On the Road
In 1947 Dean Moriarty, having just come out of jail, goes to New York and meets Sal Paradise, a young writer. They develop a close friendship and spend three years journeying across the country. They travel by bus or hitch-hike and meet a series of unforgettable characters. They spend their days travelling, as long as they have money, then stop and take up occasional jobs, like picking up cotton. They spend their nights listening to jazz music, getting drunk, having sex and doing drugs. After three years they seem to settle, but the reader doesn’t know if it’s forever.
Story and narrator
The book is a long flashback, where the first person narrator reports the events of his and his friends’ memorable journey.
•Sal Paradise, the narrator, is a young writer who, at the beginning, is depressed and unhappy with his life. At the end he will gain self-confidence and will find love. Kerouac identified with him.
The Beat Generation is seen as a system of values opposed to conformism. The Beat Generation intellectual experiments with drugs and unusual sexual experiences, idealizes the black subculture, listens to jazz music, finds inspiration in Buddhism, never settles down.
•Friendship is a positive value: the characters help each other , Dean and Sal actually become like brothers. Anyway friendship has also a destructive power, as it becomes a substitute of love and family.
•The Natural Man is embodied by Dean, as Sal sees him. Dean is irresponsible and often behaves in a criminal way, but this behaviour is for Sal the only way to find the true meaning of life, as it is inspired by natural instincts.
•The American West has always been the place of adventure and exploration. For Sal, each place he visits represent a new adventure: he feels he’s the heir of those explorers who went West to find a new life. He also enjoys life on the Mississippi river, whose descriptions remind of Mark Twain’s ones. In the Denver mining town he finds the atmosphere of the times of the cowboys, when living “on the border” was still dangerous. At the same time, Sal realizes modernity and technology, which are making easier to reach many places in the West, are also destroying the possibility of discovering new places. Sal finds out the Denver mining town is due to become a tourist attraction, like the Wild West Festival in Cheyenne already is and discovers each highway built means the destruction of the Native Americans culture.
•In life, like in history, what has come will change and then start again. Life on the road is in turn a metaphor of this eternal cycle. The people Sal and Dean meet, the problems they face, the messes they find in, their experiences come, change, start again. That’s why life on the road for Kerouac is not an escape from life, but the only “natural” way to live it.
“It was a rainy night. It was the myth of a rainy night.” (J. Kerouac, On the Road)
The “rainy night” accompanies many of the wanderings of the two protagonists. 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.
•Kerouac is generally considered to be the father of the Beat movement.
•Kerouac's method was heavily influenced by the prolific explosion of Jazz, especially the Bebop genre established by Charlie Parker and others.
•.Later, Kerouac would include ideas he developed from his Buddhist studies.
•He often referred to his style as spontaneous prose.
•The central features of this writing method were the ideas of breath (borrowed from Jazz and from Buddhist meditation breathing) and improvising words. Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. In this way, the phrases occurring between dashes might remind of improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though not pre-meditated.