, whether for “kicks” (simple fun) or as way to alternative consciousness, unlogical thinking and ecstatic forms of feeling.
Beat Novel: Frederick R. Karl in his history of the postwar novel lists the following as characteristics of the Beat novel: drugs, booze, sex, talk, frenetic movement, rearrangement of personal connections & reshuffling of lovers or mistresses, the search for some sort of transcendental being, a reliance on cars and spatial fantasies (198). These last two items are interrelated. The wide-open spaces of the American continent contrast with the closed or crowded spaces of European and domestic American fiction and contribute to the individualist fantasy of unbounded freedom (which, however, seems always just out of reach). This is, of course, a theme going back to Cooper and the beginnings of American fiction, which also has its version of the search for the primitive and the questioning of traditional (European) values. Huck Finn, the archetypal American fictional hero, is himself a hobo whose existence, experience, and conscious choices, such as the companionship of a black man, call into question the counterfeit values of 19th century America. The Beats had a cult of the “Holy Barbarian” (the title of a book on the movement), which might be said to have its roots in the figure of Walt Whitman, in which the truth is to be sought in the ecstatic joy to be found in everyday life, and in working-class experience, the suffering and joy of Indians and Negroes, a generalized human solidarity and compassion, and celebration of the American continent as a space for freedom and transcendence.
The word “Beat” has a double connotation: beat (out or down) in the sense of defeated, worn out by life, disgusted by false values and American materialism, and as an abbreviated form of “beatific,” holy, sacred, transcendent, in touch with the divine, a meaning made explicit when Sal describes Dean as “Beat--the root, the soul of beatific” (p.189). This religious aspect is not theological in a Christian sense but closer to Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, which depends on meditation rather sacred texts, offered the vision of transcendent illumination without gods or priests, and featured non-rational, paradoxical, rather than dogmatic truth. Zen has a spontaneous outlook and method which appealed to the Beats, as does jazz, a music created by blacks which both pulses with primal rhythms and comes into being through improvisation by the performing artist rather than composition. Improvised or automatic writing was a form of experimentation in favor in Beat literature and which Keroauc himself attempted in some of his works.
An early example of the beat novel is Go by John Clellon Holmes (1952), a novel that could also be chosen for analysis since it is more cerebral than On the Road but also more conventional. The title “Go” could be as appropriately applied to Kerouac’s novel where the characters find their reason for being in endless movement; the title was inspired by Neil Cassady, the model for Dean Moriarty, who constantly used the word and who occurs as a character in the novel named Hart Kennedy. The novel was pirated and became a cult book after it went out of print. The hero, Paul Hobbes, resembles Sal Paradise of On the Road, in that both characters are somewhat divided between the spontaneity and immediacy of beat life and their need for stability, order, home life, love, and the usual pursuits of men and women who accept society. Kerouac himself appears in the novel in the character of Gene Pasternak. The existentialist angst of Hobbes, whose name perhaps suggests his need for system and politics that the other characters reject, is transformed into American culture (as here) into defeatism and a concentration on the individual. In both these novels, one might see Beat culture as a rather simple oppositional one to the straight culture. Thus, success/failure, business suit/old clothes & sandals, crew-cut/long hair & beards, cleanliness/dirty bodies, marriage/promiscuity, family life/communal living, whiskey/wine & dope, and in spiritual terms, cheap happiness/exalted suffering, for which a canonical text might be Dostoevski’s Underground man whom Hobbes sees himself as (Karl, 199).
Background of On the Road - the novel was finished by 1951 (its setting, it should be noted, is in the late 1940s; it ends in 1950) but revised and published only in 1957. The first version was written on a 250 foot roll of Japanese paper in one continuous paragraph with no punctuation (Karl 201), a form doubtless intended to suggest the non-stop movement of the novel itself. While the novel deals with the post-war period, what is immediately striking to the contemporary reader is that it pays no attention at all to national politics. There is no explicit notion that we are in the atomic age and other momentous events like the Korean war (1950-51) abroad and McCarthyism at home are taking place. The one casual mention of President Truman (by Dean) is positive. Kerouac himself was a working-class conservative, believing in the family as the source of value. This lack of political radicalism cannot be accidental; unlike the later counter-culture of the Sixties, although it does have some resonance with one branch of that culture, that of the “hippies,” the Beat culture tends to be apolitical by choice, as if there are no ways in which resistance to the reactionary politics of the time can be mounted and the only viable position is to ignore them, to cultivate instead one’s self.
Cultural Context: one might also relate the novel to the culture of the early Fifties: in poetry, the confessional poetry of Robert Lowell, whose (real) madness and instability were explored in print, and beat poets like Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and especially Allan Ginsberg, whose “Howl” is the most famous and typical Beat poem, an angry manifesto; in painting, abstract expressionism, a spontaneous form in which space and shape substitute subjects; in music, jazz, especially bop, developed by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie et al., usually played very fast in small combos and giving scope for individual soloists who created by improvisation. The period, then, may be seen as a search for new form of expression in art and as a reaction against an American consumerism (the post-war economic boom and the advent of television and the hegemony of advertising) and political conservatism. Kerouac’s novel’s publication also coincides with a famous essay by Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” in which Mailer analyzes the cultural figure of the hipster as alternative to straight culture’s idealization of the businessman.
The tone of the novel at times recalls the detached aimlessness of Hemingway in A Sun Also Rises but the prose is not as lean and spare as Hemingway’s, as it occasionally rises to lyricism in the manner of Thomas Wolfe, or drives relentlessly to a frenetic rendition of the characters’ experience, a kind of “speed-freak” prose (Neal Cassady). Kerouac seems to affect an “anti-style,” an attempt to project the spontaneous onto the inert medium of print. Karl suggests that Kerouac as a writer was preoccupied with finding a distinctive style but never succeeded, either in On the Road (which often does not escape banality or sentimentality) or in other more experimental novels like Subterraneans and Doctor Sax, among others.
Protagonist: Dean, Sal’s hero, is both literally and metaphorically “driven”: literally, because he was born in a car, which is metonymic for his obsession with automobiles and his compulsion to drive fast, and metaphorically, because he is obsessed with movement, is ever restless, never relaxed or content. In this sense, he might be seen an archetype for the American people, rootless, driven, mobile, unable to establish roots. Another term, not applied to him in the novel since it’s from the Sixties but with a similar double meaning is “speedy”: moving fast, never slowing down, and high in the manner of someone strung out on amphetimines (Dean talks incessantly and usually incoherently, the trait of a “speed-freak”; in the novel he doesn’t do these particular drugs but his model Neil Cassady did). Dean also resembles Huck Finn, a good “bad boy,” son of a wino. He spent his early life in Reform School, prison for children, and has been in jail on unspecified petty criminal charges (theft, drugs, most likely) though he is non-violent. He is a “con” man (confidence-man) what would now be called a “hustler,” conning and using people for his own ends and then discarding them without conscience but he is evidently charming enough to get away with it with a large number of friends and girl-friends. It is for me one defect of the novel that this charm does not really come through to the reader. One admires his energy and vitality but he otherwise comes across as singularly unattractive, which would suggest that the autobiographical experiences comprising the novel have not been sufficiently turned into art, the author has not achieved the required narrative distance from his material. Dean has intellectual yearnings (he first comes to Sal to learn how to write, he drops names like Nietzsche, he has a volume of Proust) but the one time we see him reading, aloud, he rambles off into private mutterings. A prolix talker, he usually make little sense and never says anything profound, his usual utterances being exclamations like “yes,” and “go,” and the like, verbal equivalents of his formidable physical activity. Dean is presented throughout as malajusted and manipulative, so in that sense he is not romanticized, but Sal sees him (if he doesn’t manage to show him) as always interesting, a catalyst for the other characters, but in constant danger of burning out. Dean is also important as an intermediate figure between the hobos and bums that are everywhere present in the novel, victims and losers from the capitalist society of success, and the beats, like Sal, who live the hard life of the road by conscious choice. Dean is the son of a bum and nearly one himself (jailbird, frequently jobless, etc.); at the same time, he is the ultimate “hipster,” Norman Mailer’s “white negro,” a man more instinctual than rational who both chooses his chaotic life but at the same time seems to have no choice at all, since he is driven by some undefined inner vision.
In nearly all the features of the Dean-character I have discussed, Dean resembles his real-life prototype, the legendary Neal Cassady who is, if anything, more complex than his fictional counterpart. Cassady knew the underside of urban life as a child, spent time in both reform schools and penitentiaries (where he would read literary classics), and practiced active and socially dubious skills from an early age: he began hitch-hiking and hopping freights with his father at age six, had sexual experience by eight, was adept at seducing women of all social classes and backgrounds throughout his life, had been a male prostitute at sixteen, was an accomplished auto-thief who had stolen five hundred cars and been convicted six times before he was twenty-one. As well as the desperate psychological make-up and social deprivation indicated by all this, Cassady was at the same time athletically gifted, was unschooled but intelligent, intellectually curious and an avid reader, but people did not agree how to take him: he was regarded by turns as both brilliant and intellectually shallow by different acquaintances. He had myriad romances with both men and women: the poet Allan Ginsberg was in love with him, but he preferred women and had a large appetite: several wives, sometimes simultaneously, combined with lovers and prostitutes (in his erotic characteristics, too, he resembles Walt Whitman, and Ginsberg called Cassady “the Whitmanic man divine”). He was said to be both charming (as evidenced by his long-suffering lovers and devoted friends) and also frequently unbearable, owing to his constant exploitation and abuse of these same people, and to his non-stop talking, aided by an amphetimine habit. And yet, Cassady did inspire curiosity and even regard and inspired a great number of young people to look at alternative life-styles and ways of thinking. All these things--with the significant exceptions of the drug-habit, he only smokes m.j., and performs no homosexual acts in the novel--Dean Moriarity is directly inspired by Cassady’s life: the episodes, like the Cadillac trip to chicago and the trip to Mexico, happened pretty much as described.
That Kerouac, however, may have idealized his friend becomes clearer when Cassady’s own writing, which is uneven and mainly autobiographical, is examined; Kerouac always claimed it was superior to his own but it may be fairly said that Cassady’s inspiration derives mainly from his fabulous but at the same time very American life, as seen in his astounding energy and endless attempts to make himself over. Cassady may even be seen as a bridge between the 50s and 60s counter-cultures, since he was the driver of the legendary day-glo bus (in which capacity he was nicknamed “Speed Limit”) in which Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters roamed America and was part of the group at Kesey’s retreat at La Honda, in which a number of people tried through drugs and ecstatic experience to forge new ways of life and consciousness. It was Cassady, finally, who made Kerouac realize that he might use just the material from his own life without needing to invent anything outside it. Cassady died in Mexico in 1968 from a lethal mixture of nembutals and alcohol. (Nicosia 92-114 for this paragraph). There is a biography of him, called The Holy Goof (William Plummer, 1981).
Vehicles - There is a certain symbolical significance to the vehicles employed on the road. Trains are never used (Sal says at one point he doesn’t know how to jump a train, which freight-car is best, which direction they are going, etc.) as trains are the means of transporation of the true hobo, as in fiction of the Thirties. In the novel, hobos like Dean’s father are seen going south in the winter on freight-trains and then returning when the weather gets warm. Buses are occasionally resorted to when money is available, which isn’t often. The car is the novel’s supreme means of movement, whether driving or hitchhiking. In the post-war years the culture of the car, especially with regard to youth, had its great moment: the industrial boom fueled by war production and the low price of gasoline made the big fast american cars a world export. Socially and culturally, the car for youth meant freedom and sex (you can get away from the prying eyes of parents and with a large vehicle you have what is in effect a mobile bedroom). A whole youth culture developed around the car: cruising the main drag was the principle pastime (cf. “American Graffitti”); here, too, going nowhere was a means of pleasure. It is to the point that Dean is the character most closely associated with cars, about which more later.
The cult of instinct - there is, in this novel and most other Beat literary productions, a certain anti-intellectual strain, which might go back to Walt Whitman himself (“When I heard the learn’d astronomer”) for a more naive, direct approach to life, a life of action as opposed to thought, the “natural” as opposed to the non-genuine, yea-saying as opposed to critical statement. [Quote p.13, “Dean’s intelligence”] where we have to take Sal’s word for Dean’s intellect since it is nowhere much in evidence but it is clear that Sal reveres instinct over abstract thought, and even Dean’s criminal acts are signs of affirmation. Note, however, the allusion to Shelley and the citation from the Bible, as if in a fictional text “literary” culture cannot be denied after all.
Women - The passage quoted above also illustrates Dean’s rather predatory attitude toward women. He romances them constantly but it is on the level of conning them; they exist for the satisfaction of an appetite. One might contrast the descriptions of Dean in this first chapter as a unique and interesting character with the rather cursory one of Dean’s first wife, Marylou, who is stereotyped as a dumb but pretty blonde. Women throughout the novel are given short shrift, invariably described as sexually enticing but offering nothing else of interest. Like Ed Dunkel’s Galatea or Dean’s several wives, they are cheerfully masochistic: they are routinely humiliated by their husbands or lovers but come back for more. This, of course, is the male fantasy of a proper woman, and in fact the women tend to be seen as accessories--whether for sexual gratification or domestic labor--to the men rather than characters in their own right, and except for their names we shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them. They are also, even as in classic American fiction (again, Cooper and Twain may be cited) emblematic of everything the men are trying to escape: order, society, responsibility, family, a stable domestic life, and they are especially the impediment to unbridled freedom (they always seem to be crying or complaining). Dean has a number of wives but can’t make up his mind which one he will stay with, which is understandable since they all seem interchangeable. Sal on this point is more complex than the other characters. He goes along on the parties but has less success with women than Dean and, crucially, he longs for love and the woman that will make him happy in familiar terms (he finds her in the end, a “happy ending,” which makes his story more conventional than the author might be conscious of).
Genre - The novel is formless, episodic in nature, another version of the “picaresque.” Sal, however, does not quite fit the role of the “picaro,” or rogue, since he is not so clever or street-wise but constantly robbed or conned by real rogues, thrown over by women, etc. Sal has presumably been in the war and at sea, so he should have learned something from those experiences but he presents himself as a naif, a Candide. The novel might also be described as marginally belonging to the genre of “Travel” literature, since Sal guides the reader to and through a variety of “exotic” places, which include not only Mexico (exotic), but the lower depths of large American cities, places contained as it were within the familiar landscape which the middle-class reader at least cannot be expected to be familiar with: the dives, flop-houses, jazz joints, Negro parts of town, which may have been one of the attractions of reading the novel at that time: safe access to inaccessible places. Thematically, there is the classic theme of the search for the father, especially old Dean Moriarty, who is much discussed but never turns up, but this theme is not seriously pursued.
Chpt. 1 - Sal meets Dean in New York. The first sentence shows first, that this is a world of male-bonding; Dean Moriarty in effect will take the place of the narrator’s wife, though homoeroticism never quite surfaces (endless face to face talks seem to be the substitute or perhaps the sublimation for homosexual acts). Remember Leslie Fiedler’s theory of American fiction as the lone male and his minority companion on the quest; if we take the quest in this novel to be essentially Sal’s, the narrator’s, Dean might be seen as the (white) negro companion. Second, this sentence has the personal world-weariness, “beat” in the sense of defeated, which keeps coming up in intervals between frantic activity, as the trough of each wave of movement. The narrator Sal constantly fluctuates between joy and sadness, ecstacy and despondency. Sal’s last name Paradise suggest the “beatific” meaning of beat. Sal reveres Dean for his “madness,” as the leader of a cult of vitality and energy, a human antidote to the incipient nihilism which we have seen as an ingredient of Beat culture [quote p. 11 “the mad ones”]. Here Sal characterizes himself as a follower, not one of the mad ones but someone who likes to be close to them to absorb some of their energy and zest. In this reading, the real hero is just who the narrator says it is, Dean.
2 - Sal sets out on lone trip west (though to his frustration he ends going north and then south again). This account resonates with the mythic west of the pioneers, the frontier which he reads about before leaving. The classic americanness of the undertaking also signaled by his food: nearly always apple-pie. The details of his several vehicles, connections suggest that Sal is not so much inventing as recording his experiences, i.e. Sal is merely a mouthpiece for Kerouac. The author has a keen eye for the detail of places. That Sal is not himself mythicized is shown by his refusal to omit his being conned or made foolish or even concealing his hero Dean’s shortcomings. In this chapter, for example, the epic journey is demystified. Sal sets off with a grand vision--of drawing a red line on the map straight across America and following it--but he gets stuck trying to realize it; he gets caught in the rain, no body will pick him up, and ignominously he has to take a bus back to New York and start over, which suggests that America is more complex than the mythical desire to master it.
3-5 - I think the finest episode in the novel, relating Sal’s lyrical cross-country hitch-hiking, the prose equivalent of Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.” This episode is a celebration of wide-open American space, geographically the midwestern plains, but with a characteristic ambivalence about direction and destination. Whither? Denver? LA? Opportunities open up with the possibility for travel but perpetual motion here, as after in the novel, becomes an end in itself. The wide open space metaphorically is the freedom and comraderie of the men on the road, that wonderful passage of the farm-boys going to California in a flat-bed truck and picking up everybody along the way--a classless vision of a real democratic America (significantly with women missing) where money, liquor and cigarettes are shared among them.
6-10 - Denver interval, forward movement stopped, but characters keep moving in circles within the city. Large group of male buddies on a party, working-class mostly (Dean, Carlo). Along with some of Sal’s naive reactions on his trip west, this episode points to a curious feature of the novel, a group of what are after all grown men who think and act more like adolescent boys. No one works except sporadically (though that may be put down to conscious choice) yet their material needs are constantly, almost magically provided for, as if they were dependent children: food and room provided by someone’s parents or relatives, sex supplied by compliant women, money always turns up somehow (Sal’s aunt, for example). Yet, Sal has identified himself as a “veteran” (army) and he occasionally gets veteran’s benefits (Uncle Sam the most beneficient relative of all) and he has been to “sea” (merchant sailor), so he must be at least in his twenties, yet the boys go round in a gang, commune only with one another, act up like kids, etc.
[Quote p. 53, “beat generation” is explicitly mentioned]
11 - Like “paradise” itself, the maximum satisfaction is always deferred. Sal is always aiming to get somewhere but never really content when he is there, he always has some other place on the next horizon: “I’ll dig this later,” he says, but right now I have to get somewhere else. For example, in the next episode,
12 - where he takes up with Terry, the Mexican woman in Los Angeles, he has hardly spent much time in southern California and he is already talking about returning to New York. The description of the LA streets is superb, an early vison of the future postmodernist city: a cacaphony of sounds, styles, characters, activity. One attractive thing about Sal is his dream of solidarity with down-and-outs of society, the poor and racially excluded, underclass, road bums, etc., these people seen positively in the novel, even a little idealized, always described as “wonderful.” “Everywhere I went, everyone was in it together” (p. 88) Sal says, when he’s driving around with Terry’s brothers.
13- At this point, the endless round of drinking and partying means constant poverty, living day to day like the poor. Sal, a former college boy, has to do proletarian labor like picking cotton for low wages, a job at which he is woefully incompetent (Terry and her little brother pick much more than he does) though in compensation his empathy with the poor is increased by seeing how hard they work. The road, then, is not only “kicks” but a place to learn the human solidarity so notably lacking in people who lead stable and safe lives.
Chpt. 3 - [quote p. 114] which almost might be the Beat philosophy of the road.
6 - They go south to pick up Galatea, whom Ed Dunkel had dumped in the midwest on an earlier trip. Old Bull Lee (perhaps William Burroughs, who was an older man and used the name of Bill Lee in some of his novels and who was a lifelong drug addict) described as student in the “streets of life.”
7 - Dean & Bull Lee give their own form of special education: road-skills, disarming knife-assailants in dark alleys, the proper way to jump off a moving train.
Chpt. 1 - [quote p. 169 “sad overworked Jap”] is perhaps the most quoted passage of the novel and highly criticized at the time. While we understand what Sal is talking about, the spiritual limitations of white middle-class life, he hopelessly idealizes minority cultures, even to the point of caricature (the “happy” Negroes). Here, too, we see the limitations of what I called Sal’s attractive empathy with the lower classes; it stems less from human solidarity (though there is some of that as well) than from his own feeling of inadequacy, of the lack of white soul, as it were, where he doesn’t perceive that the soul these people have originates in their material poverty, suffering and discrimination. In any case, what he calls his “white sorrows” doesn’t last very long; immediately, he says an unnamed “rich girl” with whom he spends the night gives him a hundred dollars for no apparent reason and off he goes with the money to San Francisco. His sorrows in this context seem ludicrous: the minority people he envies cannot have such facile and immediate cost-free gratification, but he evidently doesn’t see the contradiction.
4- Description of a tenor-sax solo in a low-down jazz club attempts to capture the rhythm and ecstatic quality of the music and its audience. Sal goes home with the musician and there is a revealing passage where the man’s wife is in bed and they have to practically walk on her to get to the light bulb but she just lies there smiling [Quote p. 122, “That’s a real woman for you”]
5 - Dean shows his driving skills by giving dangerous lessons in how not to drive. Dean is at his best at top speed; in a sense, he’s a humanized car; a critic cleverly called him “a centaur” half man, half car, as he is truly in his element behind the wheel.
7-9 - For example, he makes the trip,1180 miles (almost 2700 km.) in 17 hours, minus 8 hours they spend in a ditch, at Ed Wall’s ranch and under arrest, so he really did it in nine hours, which Sal calls “a crazy record.”
Mostly describes their trip to Mexico City by way of Texas. [Quote p. 264 from the top] a passage in which Sal essentializes and conflates the world’s peoples on one hand, but on the other shows he has some understanding of their journey and the people they are seeing, who are not reduced to picturesque natives for tourists. Nevertheless, Sal and his two companions act like (hip) tourists, doing the usual American thing: getting drunk, going to the whorehouse, throwing money around without any understanding of its value. Still, one has the idea that these at least are unlike their countrymen in that they have contact with real people, talk to them despite the language barrier, see them as sympathetic, suffering people rather than stereotyped “dirty” Indians, etc.
In Chpt. 5, the account of their comic and chaotic romp in the whorehouse has the ring of authenticity; and there is a description of a mariajuana high in which Sal conveys the mental confusion and and sensory illusion but also the vividness of color and inner excitement [p. 268]
Sal gets sick in Mexico and Dean deserts him; it turns out he had only gone along to get a quicky Mexican divorce, so he can marry his third wife but then immediately afterward he deserts her and goes back to the second.
Part V - merely an epilogue, in which Sal makes it back to New York alone, Dean’s last visit, and Sal’s final rejection of his friend as he evidently will go on to a more stable life off the road, marriage, writing books, and so on.
Spatial Chart for Keroauc’s On the Road
Part I - Chapter Cities Direction Events
1 New York ---- Sal meets Dean
2 NY-Bear Mountain-NY N/S Sal unable to go west
3-5 NY-Denver W Sal hitches solo across midwest plains
6-10 Denver --- Dean’s buddies’ party
11 Denver-San Francisco W Sal hitchhikes to west coast
12 SF - Los Angeles N Sal takes up with Terry
13 LA-Fresno N Sal works in the fields
14 LA-midwest E bus-trip
Part II-1 Paterson, NJ-Virginia S Sal’s southern relatives
2 Virginia-NY-Paterson N ---
3 Paterson-Washington S Dean arrested for speeding
4 Paterson-NY --- New York party
5 New York --- Sal tries to “work” Marylou
6-7 NY-New Orleans S Sal, Dean, Ed visit Bull Lee
8-9 New Orleans-LA-SF W/N Trip through southwest
10 San Francisco --- Sal shacks up with Marylou
11 SF-NY E Sal & Dean fall out
Part III-1 Denver-SF W Sal seeks out Dean
2 San Francisco --- Camille kicks out Sal & Dean
3 San Francisco --- Galatea berates Dean
4 San Francisco --- Jazz night
5 SF-Denver E Dean’s driving scares tourists
6 Denver --- Sal & Dean stay with Okie family
7 Denver --- Dean steals a car
8-9 Denver-Chicago E Dean sets speed record in Cadillac
10 Chicago --- Sal & Dean cruise Chicago
11 Chicago-Detroit-NY E Sal & Dean sleep in skid row theatre
Part IV- 1 New York --- Sal & Dean split up
2 NY-Denver W Sal meets up with Denver buddies
3 Denver --- Dean arrives, they plan trip to Mexico
4 Denver-San Antonio S Sal, Dean, Stan go through Texas
5 San Antonio-Gregorio,Mex. S Pot, sex, and mambo in whorehouse
6 Gregorio-Mexico City S Dean deserts Sal when he’s sick
Part V - Mexico City-NY N Sal leaves Dean behind in NY