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 father figure, the hip, cool, mad saint in search of some spiritual and joyous center of life. His frantic, almost boundless energy sparks anyone close to him and gives a certain electric momentum to the novel’s prose. Dean is an original in American fiction, although it would be difficult to live with him (as various women in the novel discover).
Carlo Marx, a friend of Sal and Dean, a poet (based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg) who holds marathon discussion sessions with Dean and shares with him the frenetic search for life’s meaning.
Teresa (Terry), a young Mexican woman whom Sal meets on a bus to Los Angeles and with whom he lives for a few months as they toil as migrant workers in California.
Remi Boncoeur, a friend, living near San Francisco, with whom Sal briefly lives and works.
Bull Lee, a mutual friend with whom they stay in Louisiana, a kind of guru figure who is a heavy user of drugs. He is based on novelist William Burroughs.
Marylou, women in Dean’s life; at one time he lives with, loves, or marries each of them.
Ed Dunkel and
Galatea Dunkel, who are among the people that Sal, Dean, and the rest meet in their endless transcontinental trips.
The central characters in On the Road are...
(The entire section is 717 words.)