Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sal Paradise, the narrator, a young and aspiring writer. Sal is the prototypical innocent, the romantic naïf who learns about life through his associations with Dean Moriarty and other friends. After Sal meets Dean in the winter of 1947, they begin a series of cross-country journeys, by bus and by car, that make up whatever plot the novel can be said to have. Sal is searching for life, and he admires Dean Moriarty, the man who has found “it,” some special spiritual connection to life. Sal briefly rests in Dean’s energetic, almost frantic glow.
Dean Moriarty, a drifter, Sal’s friend, traveling companion, and inspiration. Dean represents the center of the Beat movement to Sal. He is a young man who has lived a full life for his few years: He has been through numerous jobs, women, prisons, and travels, and his adventures continue after he begins the cross-country trips with Sal. He is like a burning comet, seeking the ultimate experiences of life—through drugs, sex, music (jazz), or whatever else is at hand. Based on the real-life Neal Cassady (as Sal Paradise is a thinly veiled Jack Kerouac), Dean seems destined to burn himself out. He also figures in the great American tradition of the hustler or flimflam man. In the end, he deceives and disappoints Sal, as all heroes ultimately must, by abandoning him when Sal is sick in Mexico. Dean nevertheless remains Sal’s brother, the lost...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
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The central characters in On the Road are Dean Moriarty, a would-be author and part-time railroad man, and the first-person narrator, Sal Paradise, a young writer. Dean is Sal's alter-ego, the dark angel of Sal's existence who lives out what Sal wants to capture in his writing — the immediate absorption of all experience. The identities of Sal and Dean are closely related throughout the book.
Dean is a radical innocent, naturally in opposition to conventional standards of morality. Raised without a mother, by a hobo father, he is a protean figure, embodying the energy and exuberance of the American West and inspiring Sal and his bookish friends to action. Dean, an ex-con and high-school dropout, reads Proust and yearns to be an author, but he cannot write, he can only move. Disaffected from contemporary values, he leads a frenetic life of travel, multiple marriages, and intoxication. Sal learns from his mythical darker brother the power and lure of the open road and the lesson of spontaneity.
Kerouac made no secret of the fact that the character of Dean was based strictly on Neal Cassady and that the narrator, Sal, was a self-portrait. Writing "personally, factually," Kerouac drew directly from his circle of friends in creating his characters, changing only their names. Carlo Marx is based on Allen Ginsberg, The taciturn Bull Lee is William S. Burroughs. As is true of most of Kerouac's work, even minor characters are sketched from life.
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Sal Paradise is the narrator of On the Road. At the beginning of the novel, he is living with his aunt in New Jersey and writing a book. Sal is an intelligent, romantic idealist with many friends. He meets a charismatic drifter from Denver named Dean Moriarty in New York City. Although Dean is five years younger than Sal, he shares Sal's love for literature and jazz and they quickly become close friends. Sal recognizes that Dean is a shameless manipulator, but he longs to travel and Dean's manic energy inspires him to wander around America in the search of "kicks."
The novel covers approximately four years in Sal's life; during that period, he travels thousands of miles. His travels to Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Mexico City. Along the way he is introduced to many eccentric and interesting characters, and he falls in love more than once. The crosscountry journeys that he takes, alone and with Dean, seem pointless to many of the other characters. However, to Sal, each trip itself is far more important than any actual destination. He learns from Dean that the quest to live in the moment is a spiritual one. He searches for meaning in all of his experiences and in all the people he meets on the road because, as Dean tells him, "Everybody's kicks, man!" Sal and Dean see that all of America is "like an oyster for us to open; and the pearl was there, the pearl was there."
Sal's friendship with Dean is, of course, at...
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Remi Boncoeur is a friend of Sal's living in San Francisco with his nagging girlfriend, Lee Ann. Sal takes his first trip west, planning to ship out and work on a luxury liner with Remi. Instead, after writing a screenplay, Sal and Remi get a job guarding the temporary barracks of construction workers waiting to go overseas. The relationship between Remi, Lee Ann, and Sal begins to deteriorate when Remi is unable to sell Sal's screenplay. As one last favor, Remi asks Sal and Lee Ann to accompany him out to dinner, a futile attempt to impress his visiting stepfather. Sal gets drunk and runs into his friend Roland Major, who is also drunk, and they embarrass Remi. Sal, feeling terribly guilty, sneaks away from Remi's shack the next morning. At the end of the novel, Remi visits New York City and is with Sal and Laura the last time that Sal sees Dean.
Ed Dunkel is one of Dean's friends. He works with Dean on the railroad in San Francisco. When they are both laid off, they decide to travel east to see Sal. Ed marries his girlfriend Galatea so she will accompany them and foot the bill. They abandon her in Tucson because she spends all her money staying in hotels. In New York City, Ed tells Sal that he feels like a ghost walking through Times Square. Ed discovers that Galatea is in New Orleans at Old Bull Lee's home and he travels with Sal, Dean, and Marylou to get her. Ed and Galatea live in New Orleans before...
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