Sal Paradise knows what he wants out of life—or thinks he does, at any rate. He wants to escape his stultifying existence as a struggling young writer living with his aunt in New Jersey and head out for the open road in search of adventure and authentic experiences. Mesmerized by the charismatic, but dangerous, figure of Dean Moriarty he leaves behind the big city to undertake four epic road journeys across the United States and Mexico.
And yet Sal's efforts to impose some kind of meaning on his life end in failure. He lurches from one chaotic, drunken experience to the next, never truly feeling at home anywhere. If this is authenticity then Sal wants no part of it. Eventually, Sal becomes profoundly disillusioned with Dean and the ragbag, bohemian existence he leads. Whereas his companions spend most of their time getting drunk and indulging in all manner of sybaritic excess, Sal is laid low by a crippling sense of apathy and resignation.
And no wonder. Everything is collapsing around him as Dean's aimless wanderings lead to one dead end after another. The dream of authenticity and the freedom of the open road has died. Before Sal gives up life on the road he will continue to follow Dean, though without the promise of authentic life and adventures with which he'd originally been lured out of New Jersey.