On the Road
It is the most famous novel of Jack Kerouac, published in 1957 and considered one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
The story is set all across the United States in a period of time between 1947 and 1950. The protagonist, Sal Paradise, an aspiring writer, travels to San Francisco looking for a change of life. Here he meets Dean Moriarty, a full of energy maverick who introduces Sal to a new way of living made of sex, drugs use and alcohol, but also poetry, philosophy and trips across America. Dean and his friends represent the Beat Generation, a postwar movement in contrast with the bourgeois conception of life. They are dominated by a deep inquietude, which pushed them to live always on the move and to try everything without limits. So we have the themes of the voyage, of the use of narcotics, of sadness and dissatisfaction towards “normal” life, which leads to the search of oneself. Sal is attracted to Dean to the point that he follows him physically and mentally, because he admires his vitality even though he knows that he cannot imitate him.
The story is mainly autobiographical, but the names are changed: Sal is Kerouac himself, while Dean is Neal Cassady,a writer friend of the author.
The plot diagram is typical of every bildungsroman: we have a major conflict which makes the action begins, a series of rising actions that reach its highest point in a climax and then some falling actions until the end, when we find a mature Sal who has fixed his house, his life and his goals, quite the opposite of Dean.
The main conflict splits into two parts: straightforward and metaphorical. The straightforward conflict is the search for a place to settle down and establish a meaningful living. However, troubled Dean and Sal continue to roam the States and are constantly “on the road” in the search for something new, exciting, and satisfying, which leads to the metaphorical conflict: the characters do not just try to find a home but also try to find themselves. In particular, the story begins with Sal who prepares himself for his first cross-country journey. He hitchhikes across America to meet friends in Denver. Sal falls in love with Terry and "plays house" with her. Dean and Sal travel from NY to LA to stay with Old Bull Lee. Dean settles with Camille; Sal unsuccessfully courts Marylou. Sal and Dean reunite during a drive from Denver to Chicago. Sal, Dean, and Stan have a wild argument in Mexico. Dean returns to New York without Sal; the two break up. While Sal is about to drive to the opera with a friend, he meets Dean and says definitely goodbye to him.