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Summary of the Novel
Sal Paradise, a writer and college student, lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his aunt. He spends much of his time with his eccentric and artistic friends in New York City. One of his friends, Chad King, introduces him to Dean Moriarty, a young man recently released from a reformatory in New Mexico. Dean spends the winter in New York, then moves back west to Denver in the spring. A few months later, Sal follows him to Colorado.

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Sal hitchhikes west, learning more about himself and the many intriguing people he meets along the way. He arrives in Denver and connects with a group of his New York friends. He moves into an apartment with his friend Roland Major, but Sal is anxious to see Dean who is on a tight schedule, hustling back and forth between his wife, Marylou, and his girlfriend, Camille. Sal roars around Denver with Dean and other friends and goes to a party in Central City. After a few weeks, he leaves on a bus for San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Sal moves in with his friend, Remi Boncoeur, and Remi’s girlfriend, Lee Ann. Remi gets Sal a job as a special policeman at a barracks for overseas workers. Sal hates working with the other cops there who are miserable and narrow-minded. After a few months, Sal leaves San Francisco and travels to L.A. On the bus he meets Terry, a young Mexican-American woman, and they fall in love.

Sal goes with Terry to Sabinal, her hometown near Bakersfield. He meets her family, moves into a tent with her and her young son, Johnny, and gets a job picking cotton. But he soon realizes that he can’t make enough money to support Terry and her son. He persuades Terry to move back with her family and he returns to his life in New York alone.

A year later, at Christmas time, Sal and his aunt are visiting relatives in Virginia when Dean, Marylou, and Ed Dunkel arrive from California. Sal takes off with them, first to New York, then to Louisiana where they visit their friend, Old Bull Lee, who lives in New Orleans. Sal, Dean, and Marylou drive back out to San Francisco where Sal and Dean have another raucous time. Dean moves in with Camille, but Sal soon gets sick of Dean’s craziness. He takes a bus back to New York by himself.

Another year passes and Sal travels west to Denver again, and then to California. When he visits Dean and Camille in San Francisco, Camille throws both men out. Sal and Dean decide to return to New York together. On the way east, they spend a wild week drinking and stealing cars in Denver before recklessly speeding to Chicago where they spend a few days listening to jazz and bop musicians. When they arrive in New York, Dean promptly falls in love with a woman named Inez.

In the spring, Sal leaves New York and heads west again. He stops in Denver, meets up with some old friends, and plans to go to Mexico. Two weeks later, Dean drives out to join him, unable to resist the lure of the road. Sal, Dean, and a new friend, Stan Shephard, leave for Mexico in another of Dean’s broken down cars.

They drive south through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas and finally cross the border into Mexico. They are excited to be in a foreign country, delighted with the friendly people, and amazed by the striking desert landscape. In Gregoria they meet a young man, Victor, who supplies them with marijuana and takes them to a brothel where they spend the afternoon, drinking, dancing, and having sex with a number of women. That night they leave Gregoria and sleep on a road in the steaming jungle, waking up covered in sweat and bugs.

Feeling as if they have become a part of the jungle, they drive on towards Mexico City. On a jungle road they meet some young Indian girls whose purity and simple way of life make a deep impression on Sal and Dean.

Mexico City is an abrupt, chaotic contrast to the earthy, peaceful jungle. Sal, Dean, and Stan roam the busy streets, experiencing everything in the...

(The entire section contains 1767 words.)

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Chapter Summaries