Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Denver. Colorado’s capital and largest city. In Denver, Sal ventures to the apartment of Carlo Marx, which is in a brick boardinghouse near a church. To get to Carlo’s door, he must walk down an alley, descend stairs, open an old door, and pass through a cellar. Within the apartment, the walls are damp, and the scant furnishings include a candle, a bed, and a homemade icon. A meeting between Carlo and Dean Moriarity sets off the events in Colorado, and Sal soon finds himself embarked on a trip to Central City, where a performance of an opera is staged in a renovated opera house. The day starts well when an empty miner’s shack becomes available, and Sal and his friends dress formally for the performance. Later, back at the shack, they throw a party. When troublesome young visitors ruin the party, Sal and his friends go to the local bars, where they get drunk and begin shouting. Unfortunately, drunkenness leads to fights in the bars, but Sal and his friends escape before the violence escalates. At the shack, the friends cannot sleep well on the dusty bed. Breakfast is stale beer. In the car, the descent to Denver is depressing.
*Southern California. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Sal declares that Los Angeles is the loneliest city in America. Traveling with Terry, his Mexican lover, Sal walks down a main street, where there is a carnival atmosphere. Short of funds and finding no...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
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Post-World War II America
The last part of World War II was the birth of the atomic age. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan to surrender. The United States emerged from the wreckage of the war as the leader of the Western world. Veterans returned to their homes, families, schools, and jobs. The United States was poised to become one of the greatest economic powers in history. However, there was an increasing anxiety caused by the atomic bomb and the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain, gave a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in which he declared: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." Churchill warned that the United States and its allies had to be on guard against Soviet expansionism. His remarks seemed prescient when, in June 1948, the Soviet Union began the Berlin blockade, cutting off Berlin from the West. The United States began a vast airlift to keep Berlin supplied with food and fuel. In August 1949 tensions increased even further when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device. The events of the late 1940s led to the anti-communist witch-hunts engineered by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
On the Road is not a political novel, but it is hard to imagine that Kerouac was not influenced by the atmosphere...
(The entire section is 849 words.)
Part One, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers
1. Who is the narrator of the story?
2. Where was Dean Moriarty born?
3. Where do Dean and Marylou live when they first arrive in New York?
4. What is Sal’s first impression of Dean?
5. Who is Carlo Marx?
6. What does Dean wear for his trip back to Denver?
7. How does Sal describe Dean’s “criminality?”
8. Where does Remi Boncoeur live in San Francisco?
9. Where does Sal live in New Jersey?
10. What kind of shoes does Sal wear when he leaves on his trip?
1. Sal Paradise is the narrator, although he has not identified himself yet.
2. Dean was born on the road, while his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926.
3. Dean and Marylou live in Spanish Harlem when they first come to New York.
4. Sal describes him as “a young Gene Autry.”
5. Sal’s friend, Carlo Marx, immediately hits it off with Dean.
6. Dean wears a Western-style business suit for his trip.
7. Sal calls Dean’s criminality a “wild yea-saying overburst of American joy”; and “something new, long prophesied, long a-coming.”
8. Remi and his girlfriend live in a shack in Mill City.
9. Sal lives at his aunt’s house in Paterson.
10. Sal wears Mexican huaraches, and they are useless in the rain.
(The entire section is 205 words.)
Part One, Chapters 3-5: Questions and Answers
1. What does Sal call the music he listens to in Chicago?
2. What does Sal suspect about Eddie?
3. How does the Cowboy feel about Nebraska?
4. What kind of work does the carnival owner offer Sal and Eddie?
5. What kind of vehicle does Eddie go off in when he leaves Sal?
6. What does Sal buy in North Platte?
7. How do the “range lands” look to Sal?
8. Where is Mississippi Gene going?
9. What does Montana Slim send to his father?
10. After Sal spends the last of his money in Cheyenne, how does he feel?
1. Bop is the name of the music Sal hears in Chicago.
2. Sal suspects that Eddie is on the run from the law.
3. The cowboy hates Nebraska and has moved to Missoula, Montana.
4. He asks them if they would like to operate a roulette and a wooden-ring concession.
5. Eddie goes off in a “weird, crazy” homemade aluminum trailer.
6. Sal buys a bottle of whiskey.
7. Sal describes the range lands as “long flat wastelands of sand and sagebrush.”
8. Mississippi Gene is going to Ogden, Utah.
9. Montana Slim sends his father a postcard from Cheyenne.
10. He’s angry and disgusted with himself.
(The entire section is 193 words.)
Part One, Chapters 6-8: Questions and Answers
1. What was Dean’s youthful “specialty”?
2. Where is Carlo living in Denver?
3. What did Chad King’s father do as a boy in North Dakota?
4. What does Chad’s father regret?
5. Does Roland Major think Sal is an “arty” type?
6. Who is Ray Rawlins?
7. How does Camille feel about Carlo Marx?
8. What is Dean wearing when Sal meets him at the rooming house?
9. What does Carlo Marx’s basement apartment look like?
10. What is the name of the poem Carlo reads to Sal?
1. Dean’s specialty was stealing cars and then “gunning for” girls and taking them to the mountains.
2. Carlo lives in a basement apartment on Grant Street.
3. He rode ponies bareback and chased coyotes with a club.
4. Chad’s father regrets not hiring a lawyer to sue a big firm in the East for stealing one of his inventions.
5. Sal says Roland considers him to be the “farthest thing from an arty type.”
6. Ray Rawlins is Sal’s friend and Tim Gray’s boyhood buddy.
7. She hates Carlo for interfering in her relationship with Dean.
8. He is “stark naked.”
9. Sal says it looks like “the room of a Russian saint.”
10. Carlo reads a poem called “Denver Doldrums.”
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Part One, Chapters 9-10: Questions and Answers
1. Who drives to Central City with Sal?
2. What famous star performed at the Central City Opera House?
3. What opera do Sal and Babe see in Central City?
4. Whom does Ray Rawlins punch in the bar?
5. Where do Sal and his friends wash up after cleaning the cabin?
6. What does Ray Rawlins do to the tenor D’Annunzio at the bar?
7. Where were Carlo and Dean while Sal was in Central City?
8. What does Rita Bettencourt want out of life?
9. What do Sal and Tim Gray call each other?
10. What does Sal retrieve from Eddie’s girlfriend’s house?
1. Ray Rawlins, Babe Rawlins, and Tim Gray go to Central City.
2. Lillian Russell performed at the old theater.
3. Fidelio is the name of the opera.
4. Ray fights with an Argentinean tourist.
5. They wash up in the opera performers’ bathroom.
6. Ray throws a highball in his face.
7. Carlo and Dean were in Central City, too, but Sal didn’t know they were there.
8. Rita tells Sal that she just wants to wait on tables and get along.
9. They call each other “Yo.”
10. Sal takes back the plaid wool shirt he had loaned him.
(The entire section is 193 words.)
Part One, Chapters 11-12: Questions and Answers
1. What does Remi tell Sal to do in the note he leaves on the door of the shack?
2. What does Remi want Sal to write?
3. What did Sledge and the old cop do to the drunk in Barrack G?
4. What is Remi’s favorite expression?
5. What does Sal do with most of the money he makes working as a special policeman?
6. What does Remi want to take from the rusty, old freighter?
7. Where does Remi take his stepfather to eat?
8. What’s wrong with the blond boy who gives Sal a ride?
9. Where is the trailer salesman from?
10. Why does Terry become suspicious of Sal in the hotel room?
1. Remi tells Sal to climb into the shack through the window.
2. Remi wants Sal to write an original story for Hollywood.
3. They beat him up and arrested him.
4. “You can’t teach the old maestro a new tune.”
5. He sends it to his aunt in New Jersey.
6. He scavenges for copper, but he doesn’t find any.
7. Remi takes everyone out to Alfred’s, a restaurant in North Beach.
8. He just had his toe amputated.
9. The salesman is from Lubbock, Texas.
10. She gets angry because he talks about another woman, a six-foot redhead named Dorie.
(The entire section is 207 words.)
Part One, Chapters 13-14: Questions and Answers
1. Where do Sal and Terry try to work in Hollywood?
2. How do Sal and Terry finally get to Bakersfield?
3. In Sabinal, Sal quotes a line from what movie?
4. What kind of work does Ponzo do?
5. How does Terry feel about Ponzo?
6. Who lives in the cotton field tent next to Sal and Terry?
7. What kind of a house does Terry’s family live in?
8. What book does Sal steal in Hollywood?
9. Sal and The Ghost walk along what river in Pennsylvania?
10. How does Sal feel when he returns to New York?
1. They try to work at a drugstore on Sunset and Vine.
2. They take a bus.
3. He quotes a line from Of Mice and Men.
4. He sells manure to farmers.
5. She hates him because he always hangs around, trying to get close to her.
6. An entire family of Okie cotton-pickers lives next door.
7. They live in a four-room shack.
8. Sal steals Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier.
9. They walk along the Susquehanna River.
10. He is overwhelmed by the crowds of people rushing to get home from work.
(The entire section is 179 words.)
Part Two, Chapters 1-3: Questions and Answers
1. When Sal finally meets up with Dean again, what kind of car is Dean driving?
2. Who was Dean living with in San Francisco?
3. Why did Ed Dunkel marry Galatea?
4. What record does Dean listen to at Sal’s relatives’ house?
5. How does Sal describe Dean’s laugh?
6. What does Dean call Washington politicians?
7. Who do Sal, Dean, and the others look for in Times Square?
8. Where did the children in Dakar take Carlo?
9. How long does it take for Sal and Dean to drive to Virginia?
10. Does Dean ever pay Sal’s aunt back for the fifteen dollar speeding ticket?
1. Dean is driving a mud-spattered ‘49 Hudson.
2. Camille has been Dean’s companion in San Francisco.
3. Ed marries Galatea so that she will drive to New York with him and pay most of the bills.
4. “The Hunt”, with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, is the new record Sal plays.
5. He says Dean’s laugh starts low and ends high, “like the laugh of a radio maniac.”
6. He calls them “our holy American slopjaws.”
7. They look for Elmer Hassel.
8. He went to a “witch-doctor” who told him his fortune.
9. The drive to Virginia took Sal and Dean ten hours.
10. Yes, he pays her back a year and half later.
(The entire section is 210 words.)
Part Two, Chapters 4-6: Questions and Answers
1. What apartment do Dean, Ed, and Marylou move into in New York?
2. Why does Marylou make advances towards Sal at the party?
3. What happens to Sal’s friend Damion at the party?
4. What kind of music does George Shearing play when Sal and Dean see him perform?
5. What does Dean mail to his wife, Camille, in California?
6. What kind of voice does Carlo use when he questions Sal and Dean?
7. As they leave New Jersey, what do Dean, Sal, and Marylou decide to do?
8. What displays are lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington?
9. Why does Sal think the cops are suspicious of Dean?
10. How does Old Bull Lee feel about the bars of New Orleans?
1. They move into Carlo Marx’s apartment on York Avenue.
2. Sal believes Marylou flirts to make Lucille jealous.
3. Damion’s girlfriend punches him in the jaw.
4. George Shearing plays jazz piano.
5. He sends her eighteen dollars that Sal loans him.
6. He uses “the Voice of the Rock,” hoping to stun people into the “realization of the rock.”
7. They decide to forgive each other for the various fights they had while they were in New York. Dean says they should all understand that “we’re not really worried about anything.”
8. “Great displays of war might”...
(The entire section is 249 words.)
Part Two, Chapters 7-9: Questions and Answers
1. What happened to Old Bull Lee’s aunt in the Casbah?
2. Why is Bull feuding with his neighbors?
3. What are “orgones”?
4. What horse does Old Bull Lee bet on?
5. What are Ed and Galatea Dunkel planning to do in New Orleans?
6. What do Sal and Dean hope to find in the Louisiana swamps?
7. What does Sal steal in Sonora?
8. Why is Alfred hitchhiking back to Oregon?
9. How does the policeman treat Dean in Benson, Arizona?
10. What does Marylou call Dean after he drives away and leaves them on the street in San Francisco?
1. An Arab cut off her finger and stole her diamond ring.
2. The neighbor’s children keep throwing rocks at Bull’s kids.
3. Bull says orgones are “vibratory atmospheric atoms of the life-principle.” According to Bull, when people run out of orgones they get cancer.
4. “Ebony Corsair” is the horse Old Bull Lee bet on.
5. They want to find jobs and rent a place to live.
6. They want to find a “jazz joint” where they could drink “snakejuice” and listen to the blues.
7. Sal steals bread and cheese from a store when the owner isn’t looking.
8. Alfred went to Alabama to work for his uncle, but the job fell through. He’s going back home to Oregon.
9. The cop pulls his...
(The entire section is 245 words.)
Part Three: Chapters 6 – 8 Questions and Answers
1. What do Sal and Marylou eat the first night they’re in San Francisco?
2. What dream does Sal describe to Marylou?
3. How long does Sal live with Marylou in the hotel?
4. Who does the woman in the fish and chips joint remind Sal of?
5. Why is the fish and chips woman afraid of Sal?
6. Where does Camille live?
7. What is Slim Gaillard’s favorite expression?
8. Who did Dean sell encyclopedias with in Oakland?
9. What singer does Sal listen to on Fillmore and Geary?
10. How many sandwiches does Sal take with him on his trip back east?
1. A can of pork and beans that a nightclub singer warms up for them on an overturned iron becomes their dinner.
2. Sal’s dream is about a big snake that is coiled in the earth like a worm in an apple.
3. They spent two days at the hotel.
4. The woman makes him think of a fantasy of his mother, living two hundred years earlier in England.
5. She’s afraid he’s going to rob her.
6. Camille lives in a wooden tenement on Liberty Street.
7. Slim always says “Right-orooni” and adds “orooni” to everything else he says.
8. Dean sold encyclopedias with a man named Sinah. Sinah went to outlandish lengths to make a sale.
9. He listens to a big man called...
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Part Three: Chapters 1 – 3: Questions and Answers
1. How does Sal say he feels as he walks the streets of Denver at dusk?
2. Who owns the travel-bureau car Sal rides in to San Francisco?
3. What does Camille yell at Sal during their argument?
4. What did Dean realize after his bad drug experience?
5. What job did Dean have at Firestone?
6. Why does Roy Johnson drive Sal and Dean to Mill City?
7. How much money does Sal think he can get from his publishers?
8. What does Dean dislike about Roy’s wife Dorothy?
9. Where did Ed Dunkel and Tommy Snark go when they left San Francisco?
10. How does Galatea respond when Sal tells her to take it easy on Dean because he will be dead someday?
1. He feels like a “speck on the surface of the sad red earth.”
2. Sal rides with two men who claim to be pimps.
3. She calls him a liar.
4. Dean realized how much he loved Marylou.
5. He was working as a mold man, recapping tires, but he had to quit because of his injured thumb.
6. They go to Mill City to look for Remi Boncoeur, but they never find him.
7. Sal hopes they will give him a thousand dollars.
8. He thinks her nose is too long.
9. First they went to Portland, Maine, and then, possibly, Denver, but Ed’s wife, Galatea, isn’t really sure where they are....
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Part Three, Chapters 4-5: Questions and Answers
1. What song does the tenorman sing?
2. What does the tenorman wear while he’s performing?
3. What does Dean do while he’s talking to Roy Johnson on the phone at the bar?
4. How does Ed Fournier describe Dean?
5. Where does Ernest Burke live?
6. What does Dean call the gay man’s car?
7. What was Dean’s father trying to sell in Nebraska?
8. What song was Dean’s father always singing?
9. In the hotel room, when the gay man discusses his love life, what does Dean say to him?
10. How does Sal prove his point to Dean about the invisible thing that binds everyone together in the world?
1. The tenorman sings “Close Your Eyes.”
2. He wears a tattered suede jacket, a purple shirt, cracked shoes, and wrinkled zoot pants.
3. He races outside to check the streets signs so he can give Roy directions to the bar.
4. When Ed sees Dean racing around in the bar, he tells Sal “that buddy of yours is a crazy cat.”
5. He lives with his father in a “sad old brown Frisco hotel.”
6. He calls it a “fag Plymouth” because it has no real power or pick-up.
7. Dean’s father was trying to sell homemade flyswatters in Nebraska.
8. Dean tells Sal his father was always singing “Hallelujah, I’m a bum, bum again.”...
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Part Three, Chapters 6-8: Questions and Answers
1. Why does Sal get mad at Dean in restaurant?
2. How many children does Frankie have?
3. Why does Dean get so angry at Frankie for not buying the used car?
4. What did Sam Brady do for a living when Sal knew him as a child?
5. What does Dean steal from the Denver sports goods store?
6. What does Janett do with Dean’s Dizzy Gillespie record?
7. What school do the college boys go to?
8. How much does the farmer charge Dean for pulling the limo out of the ditch?
9. Where is Ed Wall’s ranch?
10. What story does Dean make up about Sal and the limousine?
1. Dean makes a joke about Sal’s age and tells him he might have kidney problems.
2. Frankie has four children.
3. Dean says that Frankie’s inability to act and make a decision reminds him of his father.
4. He used to bootleg whiskey from the mountains.
5. He walks out of the store with softball.
6. After Dean smashes one of her country records, Janett breaks the jazz record over his head.
7. The college boys go to St. Bonaventurea, a Jesuit school.
8. He charges him five dollars.
9. Ed Wall’s ranch is in Sterling, on the eastern plains of Colorado.
10. Dean wants Ed Wall to believe that Sal is a very rich man and that Dean is his friend...
(The entire section is 232 words.)
Part Three, Chapters 9-11: Questions and Answers
1. Where did Dean work in Los Angeles in 1944?
2. Why did Dean travel from L.A. to South Bend, Indiana in 1944?
3. Where did Dean break his nose?
4. Who is driving the “Mad Buick” that races Dean through the Midwest?
5. In Chicago, what does Dean say when Sal asks him where they are going?
6. Who makes a guest appearance at Anita O’Day’s club in Chicago?
7. What does Dean do after he backs the Cadillac over a fire hydrant.
8. Who does Dean finally return the Cadillac to?
9. What does the country girl Sal meets on the bus do on Sunday afternoons?
10. How many children has Dean fathered?
1. Dean tells Sal he worked at the New Era Laundry.
2. Dean went to see the Notre Dame—California game.
3. Dean broke his nose in an auto accident on Hollywood Boulevard when he was driving and attempting to kiss his girlfriend at the same time.
4. Sal describes the driver as “some kind of Chicago hipster.”
5. Dean says, “I don’t know, but we gotta go.”
6. George Shearing makes a guest appearance.
7. Sal says he “tittered maniacally.”
8. He returns the car to a mechanic who works in the underground garage of a ritzy apartment building where the owner of the car lives.
9. She sits on her porch, swings...
(The entire section is 236 words.)
Part Four, Chapters 1-3: Questions and Answers
1. How does Sal get money to finance his trip west?
2. Where does Dean plan to eventually live with Inez?
3. Who is standing in the San Francisco photograph with Camille?
4. Why was Henry Glass sent to prison?
5. What happened to Henry when he was thirteen years old?
6. Where does Sal stay while he’s in Denver?
7. What does Charity do in Babe’s house?
8. Why does Dean go to the pawn shop on Larimer Street?
9. What does Ed Dunkel plan to do now that he’s back in Denver?
10. What does Tim Gray do after Sal, Dean, and Stan drop him off before they leave for Mexico?
1. Sal comes into some money from selling his book.
2. Dean tells Sal that he and Inez want to move to a farm in Pennsylvania and have a big house and a lot of kids.
3. Ed Dunkel is in the photograph. He was taking pictures with Galatea, before they moved back to Denver.
4. Henry was convicted for stealing cars in Cincinnati.
5. He got into a fight with another boy and cut his throat with a knife.
6. Sal lives in a little basement room in Babe Rawlins’s house.
7. Charity chaperones Babe and her friends and makes sure they don’t drink in the house.
8. Dean wants to pawn his old railroad watch.
9. Ed is going to Denver University to study...
(The entire section is 246 words.)
Part Four, Chapters 4-6: Questions and Answers
1. Where does Stan go to the hospital to have his bug bite treated?
2. Who does the crippled Mexican pool player remind Dean of?
3. What do the waitresses look like in Laredo?
4. How do the border guards treat Sal, Dean, and Stan when they cross into Mexico?
5. When they arrive in Mexico, how many pesos can they get for a dollar?
6. What is the Mexican name for beer?
7. What do the girls ask Sal and Dean in Sabinas Hidalgo?
8. Monterrey reminds Sal of what city in the United States?
9. What are Victor’s brothers doing when Victor introduces them to Sal, Stan, and Dean?
10. What kind of music do they dance to in the brothel?
1. He is treated in San Antonio, Texas.
2. Dean says he looks like a “San Antonio Mex Tom Snark.”
3. Sal describes them as being “dirty and disgusted.”
4. They treat them very kindly and tell them to enjoy themselves in Mexico.
5. The exchange rate is eight pesos for a dollar.
6. Cerveza is the Spanish word for beer
7. Several girls walk in front of the car and ask “Where you going, man?”
8. Monterrey reminds Sal of Detroit.
9. They are relaxing under a tree by their mother’s house.
10. Mambo music is playing in the brothel.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
Part Four/Five, Chapter Six & Conclusion: Questions and Answers
1. After Sal, Dean, and Stan leave Gregoria, what region of the world are they in?
2. Why does Sal sleep on the roof of the car?
3. How big are the dragonflies outside Ciudad Mante?
4. What do the shepherds wear?
5. How many miles have Sal, Dean, and Stan traveled to get to Mexico City?
6. What does Dean think about the crazy traffic in Mexico City?
7. Where do some of the beggars sleep in the city?
8. How does Dean finally get back to New York?
9. How does Sal meet Laura?
10. Why is Remi so wary of Sal’s weird friends?
1. They are in the Tropic of Cancer.
2. He thinks the steel will be cooler than the air and give him some relief from the heat.
3. Sal says they are big enough to “eat a bird.”
4. The shepherds wear long flowing robes and carry staves.
5. They drove nineteen hundred miles from Denver.
6. Mexico City has traffic Dean has always dreamed of. “Everybody goes!” he says.
7. They sleep in advertising posters torn from fences.
8. After his car breaks down in Louisiana, Dean flies back to New York.
9. Sal meets Laura by accident when he goes to a loft in Manhattan looking for friends he thinks are having a party.
10. Remi still remembers the disastrous dinner in San Francisco,...
(The entire section is 228 words.)
The characters in On the Road travel through countless cities across the United States and Mexico. Major portions of the novel take place in New York City, Denver, San Francisco, southern California, New Orleans, and Mexico. Although Sal's constant traveling gives some of his place descriptions a generic feeling, many of his depictions are vivid. For example, when he first arrives in Mexico City, he sees:
thousands of hipsters in floppy straw hats and longlapeled jackets over bare chests padded along the main drag, some of them selling crucifixes and weed in the alleys, some of them kneeling in beat chapels next to Mexican burlesque shows in sheds. Some alleys were rubble, with open sewers, and little doors led to closetsize bars stuck in adobe walls. You had to jump over a ditch to get your drink, and in the bottom of the ditch was the ancient lake of the Aztec. You came out of the bar with your back to the wall and edged back to the street. They served coffee mixed with rum and nutmeg. Mambo blared from everywhere. Hundreds of whores lined themselves along the dark and narrow streets and their sorrowful eyes gleamed at us in the night.
However, the roads of America are the main setting of the novel. Sal hitchhikes with oddballs, rides on flatbed trucks with cowboys, and haunts bus stations with bums. Sal and Dean spend most of part two driving across the southern United States in a...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)
Kerouac advocated a method of writing he called "Spontaneous Prose," an eclectic blend of influences based in part on a technique known as sketching, on William Carlos Williams' notion of "concrete particulars," and on W. B. Yeats's trance writing. Combining concepts he found in improvisational jazz and in abstract painting methods, he attempted to capture the pace, language, and energy of his Bohemian adventures. His ambition in On the Road was to devise a prose rhythm that matched the experiential intensity of Neal Cassady's frantic verbal dexterity and the exhilarating movement of four high speed transcontinental automobile trips.
(The entire section is 98 words.)
Historically, this work is important to a subculture or counterculture that does not accept American middle-class mores. Essentially apolitical. On the Road nevertheless contains tacit indictments of America's progress since the end of World War II. Kerouac, a deeply spiritual man, was disturbed by what he saw as the nation's failure to live up to the great potential of its land and people. The industrialization and urbanization of the country brought on by the war created an impersonal, stifling bureaucracy and a population of suspicious conformists. It is the road, the endless American highway, that leads away from this spiritual wasteland to the purity of basic, instinctual human actions — sex, music, intoxication, and most importantly, movement, the literal act of moving oneself to the limitless possibilities of the vast American horizon.
Kerouac and the friends he portrays as "characters" in the novel hold values that are set against those of middle America. Their cardinal virtue is spontaneity, the immediate recognition and acceptance of the moment and its existential import. Embodied in the character of Dean Moriarty, this spirit of rebellion is focused not on social or political reform, but on a gentle hedonism and disregard for conventional morality and modes of behavior.
While obliquely inveighing against the numbing conformity of the nation, Kerouac also presents America as a land of freedom and experience, changing for the...
(The entire section is 275 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1946: The Nuremberg trials end in the conviction of fourteen Nazi war criminals.
1995: Several Serbian leaders are indicted by the United Nations for war crimes committed in Bosnia. Further indictments are expected when Yugoslavia's armies march into the province of Kosovo in an effort to drive out ethnic Albanians in 1999, yet another instance of "ethnic cleansing."
1947: The House UnAmerican Activities Committee begins hearings and indicts the "Hollywood Ten" for contempt, leading to a blacklist of alleged communist sympathizers in this era of "McCarthyism."
1999: A controversy erupts when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives an honorary "Oscar" to film director Elia Kazan. Kazan, the director of classics, such as On the Waterfront and East of Eden, gained notoriety when he named several colleagues as communist sympathizers. Many in the audience refuse to applaud when the award is presented to him.
1948: The Soviet Union begins the Berlin blockade, cutting Berlin off from the West. The United States begins a massive airlift to provide Berlin with food and fuel. The Berlin Wall is ultimately erected, and it serves as a symbol of the division between the freedom of the West and the totalitarianism of the East.
1999: Torn down in 1989, the Berlin Wall is only a memory. Germany is unified as one country in 1990 for the first time since World War II....
(The entire section is 318 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Kerouac sought to write as some of the great jazz musicians played. Listen to some of the great jazz musicians, such as Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. What, if anything, does this music share with On the Road? Was Kerouac successful in emulating his musical heroes?
Research other American literary movements, such as the Transcendentalists of the mid-nineteenth century and the Lost Generation of the 1920s, and write an essay comparing them to the Beat Generation.
Discuss the female characters in On the Road. Several critics have complained that Kerouac's work is misogynistic. Do you agree or disagree and why? Rewrite a scene in the book from the viewpoint of one of the female characters.
Discuss the religious allusions in the novel. Create a hypothetical religion centering on Dean Moriarty. What would be the major beliefs of such a religion? What kind of ceremonies would this religion practice?
Use a map of North America to plot out Sal's travels throughout the book. Use different colored markers as a key for each trip. See if you can locate a map of the United States from the late 1940s to determine what roads existed at this time and estimate the mileage. Discuss the creation of the interstate highway system during the Eisenhower administration. What effects did the system have on American culture?
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In its episodic treatment of incidents and in the portrayal of the rogue-saint Dean Moriarty, On the Road may be described as a picaresque novel. Its immediate literary predecessors are the profane confessional works of Henry Miller and the brooding, emotionally charged novels of Thomas Wolfe.
As Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926) depicts the generation lost in the wake of the Great War, so does On the Road give voice to the generation "beat" after World War II. A major difference is that Hemingway's characters are cynical exiles, trapped in the ruins of the old world. Their plight is hopeless; cut off from the healthy vitality of the new world, they are indeed lost. Kerouac's generation is in a state of internal exile. Estranged from their society, beat by the dehumanization of modern life, they nevertheless hold out hope for inspiration, for spontaneous meaning, for beatific revelations. Their road may have no end, but it is the journey itself that is important.
Much of On the Road compares favorably with the Emerson-Thoreau-Whitman tradition in the emphasis put on finding meaning in the present, in concrete experience and action. Whitman in particular is a major influence on Kerouac's thinking about America and his determination to forge a new language to describe and capture what he sees. Like Thoreau, Kerouac distrusted much about Western Civilization, the notion of progress, and the spiritual chauvinism and...
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Kerouac's novels may be divided into two groups, one dealing with life in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts and one depicting his life on the road. The Town and The City, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Visions of Gerard, and Vanity of Dutuoz belong to the former grouping, while On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Visions of Cody, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, Desolation Angels, Big Sur, and Satori in Paris are included in the latter.
Although all of the novels are autobiographical and make use of the same general information, the Lowell books are more overtly romantic and introspective, more Wolfean. In them the author recounts his life as a French-Canadian child growing up in a decaying factory town. The road novels tend to be more anecdotal, tracing Kerouac's wanderings from New York City to California, Mexico, and Paris.
The Dharma Bums (1958), is one novel that bears a particularly close relationship to On the Road. While the central concern of On the Road is the possibility of escape from conformity through spontaneity and movement, The Dharma Bums focuses on escape through spiritual awareness. This spirituality is an exotic blend of traditional Catholicism, Buddhism, and nature mysticism. However, the author offers no agenda for salvation, does no proselytizing for anything other than the need for a search.
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There are two audiobook versions of On the Road. The first is an abridged version read by actor David Carradine available on Penguin Audiobooks (1993). The second is a complete version, recorded in 1995 and read by Tom Parker.
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What Do I Read Next?
Kerouac's The Dharma Bums (1958) is the chronicle of two men searching for the Zen meaning of Truth as they travel the West Coast. Kerouac used his friendship with Buddhist poet Gary Snyder as the basis for this novel.
The Subterraneans (1958) is the story of a writer's interracial relationship amid the back-drop of New York City hipsters. Kerouac based the novel on a real-life romance he had with Alene Lee, a beautiful young black woman who mingled with the denizens of Greenwich Village.
For those interested in a "key" to On the Road, as well as the novels mentioned above, there is an excellent critical biography of Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia, Memory Babe (1983).
Kerouac was deeply influenced by Southern author Tom Wolfe, whose first two novels, Look Homeward, Angel (1929) and Of Time and the River (1935), were autobiographical accounts of his early life in North Carolina and his later travels to Harvard, New York City, and Paris. The novels are expansive and romantic, filled with lush imagery and humor.
The Portable Beat Reader (1992), edited by Ann Charters, is a great collection of work by dozens of beat poets and writers. It includes excerpts from three of Kerouac's novels, as well as some of his poetry. It also includes "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, and several pieces by William Burroughs.
Another great novel of youthful alienation is J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The protagonist,...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Freeman Champney, "Beat-Up or Beatific?," The Antioch Review, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Spring, 1959, pp. 114-21.
Ann Charters, "Introduction: Variations on a Generation," in The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books, 1992, pp. xvii, xix-xx.
Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
David Dempsey, "In Pursuit of Kicks," The New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1957, p. 4.
Edmund Fuller, in Man in Modern Fiction: Some Minority Opinions on Contemporary Writing, Random House, 1958, p. 154.
Ralph Gleason, "Kerouac's Beat Generation," Saturday Review, Vol. XLI, January 11, 1958, p. 75.
Herbert Gold, "Hip, Cool, Beat—and Frantic," The Nation, Vol. 185, No. 16, November 16, 1957, pp. 349-55.
Hopkiss, Robert A. Jack Kerouac, Prophet of a New Romanticism. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Viking, 1957.
Jarvis, Charles E. Visions of Kerouac. Lowell, Massachusetts: Ithaca Press, 1973.
McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation and America. New York: Random House, 1979.
Gilbert Millstein, review in The New York Times, September 5, 1957, p. 27.
Nicosia, Gerald. Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: Grove Press, 1983.
Norman Podhoretz, "The...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Cassady, Carolyn. Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. New York: William Morrow, 1990. Background and chronology of On the Road from a woman’s point of view. See also her 1978 memoir Heartbeat: My Life with Jack and Neal.
Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973. First book by Charters, a tireless Kerouac scholar. Discusses On the Road’s biographical underpinnings and connections.
French, Warren. Jack Kerouac. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Two chapters analyzing On the Road from biographical and critical approaches.
Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Contains notes, early drafts, and passages expurgated from On the Road.
Milewski, Robert J. Jack Kerouac: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources, 1944-1979. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1981. Exhaustive bibliography covering primary and secondary works, reviews, theses, dissertations, and related works. Includes a long discussion of On the Road with extensive citations and annotations.
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