On the Road

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Editor: Anne Marie Hacht
Date: 2007
Literary Themes for Students: The American Dream
Publisher: Gale
Series: Literary Themes for Students
Document Type: Plot summary; Work overview
Pages: 12
Content Level: (Level 4)

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On the Road


On the Road by Jack Kerouac is an autobiographical novel that has come to symbolize the American youth subculture of the 1950s. The book chronicles the cross-country travels of Sal Paradise, the book's narrator, and his wild friend Dean Moriarty over a period of three years. The two hitchhike, party, steal, love, and absorb all the wonders of America and its citizens. Although the novel is in some ways a travelogue of the many places Sal visits—and features breathtaking descriptions of the sights he sees—the story primarily focuses on the rocky relationship Sal and Dean share.

The book is heavily based on Kerouac's actual experiences with his friend Neal Cassady and their mutual friends, including author William Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg. All appear in On the Road under pseudonyms, since the publisher feared a lawsuit if the names were left unchanged. According to Kerouac expert Ann Charters in her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the book, Kerouac had always hoped to publish a collection of his autobiographical works with the original names intact, but he was not able to accomplish this before his sudden, alcohol-related death in 1969.

A legend has arisen around the original manuscript for On the Road that is almost as fascinating as the novel itself. According to the legend, to keep his thoughts flowing freely as he wrote, Kerouac taped together twelve-foot-long Page 401  |  Top of Articlesheets of paper to make a continuous roll that would not require stopping to change pages. Kerouac typed feverishly for three weeks, fed by stimulants and coffee, to produce a 120-foot-long single-spaced manuscript of his novel. This is essentially true, and the manuscript still exists; however, Kerouac produced this "spontaneous" manuscript while working from earlier drafts of the novel, and he was well-known for rewriting passages over and over again—a stark contrast to his cultivated image as an artist who operates from the stream of his consciousness.

On the Road is the defining novel of the Beat Generation, a subculture symbolized by a group of artists who rejected the rigid societal norms that had developed after World War II. Indeed, the novel caused some controversy upon its release due to its frank depiction of drug use and indecency among young adults. Such controversy only served to heighten the book's appeal to young adults looking for something different from the traditions of their parents. Charters quotes William Burroughs in the introduction to the Penguin edition:

After 1957 On the Road sold a trillion levis and a million espresso coffee machines, and also sent countless kids on the road…. The Beat literary movement came at exactly the right time and said something that millions of people of all nationalities all over the world were waiting to hear.

On the Road has remained a favorite for young readers ever since, and has become accepted as an important literary work. As Ann Charters writes in her introduction:

On the Road can be read as an American classic along with Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as a novel that explores the theme of personal freedom and challenges the promise of the "American Dream."


Part 1

Chapters 1-8

The novel begins with a description of Sal's first encounter with Dean Moriarty in 1947. As Sal puts it, "With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road." Dean has traveled from out west to New York with his new wife, Marylou. They move into an apartment in Hoboken, and Dean takes a job parking cars. Soon after, however, they have a fight and Marylou returns home to Denver; Sal agrees to let Dean stay with him in his aunt's New Jersey home for a time. Dean meets one of Sal's friends, Carlo Marx, and they bond immediately. When spring comes, Dean decides to return to Denver, and Sal makes plans to follow him west soon after.

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Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac on March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents were originally French Canadian, and Jack did not speak English until he was six years old. His prowess on the football field during high school earned him a college scholarship to Columbia University, where he would later meet many other Beat Generation writers. He left Columbia before graduating, however, to become a merchant seaman.

He wrote a novel about his seafaring adventures titled The Sea is My Brother in 1943, but his first published novel was The Town and the City (1950). The book was heavily autobiographical, and during its submission and publication Kerouac was busy living out the scenes that would fill his next book, the classic On the Road (1957), with his friend Neal Cassady. Kerouac followed this with several more autobiographical novels, including The Dharma Bums (1958) and Lonesome Traveler. He also published several volumes of poetry.

Kerouac suffered from severe alcoholism throughout his adult life, which led to cirrhosis of the liver and internal bleeding that took his life on October 21, 1969, in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was forty-seven.

In July, after Sal finishes the first half of a novel he is writing, he leaves New Jersey with fifty dollars and a plan to hitchhike all the way to Page 402  |  Top of Article
Jack Kerouac Jack Kerouac Hulton Archive/Getty Images San Francisco. He at first plans to follow Route 6 across the entire country but soon realizes this is impractical. He decides to spend most of his money on a bus ticket to Chicago, and just outside Joliet, he hitches his first ride. He hitchhikes across Illinois and Iowa, eating only apple pie and ice cream every time he stops. He meets up with another hitchhiker named Eddie, and the two travel together all the way to Shelton, Nebraska. After Sal buys Eddie a bus ticket for part of the trip and loans him a wool shirt when he is cold, Eddie selfishly takes the only available seat when an old man stops to offer a ride.

Soon after, Sal is picked up by two Minnesotan farm boys driving a truck with a bed filled with hitchhikers. Some of the passengers are young men on their first journey across the country, while others are seasoned hobos with names like Montana Slim and Mississippi Gene. Sal rides to Cheyenne, where he gets off with Montana Slim and the two attempt to woo a pair of local girls. Sal tries to convince one of the girls to make the bus trip with him to Colorado, but she has dreams of going to New York. Sal tries—unsuccessfully—to convince her that there is nothing worthwhile in New York. He decides to hitchhike the rest of the way to Denver.

Once he arrives in Denver, Sal stays with old friends and anxiously looks forward to reuniting with Dean. Their mutual friend Carlo Marx tells Sal that Dean has been dividing his time between two women: Marylou, his wife, and a new girl named Camille. Carlo also reveals that he and Dean have been taking Benzedrine, a popular amphetamine drug used in inhalers and available in most drug stores at the time. Carlo takes Sal to see Dean, who promises to find Sal a girl and a job.

Eddie, Sal's former hitchhiking partner, meets up with Sal in Denver and the two get jobs working in the market district. Instead of showing up for his first day of work, however, Sal decides to continue living off the charity of his network of friends. He spends his evenings with Carlo and Dean, who has decided to divorce Marylou, marry Camille, and move to San Francisco.

Chapters 9-14

Sal embarks on a trip to Central City, a former mining town turned tourist destination, with a group of friends that does not include Carlo or Dean. When he returns to Denver, he discovers that Carlo and Dean had also been in Central City, though he did not see them. Carlo tells him that Dean stole a car there and drove it through the mountains back to Denver at ninety miles an hour. Sal is suddenly anxious to continue journeying west to San Francisco, where another friend—Remi Boncoeur—has suggested they both get jobs aboard a merchant ship and sail the world. However, he stays in Denver long enough to spend an evening with a girl Dean has arranged to meet him. As he leaves Denver, he realizes that he "hadn't talked to Dean for more than five minutes in the whole time."

Sal arrives in San Francisco and meets up with Remi, of whom he writes: "When I found him in Mill City that morning he had fallen on the beat and evil days that come to young guys in their middle twenties." Remi works as a security guard watching over sailors' barracks and lives with his girlfriend Lee Ann, whom he describes as "a fetching hunk, a honey-colored creature, but there was hate in her eyes for both of us."

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Remi helps Sal get a job as a security guard at the barracks. Sal does not feel comfortable keeping the peace with drunken sailors; he would rather "sneak out into the night and disappear somewhere, and go and find out what everybody was doing all over the country." One night, when a group of sailors gets overly rowdy, Sal ends up joining them and getting drunk; he discovers in the morning that he has put the American flag upside-down on the flagpole. Remi spends much of his guard duty time looking for things to steal from the barracks.

As the weeks wear on, Remi and Lee Ann begin to argue more and more, with Sal often caught in the middle. His friendship with Remi becomes strained, and Sal decides to leave San Francisco. As he makes his way south to Los Angeles, he meets a Hispanic girl named Terry who has just left her young son and abusive husband to stay with her sister in L.A.

After spending a brief time with Terry in what Sal calls "the loneliest and most brutal of American cities," the two decide to travel back to New York and start a new life together. Without money, though, they soon decide instead to hitchhike back to Terry's hometown of Sabinal, near Fresno, and stay with her brother.

Sal eventually finds work as a cotton picker and lives in a tent camp with Terry and her son Johnny near the field where he works. The work is brutally hard, and Sal discovers that he cannot earn enough to feed and house his new family. He tells Terry to move back in with her parents. Terry promises to come to New York soon so they can be together, but Sal knows it will not happen.

Sal receives a money order from his aunt back home, and he uses the money to buy a bus ticket from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, since he cannot afford the fare all the way to New York. Hitchhiking from Pennsylvania to New York, Sal meets a man he calls "the Ghost of the Susquehanna." The man, an eccentric sixty-year-old hobo, tells Sal that he is on his way to Canada, so Sal follows along. Sal later realizes the man has been leading him the wrong way, and that they are actually going west. The two part ways, and Sal gets a ride into New York.

When he returns to his aunt's house, Sal discovers that Dean has been back in New York, staying with Sal's aunt, awaiting his return. Two days before Sal got back, however, Dean headed west for San Francisco to stay with Camille.

Part 2

Sal spends the next year finishing his novel and going to school. He begins dating a young married mother named Lucille, and he plans to marry her if she can afford to divorce her first husband. In late 1948, when Sal travels south to Virginia to spend Christmas with his relatives, Dean shows up at Sal's brother's house in Virginia. Marylou and another friend, Ed Dunkel, are traveling with him in a brand-new Hudson he bought before leaving San Francisco.

Dean tells Sal of his life with Camille and his newborn daughter in San Francisco, where he worked on the railroad until he and Ed Dunkel were laid off. He tells of their mad plan to drive across the country to pick up Sal and bring him back to San Francisco. He tells Sal how Ed married a young woman named Galatea just so she would accompany them and pay for gas on the way, and how—when Galatea ran out of money—he and Ed left her in a Tucson hotel and kept driving. After that, Dean made a detour north and met up again with his first love, Marylou, and decided they would try to work things out. From there they drove on to Virginia.

Dean becomes involved in a confusing and ambitious plan to transport some furniture from Virginia to Sal's aunt's house in New Jersey. Sal, Dean, Ed, and Marylou all make the trip in the Hudson, promising to return to Virginia in just thirty hours. When they reach New Jersey to drop off the furniture, Sal discovers that Galatea has called from New Orleans, looking for Ed. Sal tells her to wait in New Orleans, and that they will pick her up on their way back west. Ed and Marylou stay in New Jersey as Dean and Sal race back to Virginia to pick up the rest of the furniture, as well as Sal's aunt.

One night soon after, Dean asks Sal to make love to Marylou while he watches. Marylou agrees, and although Sal tries, he cannot bring himself to do it as long as Dean and Marylou are still in a relationship. He agrees to travel back west with them, hoping to become intimate with Marylou after Dean returns to Camille in San Francisco. Before the group heads west, however, they head to the South—"the washed-out bottom of America"—to pick up Ed's wife Galatea from the home of a mutual friend in New Orleans named Old Bull Lee.

When they arrive, Ed repairs his relationship with Galatea, and the two decide to find an Page 404  |  Top of Articleapartment and stay in New Orleans. Sal, Dean, and Marylou continue west, stealing food from gas station markets on the way and picking up hitchhikers to help cover the cost of gas.

When they arrive in San Francisco, Dean returns to Camille, but Marylou is no longer interested in being with Sal. She abandons him in a rundown hotel. Dean finds him days later, starving, and takes him back to Camille's home. After a few days, Sal is ready to return to New York. He and Dean have one last wild night visiting jazz clubs with Marylou, who once again turns up at Dean's call. In the end, though, Sal is happy to be returning home, noting, "We were all thinking we'd never see one another again and we didn't care."

Part 3

In the spring, Sal travels to Denver with an eye toward moving there permanently. None of his friends are there anymore. He gets a job working at the same fruit market where he had almost worked with Eddie two years before. He longs to see Dean and Marylou again; when a wealthy acquaintance gives him one hundred dollars, he decides to travel to San Francisco and find Dean.

He discovers that Dean is living with Camille and their daughter, and that Camille is expecting a second child. Dean tells Sal how he had gone crazy with jealousy over Marylou and her many lovers, barging into her place with a gun and declaring that either he or she would have to die. After the dust settled, Marylou married a used-car dealer. Before that, however, Dean had tried to hit her across the head one night and ended up breaking his own thumb instead. The wound did not heal properly, and now he cannot work. He takes care of his daughter while Camille supports the family.

The morning after Sal arrives, Camille kicks them both out of the house, knowing the trouble they are likely to cause. Sal convinces Dean to come back to New York with him, and he plans a trip to Italy for both of them after he gets paid for his novel. Dean agrees to go. Before they leave, however, a group of their old friends gather together and criticize Dean for his irresponsible behavior, particularly with regard to Camille and his daughter. Sal tries to defend him, but they insist that Dean is "the worst scoundrel that ever lived." Dean simply ignores them, and he and Sal make their way east.

The two take a travel-bureau car to Denver. There, they take responsibility for delivering a limousine to Chicago. Dean drives the car ragged, getting into two accidents on the way. They deliver the car to the owner's mechanic, who does not even recognize it, and hurry off on a bus to Detroit.

They manage to secure another travel-bureau ride to New York, and soon arrive at Sal's aunt's new home in Long Island. His aunt gives permission for Dean to stay a few nights, but that is all. Sal introduces Dean to a girl named Inez at a party, and within days Dean decides to divorce Camille so he can marry Inez. Soon after, Inez has a baby. Sal states simply, "So we didn't go to Italy."

Part 4

Sal receives money for his book, and when spring comes, he once again feels the urge to travel. He leaves behind Dean, who now lives with Inez and works as a parking attendant in New York. On the way to Denver, Sal meets an ex-convict named Henry. The two spend time together in Denver, visiting bars and socializing with some of Sal's old friends. As Sal prepares to continue his planned journey, heading south into Mexico, he receives word that Dean is on his way to join him.

Dean arrives in a 1937 Ford automobile he just bought, telling Sal that the official purpose of his trip is to obtain a divorce from Camille in Mexico, which is faster and less expensive than getting one in the United States. The two set off for Mexico with another friend, Stan Shepard, in tow. They spend a wild night at a whorehouse in Gregoria, and then drive on to Mexico City. There Sal contracts dysentery and spends several days falling into and out of consciousness. In the middle of Sal's illness, Dean leaves him and Stan to return to New York. As Sal reflects:

When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

Part 5

After Dean returns to New York, he marries Inez in Newark and immediately leaves to go see his second wife Camille in San Francisco. Sal gets back to New York and meets Laura, the love of his life. When he writes to Dean to tell him that he and Laura are thinking of moving to San Francisco soon, Dean appears on his Page 405  |  Top of Articledoorstep for a visit. He stays for three days. The night Dean leaves, Sal and Laura attend a Duke Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera with Remi Boncoeur and his girlfriend. Dean asks to ride in the car with the group, but Remi refuses. Sal cannot enjoy the concert because he is "thinking of Dean and how he got back on the train and rode over three thousand miles over that awful land and never knew why he had come anyway, except to see me." Although this is the last time Sal sees Dean, he reflects that he still thinks of Dean often.


Freedom from Social Conventions

One of the main themes of On the Road is freedom. At the beginning of the novel, Sal and Dean both want to live outside the formal social conventions of the time. For example, throughout much of the book, Sal avoids holding a steady job. After he is offered a job in Denver, he fails to show up for his first day of work. In San Francisco, he works as a guard for two and a half months, actively ignoring the rules he is supposed to enforce. To him, such formalized rules are a basic failing of the country's true character: "This is the story of America. Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do."

Sal and Dean also defy social conventions in their frequent use of recreational drugs. On several occasions, the two smoke marijuana—which Kerouac refers to as "tea"—and Sal mentions early in the book that both Dean and Carlo have started taking the stimulant Benzedrine.
Neal Cassady in his first suit, New York, circa 1946 Neal Cassady in his first suit, New York, circa 1946 © Allen Ginsberg/Corbis Although he does not mention Dean taking Benzedrine later in the novel, Dean's hyperactive behavior, free-flowing speech style, and nervous twitches all suggest use of the drug. Sal also suggests that Old Bull Lee is a heroin addict, and his wife Jane is a steady user of Benzedrine.

The characters also show freedom from sexual inhibitions. Dean appears naked to answer his front door on occasion, and even visits an Indian ruin unclothed. He convinces Sal and Marylou to undress in the car as the three ride across Texas together. Dean and Marylou are both open with their sexuality; in one instance, Dean even asks Sal to make love to Marylou while he watches. Dean also spends much of the book romancing more than one woman at the same time. Similarly, Marylou flirts with Sal even as she and Dean plan to solidify their relationship.

The Spirit of Exploration

One of the themes fundamental to both On the Road and the American dream is the spirit of exploration. Throughout the book, Sal and Dean are both drawn by a need to travel across Page 406  |  Top of Articlethe American landscape with only the most tenuous reasons for doing so. For them, the journey itself is a way to experience the country and its people.

The story of On the Road is, as its title implies, primarily a story about traveling back and forth across the country. The narrator, Sal, only briefly summarizes the life-changing events that happen between such trips. Both Sal and Dean are driven not just by a need to move across the landscape, but by a desire to see new things and meet new people, each time expanding their notions of what America means. Throughout the book, Dean often calls attention to specific people they meet and attempts to relate to their life experiences. Passing by a black man in a mule wagon in Virginia, Dean commands his passengers: "Yes! Dig him! Now consider his soul—stop awhile and consider."

The spirit of exploration as shown in the novel is also an expression of absolute freedom and liberty, traits often associated with American ideals. Both Sal and Dean take advantage of their freedom to move back and forth from coast to coast without limits. This free-wheeling spirit is not painted in a purely positive light, however; this is especially clear when Dean is confronted by several friends before he leaves San Francisco to go to New York with Sal. These friends are all upset by Dean's inability to take responsibility for his wife and child. Galatea Dunkel sums up their feelings, saying "Camille has to stay home and mind the baby now you're gone—how can she keep her job?—and she never wants to see you again and I don't blame her."

The desire to explore is depicted as something that can only be done by those outside the mainstream of society. As Sal and Dean's friends—and ultimately Sal as well—become tied to a specific location by commitments and responsibilities, the spirit of exploration no longer drives their actions. Dean, however, remains the embodiment of the traveler to the end—"a sideburned hero of the snowy West."


The Beat Generation

The term "Beat Generation" refers not to an entire generation of Americans, but to a group of artists who led a counterculture movement throughout the 1950s. The term is credited to Jack Kerouac, who uses the term "beat" to suggest a number of things about the culture: that they are marginalized and disaffected, as in "beaten down," but also keenly aware of a developing artistic subculture heavily influenced by bebop music and its unusual rhythmic beats.

Other famous members of the Beat Generation include poet Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady (who served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in On the Road), and William Burroughs. The core figures in the Beat Generation gathered in and around Columbia University throughout the late 1940s, where they worked to develop a new style of literature that emphasized spontaneous, open form the way jazz had done in music. Much like the characters in On the Road, the real-life members of the Beat Generation were greatly influenced by life in both New York and San Francisco, with many living in New York first and later moving west.

The Beat Generation became tightly associated with the subculture in which they lived, so much so that the term suggests a very specific lifestyle. Members of the Beat Generation were considered anti-authority in several respects; for example, the 1956 publication of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" led to an obscenity trial for its publisher. Beat Generation artists were also vocal advocates of illicit drug use and open sexuality. Kerouac wrote openly of Benzedrine and marijuana use—though Benzedrine was legal at the time—and Burroughs later helped Timothy Leary in his campaign to expose mainstream American culture to "mind-expanding" drugs such as LSD. For many Beat artists, drug use was seen as a way to enhance creativity.

The subculture captured by the Beat Generation was later depicted by the stereotype "Beatnik," in which members were stereotyped as wearing berets and black clothing, and to speak in the same unusual slang captured by Kerouac in On the Road.

The influence the Beat Generation had on American culture was impressive. Although less a movement than simply a small group of artists with similar ideas, the Beat artists—many of whom would later deny they were members of any sort of "Beat Generation" at all—opened up new avenues of expression for many artists who emerged soon after. In addition to influencing later novelists and poets, the Beat artists had a direct influence on musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Tom Waits, and even Page 407  |  Top of ArticleThe Beatles. Many Beat artists later collaborated with these musicians.

In the 1960s, the Beat Generation transformed into the somewhat more mainstream Hippie Generation, with many of its core ideals—such as free expression, open sexuality, and experimental drug use—remaining intact and combining with notions such as pacifism and equal rights. Several key figures from the Beat Generation participated actively in this new subculture. The members of the Beat Generation have continued to influence American culture as subsequent generations have discovered their most important literary works, and many of these works can be found in college literature curricula across the country.

The Drug Culture of the 1940s and 1950s

A key component of the Beat Generation and the subculture it epitomized was recreational drug use. Although drugs had been used for nonmedical reasons for centuries, the popularity of two drugs in particular led to a substantial population of recreational drug users during the middle of the twentieth century.

Marijuana, referred to as "tea" in On the Road, had been legally available as a pain reliever in the United States during the nineteenth century under the name cannabis (taken from the plant it is made from). During the 1930s, marijuana use became the basis for an insanity defense in several high-profile murder cases; defendants claimed that using marijuana had caused them to have psychotic episodes, and argued that they should not be held responsible for their actions. This led to the prohibition of marijuana in 1937 through the Marihuana Tax Act. At the same time, the drug was becoming increasingly popular among jazz musicians and fans. Though the drug had become illegal, the mainstream acceptance of jazz music led to further exposure of the drug throughout American society.

Benzedrine was an amphetamine-based medicine used to treat hay fever and similar ailments throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Benzedrine was usually available in an inhaler, which contained a strip of paper soaked with the medicine inside. Like other amphetamines, Benzedrine was a stimulant that caused feelings of euphoria when ingested. Those who took Benzedrine as a recreational drug usually opened up the inhaler and swallowed the medicine-soaked paper strip for maximum effect. Kerouac describes recreational Benzedrine use in On the Road, and he is rumored to have been taking the drug when he wrote the novel. The drug's popularity was helped by its legal and widespread availability at drug stores across the country.

In the 1950s, concerns over the hazards of amphetamine addiction led to the removal of Benzedrine inhalers from the market. Similar amphetamine-based drugs are still available by prescription, though Benzedrine itself is no longer manufactured.


Kerouac finished On the Road in 1951, but the novel was not published until six years later. Although he had already published one novel—The Town and the City (1950)—few publishers were interested in a book that, aside from its free-wheeling moral attitude, was so autobiographical that it held the real possibility of a libel lawsuit filed by one of the people depicted in its pages. After Kerouac changed the names, locations, and minor details of some of the characters, Viking agreed to publish the book.

The novel received some positive early reviews, including an unsigned review in Time. "With his barbaric yawp of a book," the critic writes, "Kerouac commands attention as a kind of literary James Dean." He asserts that the book is important because it creates "a rationale for the fevered young who twitch around the nation's jukeboxes and brawl pointlessly in the midnight streets." The most glowing review came from critic Gilbert Millstein at the New York Times, who calls the book's publication "a historic occasion so far as the exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion." Millstein refers to Kerouac's novel as "an authentic work of art" and "most beautifully executed," and claims that the author has become the spokesperson for his generation.

Most reviewers, however, coupled praise with criticism. As David Dempsey writes in his review for the New York Times, the author "has written an enormously readable and entertaining book but one reads it in the same mood that he might visit a sideshow—the freaks are fascinating although they are hardly part of our lives." B. R. Page 408  |  Top of ArticleRedman, writing for the Chicago Sunday Tribune, states, "Kerouac possesses a powerful talent, but it is as yet completely uncontrolled." At his worst, the critic notes, the author "merely slobbers words." In a review for the Atlantic, Phoebe Adams writes, "Everything Mr. Kerouac has to tell about Dean has been told in the first third of the book, and what comes later is a series of variations on the same theme." Still, Adams notes that the book "contains a great deal of excellent writing."

Carlos Baker, writing for the Saturday Review, is less kind in his assessment of the novel, calling Kerouac's vision of America "sad and blank." Baker states, "On the Road contains evidence that he can write when he chooses. But this dizzy travelogue gives him little chance but to gobble a few verbal goofballs and thumb a ride to the next town."

While never a breakout success, the book's steady and continuing popularity has earned it a reputation as a life-changing piece of literature for many of its readers. The book was also largely responsible for the widespread adoption of a "Beat Generation" lifestyle among young adults across the country.

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On the Road was released as an unabridged audiobook in 2004. It is narrated by Matt Dillon and is available on compact disc from Caedmon.


Mark Richardson

In the following excerpt, Richardson argues that On the Road presents the idealized America of Kerouac's American Dream.

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

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The City Lights bookstore at the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley in San Franciscos North Beach neighborhood The City Lights bookstore at the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood © Rachel Royse/Corbis

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

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[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

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[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

Source: Mark Richardson, "Pesant Dreams: Reading On the Road," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 43, No. 2, Summer 2001, pp. 218-44.


Adams, Phoebe, Review of On the Road, in the Atlantic, Vol. 200, October 1957, p. 178, reprinted in The Book Review Digest (Fifty-Third Annual Cumulation), edited by Mertice M. James and Dorothy Brown, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1958, p. 492.

Baker, Carlos, Review of On the Road, in Saturday Review, Vol. 40, September 7, 1957, p. 19, reprinted in The Book Review Digest (Fifty-Third Annual Cumulation), edited by Mertice M. James and Dorothy Brown, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1958, p. 492.

Charters, Ann, "Introduction," in On the Road, Penguin Books, 2003, pp. xxvii, xxix.

Dempsey, David, "In Pursuit of 'Kicks' (Review of On the Road)," in the New York Times, September 8, 1957, p. 4.

Kerouac, Jack, On the Road, Viking Press, 1957; reprint, Penguin Books, 2003.

Millstein, Gilbert, "Books of the Times," in the New York Times, September 5, 1957, www.nytimes.com (December 26, 2006).

Redman, B. R., Review of On the Road, in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 6, 1957, p. 4; reprinted in The Book Review Digest (Fifty-Third Annual Cumulation), edited by Mertice M. James and Dorothy Brown, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1958, p. 492.

"The Ganser Syndrome (Review of On the Road)," in Time, Vol. 70, September 16, 1957, p. 120.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2895300045