This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road became the defining novel of the Beat Generation.
It describes roadtrips across America, carefree attitudes, Americana, jazz, free spirits, drugs, sex, booze and adventure, and is mainly autobiographical. Protagonist Sal Paradise is based on the author himself, and many of his friends and relatives, including other (now famous) beatniks like Allen Ginsberg feature in the book as well – sometimes with only minimal name changes on the part of the author.
On the Road is one of those books people seem to either love or hate. Written entirely using stream of consciousness, Kerouac’s rambling style, run-on sentences and seemingly disjointed thoughts can make it hard to follow the story sometimes. At other times, however, Kerouac comes up with beautifully written descriptions and explanations. Split into five parts, the story follows recently divorced Sal across the United States between 1947 and 1950, from New York to San Francisco and back with stops in New Orleans, Detroit and Denver and an eventual, ill-fated trip south of the border into Mexico.
Some characters, like Dean Moriarty who was based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, are thoroughly unpleasant. He’s an adulterer and a drifter, who keeps leaving pregnant girlfriends by the wayside to get back to his wife and family. Dean is someone, who abandons friends when they need him, and when the adventure is no longer fun for him.
Sal Paradise, on the other hand, is positively naive and innocent compared to Dean. He’s idealistic, and searching for life and a spiritual connection with life. He is basking in the energetic glow of Dean while it lasts and thinks that he has found what he was looking for and finally learned what life is about.
It’s easy to see how this novel can be appealing to teenagers and all those with Fernweh and Wanderlust in their hearts. On the Road romanticises a bohemian lifestyle, drifting from place to place, hitchhiking and seeking adventure. It does encompass that sense that there is more to life and the world than the town you grew up in. On the Road may be the ultimate roadtrip novel.
Disclaimer: I bought this book (a paperback 50th anniversary edition that seems to be ou of print by now) at the iconic beatnik bookstore City Lights in San Francisco when I was 20 and on a cross-country roadtrip from L.A. to New York in the summer of 2007. I’d heard of On the Road before, and thought what better place to get my copy than City Lights, especially as Jack Kerouac Alley runs along the side of the bookstore building. For me it was the right book at the right time, but stream of consciousness writing is not for everyone.
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Title: On The Road
Author: Jack Kerouac
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: April 7, 2011 (originally published in 1955)