On The Road by Jack Kerouac Book Review
On The Road is an interesting, engaging book that is unique and memorable because of its descriptive, conversational writing style, its wide array of distinctive characters, and its representation and description of North America. Sal Paradise, the main character, goes on an adventure across America and meets several interesting friends along the way. Sal’s huge road trip is split up into a few trips with breaks in between, where he settles down and writes or lives with his aunt and goes to school.
Sal’s best friend, Dean Moriarty, is sort of a beatnik and Sal is fascinated by him. The whole book describes not only Sal’s physical journey but also his journey through depression, low confidence, and dependence on Dean to joy, happiness, fulfillment, and individuality. He starts off in New York, and hitchhikes to Denver and then to California. Sal is reckless and spontaneous, often running out of money, or getting wasted and high at parties and sleeping in shacks or on the streets.
Eventually, he travels south. He meets a Mexican girl named Terry on the bus to LA and he spends several months with her, living a modest, semi-normal life. Then he goes back home to New York and goes to school and writes for a year. Dean (who has gotten even more crazy and radical since Sal last saw him, in Denver) finds him and convinces him to go on a second trip. Sal has hopes of finding a woman, falling in love, and settling down, but he reluctantly joins Dean.
Dean, who was just happy-go-lucky and careless with an intense love for life and women at the beginning of the book, has changed his views on life. He is fanatically spiritual and believes in God and fate and that everything will work out for him, and everything in life is meant to be. He still lives a crazy maniacal life, married to several women and traveling all over the country, and never settling in one place. On this second trip with Dean, Ed Dunkel, and Dean’s girlfriend Mary Lou, Sal travels to Louisiana, Texas, and finally San Francisco again. Sal continues on like this until he meets Laura and learns to accept himself. The book ends with Sal reflecting on his journeys and missing Dean, whom he left in San Francisco when he started his new life.
Jack Kerouac’s writing is, in my opinion, outstanding. It is very informal, but at the same time, wonderfully descriptive. The book is filled with long descriptive paragraphs of the places Sal travels through and the various quirky people he meets along the way. It is written in first person, and is loosely based on the author’s life and his friend Neal Cassady (who is a real life version of Dean). The theme of the book is to live your life to the fullest but also be able to settle down and focus on the future when you need to. Sal is irresponsible at the beginning of the book, trying to be as carefree as Dean and to appreciate life more, but he eventually discovers that he can appreciate life in a different, less chaotic way than Dean when he settles down with Laura. The book is easy to read and flows well from chapter to chapter. I personally really love this unorganized style of writing, but some people may not enjoy having to decipher long, run-on sentences full of beat generation lingo and strange, thought-provoking metaphors. But to me, the writing is the best aspect of the book.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy an easy, mildly slow-moving, relaxed read. I would also recommend it to people who are interested in beat music and culture from the 1950’s because this is a book that really captures the spirit of that era and “defines a generation”. I loved every minute of reading it, but the style of writing and pace of the book is very different from what people (especially teenagers) are used to reading now. It is definitely not actionpacked or full of romance, so it may not be that interesting to people with relatively short attention spans. It also doesn’t really have much of a plot, so it is confusing and undirected at times, but it does a good job of conveying the theme and describing the ideas of the hippie/beat way of life. I would recommend it to people who have an interest in the 50’s, the patience for a practically plot-less book, and an appreciation for flowing, informal, descriptive writing.