On the Road Analysis
by Jack Kerouac

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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*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

*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 employment, Sal and Terry journey to Bakersfield to earn money by picking grapes. Finally, near Sabinal, they find work as cotton pickers. They rent a tent for a dollar, and though Sal’s wages provide only for day-to-day subsistence, Sal is wonderfully in love and feels happy that he is living off the earth, as he always dreamed he would be. Nevertheless, the chill of October arrives, and Sal has the restless desire to leave. Sal and Terry promise to meet in New York, but each knows the meeting will never come to pass. Getting a ride to Los Angeles, Sal stops at Columbia Pictures, where his rejected manuscript awaits him. Instead of embarking on a Hollywood career, Sal finds himself making baloney sandwiches in a parking lot, waiting for the departure of his bus.

*New Orleans

*New Orleans. Louisiana’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. As Dean, Sal, and others drive along, they are thrilled to hear jazz playing on the radio. New Orleans appears ahead of them, and they anticipate the excitement of the city. The women on the streets are stunningly beautiful. On the ferry across the Mississippi River, Sal appreciates the great American river.


*Algiers. District of New Orleans. Arriving in Algiers, the traveling band finds the dilapidated house of Old Bull Lee. Sal and Dean hope to visit exciting bars in New Orleans, but Bull insists that the bars are all dreary and takes his friends to the dullest places. Later, when Sal wants to look at the Mississippi, he finds that a fence blocks his view. As days go by, Bull reveals his eccentricities and distrust of bureaucracy, and they begin to weary of one another’s company. Finally, in the dusky light, Dean, Marylou, and Sal get in their car and head to California.


*Mexico. Sal, Dean, and Stan drive into Mexico, and Sal takes the wheel. He notices the surrounding jungle and the road that rises into the mountains. In Gregoria, a young Mexican named Victor approaches and provides marijuana and prostitutes. A wild night of intoxication, sex, music, and dancing ensues, making Sal feel that he is experiencing the end of the world. Nevertheless, as soon as Sal and Dean leave Gregoria, the road slopes downward.

The night is dark and steamy hot, with bugs swarming and biting. On the map, the men see that they have crossed the Tropic of Cancer. Caked with dead bugs and stinking in their sweaty shirts, they proceed to Ciudad Mante. After refueling there, Sal, Dean, and Stan begin another ascent. At an elevation of more than one mile, they discover a tiny thatched hut. They...

(The entire section is 4,907 words.)