The legendary 1951 scroll draft of On the Road, published word for word as Kerouac originally composed it

Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of ...
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On the Road: The Original Scroll: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

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The legendary 1951 scroll draft of On the Road, published word for word as Kerouac originally composed it

Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120 foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. It represents the first full expression of Kerouac’s revolutionary aesthetic, the identifiable point at which his thematic vision and narrative voice came together in a sustained burst of creative energy. It was also part of a wider vital experimentation in the American literary, musical, and visual arts in the post-World War II period.

It was not until more than six years later, and several new drafts, that Viking published, in 1957, the novel known to us today. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road, Viking will publish the 1951 scroll in a standard book format. The differences between the two versions are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac’s friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them. The transcription of the scroll was done by Howard Cunnell who, along with Joshua Kupetz, George Mouratidis, and Penny Vlagopoulos, provides a critical introduction that explains the fascinating compositional and publication history of On the Road and anchors the text in its historical, political, and social context.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101201572
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/16/2007
  • Series: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition Series
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 243,143
  • File size: 951 KB

Meet the Author

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.
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Reading Group Guide


In 2007, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, the original scroll on which the novel was based toured the country and was published for the first time in book form by Viking. This literary document, which was purchased for a record sum of $2.43 million, has taken on a mythology befitting its scripture-like appearance. According to the legend, after three furious and Benzedrine-fueled weeks in April 1951, Kerouac emerged from a New York City apartment with a complete novel of more than 120,000 words. The work represented a radical challenge to conventional literary tastes: it was typed on a 120-foot-long scroll of teletype paper and contained virtually no punctuation. After his publisher Harcourt Brace rejected it, Kerouac replied, "It was dictated by the Holy Spirit! It doesn't need editing!" As the legend has it, the novel that was eventually published as On the Road six years later was but a tame, heavily censored version of the original.

The reality of the story is quite different. Howard Cunnell in his introduction to On the Road: The Original Scroll punctures several myths surrounding the scroll, including Kerouac's use of Benzedrine (he took nothing stronger than coffee), its physical appearance (it was actually typed on long sheets of drawing paper not teletype paper), and its disregard of punctuation (it is for the most part conventionally punctuated). More importantly, the scroll did not emerge out of thin air ñ since 1947, Kerouac had made several attempts to begin his road novel, all of which he came to realize were false starts. During these years, Kerouac toyed with different titles (e.g. "Gone on the Road" and "Souls on the Road") and different character names (Benjamin Baloon became Jack Kerouac, and Dean Pomeray became Neal Cassady). Furthermore, after Harcourt Brace rejected the scroll, he began immediately to revise it.

The scroll is in fact only slightly different and longer than the published novel. There are, however, a few key differences which impact the novel's overall effects. First and foremost, the scroll is unparagraphed, an unusual but not unprecedented novelistic technique (see the Molly Bloom soliloquy in James Joyce's Ulysses or Samuel Beckett's Molloy, first published in French in 1951). While this makes for challenging reading, the unparagraphed scroll better mimics the ceaseless movement of its characters. Movement is an oft repeated theme in both the scroll and novel; Kerouac says at one point, "[we were] performing our one noble function of the time, move." In addition, the scroll makes much more use of dashes and ellipses. Peggy Vlagopoulos, in her essay that accompanies the scroll, observes that the published novel often replaces these marks with commas, thereby interrupting the flow of the narrative. These typographical differences create a faster moving work but also a highlight Kerouac's use of parataxis, a style in which one syntactic element is followed by another without an apparent hierarchy of importance. Hemingway famously used this in The Sun Also Rises, which helped accentuate the Lost Generation's aimless movement from one bar or bistro to another. For Kerouac, writing in the age of the automobile, the style is quickened to capture the speed of the road and the characters' restless search for one "kick" after another. To be sure, the novel contains many of these stylistic features but the scroll better illustrates Kerouac's use of them.

Another difference readers will immediately discover in the scroll is that it identifies the characters by their real names. Even when his editors at Viking, fearing libel suits, insisted that they could not publish it without fictional names, Kerouac attempted to obtain signed releases from all of the major characters in the work. Many readers have considered On the Roadas an autobiographical novel but the scroll's restoration of the original names makes this work come closer to a memoir. In its chronicle of the cross-country trips Kerouac, Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and others took from 1947 to 1951, the scroll anticipates the genre of literary nonfiction, as practiced by such writers as Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson, by some fifteen years.

Beyond these key differences, and the inclusion of a few minor characters and plot sequences, the scroll leaves a few passages in a raw but also more economical state than in the published novel. For instance, one of the most quoted passages in the novel reads in the scroll as follows:

"But then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I've been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night."

This is repeated nearly verbatim in the published novel until the ending which Kerouac finishes as: "burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Aww!' What did they call such young people in Goethe's Germany?" To many readers this is an unfortunate revision, which only breaks up the mounting rhythm of the original.

By the time the novel was published in 1957, the world it chronicled had begun to disappear. As John Leland notes in hisWhy Kerouac Matters, with the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the late 1950s and the rise of hotel chains and fast food restaurants, cross county traveling would never again be quite as it was described in On the Road. In addition, bebop jazz, which influenced Kerouac's own style and structure of the novel, began to lessen in popularity, giving way to rock n' roll. More importantly, in 1957 Kerouac was a man of thirty-five, the author of a book that chronicled adventures of his mid-to-late twenties. Although he was canonized as a Beat saint, he did not feel himself to be a part of the generation that eventually embraced the book and took to the road. It was, therefore, not surprising that he distanced himself from the young Beatniks almost immediately upon the publication of On the Road.


Jean Louis (Jack) Kerouac was born to parents Leo and Gabrielle in Lowell, Massachusetts, on March 12th, 1922. He was the third of three children, he was raised a Catholic and spoke both English and the French-Canadian dialect Joual at home. In 1926, Kerouac's older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever, an event that would haunt the writer for the rest of his life and inspire the novel, Visions of Gerard, the author's personal favorite.

Kerouac showed an early interest in books and was also an accomplished athlete. While a senior at Lowell High School, he won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York City, but was obliged to attend Horace Mann preparatory school first to make up some subjects he lacked. He entered Columbia in the fall of 1940 and played on the football until suffering a broken leg. He eventually dropped out of Columbia in the fall of 1941, and at this point he began his lifelong career as an itinerant writer, traveler, and worker of odd-jobs. In the summer of 1941, he began to write short stories, while working at a gas station in Hartford, Connecticut. He returned to Columbia University in the fall of 1942 but only lasted a few weeks. He then returned to Lowell and worked briefly for the local newspaper before joining the Merchant Marines.

In the summer of 1944, while staying with his parents who had moved to Ozone Park, Queens, he was introduced to William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg by his Columbia classmate Lucien Carr. Together Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg would launch the Beat movement in American literature. In August of 1944 Kerouac was arrested as a material witness in a manslaughter case involving Carr, who had asked him to dispose of the knife he had used to kill a lover. His father refused to post bail, claiming that his son had disgraced the family name. Kerouac was released only after he agreed to marry his girlfriend Edie Parker, whose family paid the bond. He moved to Detroit with Edie but the marriage did not last long and he returned to his parents' home in New York City later that fall. His father's death in 1946 had a profound affect on Kerouac. Later that year he met Neal Cassady, a car thief and hustler from Denver who was visiting New York with his young bride. Kerouac, Cassady, and a drug addict named Herbert Huncke began to explore New York's budding jazz scene.

In 1947 Kerouac embarked on the first of five trips across the country, all of which became the raw material for On the Road. The trips followed a similar pattern with stopovers in Denver (Cassady's home town), Louisiana (Burroughs' new home), San Francisco (center of west coast Beat culture), and Mexico City. In 1950, Harcourt, Brace published Kerouac's The Town and the City, an autobiographical novel written under the influence of the novelist Thomas Wolfe. He had trouble beginning work on a new novel until he received a series of letters from Cassady, whose "fast, mad, confessional" style gave him the inspiration for his own fervent prose style. During April of 1951, at the New York apartment of Joan Haverty, a woman he impulsively married several months earlier, he typed out his novel on several sheets of tracing paper which he taped together to form a scroll. Later that year he separated from his wife and falsely denied the paternity of his daughter Janet, whom he would see on only a few occasions during his lifetime.

Kerouac's editor at the time Robert Giroux rejected the scroll, and the author would spend the next six years revising it, writing new work, including several novels, and looking for another publisher. Partly with the help of legendary critic Malcolm Cowley,On the Road was finally published by Viking in September of 1957. On the day it was published it was feted in a New York Times review by Gilbert Millstein, who called it "the most beautifully executed, the clearest, and most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as 'beat,' and whose principal avatar he is." The novel hit the bestseller list and Kerouac was instantly lionized and hounded by the press and a growing number of fans and emulators. Some of his more famous encounters with the media included an interview with Mike Wallace for the New York Post, and television appearances in the early 1960's on "The Steve Allen Show" and William F. Buckley's "Firing Line." Before On the Road was published, Viking rejected the manuscripts for Kerouac's Doctor Sax, Tristessa, and Desolation Angels, but Viking did publish his next novel, Dharma Bums in October of 1958.

Although he met Timothy Leary and even tried LSD, Kerouac did not share Ginsberg and Cassady's affinity with sixties youth culture. In fact, throughout the rest of his life he tried to distance himself and his novels from the popular culture he had so enormously influenced. His last meeting with Cassady occurred in 1964 when Cassady arrived in New York with Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. A significant later novel, Big Sur, was published in 1962. Written while he was recovering from a mental breakdown at a cabin owned by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Big Sur is considered one of his greatest works. He married his third wife, Stella Sampas, in 1966 and they settled into a house in Lowell. His last novel Pic was completed shortly before his death on October 21st, 1969. Kerouac is buried in Lowell's Edson Cemetery.


  • Characterize your experience reading the scroll. How does it compare to the 1957 novel? In your opinion, does the scroll possess literary merit on its own or is it simply a bibliographical artifact?
  • If you were Kerouac's editor in 1951, how would you have advised him on revisingóor notóthe scroll?
  • In the first sentence of the scroll Kerouac meets Cassady "not long after my father died." In the novel, Sal meets Neal "not long after my wife and I split up." Why do you think Kerouac changed the book's opening? What effect does this have on the novel? Incidentally, Kerouac's first novel, The Town and the City, ended with the death of the protagonist's father.
  • The original scroll anticipates the nonfiction novel by more than a decade. Compare it to other famous examples of this genre, such as Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, or Hunter S. Thompson's Hells Angels.
  • To some readers Cassady's role in the scroll version is less pronounced than Dean's in On the Road. Do you agree? How does the scroll's portrait of Cassady, essentially the first of many, compare to later portraits found in Tom Wolfe'sElectric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Joyce Johnson's memoir Minor Characters?
  • The poet Kenneth Rexroth once accused Kerouac of having no understanding of jazz and the discipline it required. The scroll and novel attempt to honor jazz and to imitate it in its prose and structure. The use of hyphens in the scroll, for example, is reminiscent of musical notation. Do you find Kerouac's attempts amateurish? Or do you think Kerouac's "bop prosody" style a successful grafting of literary and jazz composition techniques?
  • On the Road's impact on American culture is still felt fifty years after its publication. However, some feel that its influence on American writing has less that of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, another road novel that scandalized the 1950s literary world. Why do you think that is? Discuss the fates of these two landmark works in the context of American literature and culture.
  • Douglas Brinkley, editor of Windblown World, a collection of the journals Kerouac kept in the late 40's and early 50's, recently called On the Road "a valentine to the United States." Do you agree with that characterization or do you think it is the anti-establishment novel it is generally perceived to be? Has reading the scroll changed your impression of its counter-culture message?
  • Kerouac once called his novel "a story of two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God." In a review of the scroll, Luc Sante estimated that the word "holy" appears 80 percent fewer times than in the novel, and that scroll is considerably less spiritual in its language. Do you find the scroll a more secular account of Kerouac and Cassady's journeys?
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Customer Reviews

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( 334 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 334 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2004

    What's all the hype about?

    Okay, Kerouac was a talented writer. That is plain to see, and anybody who doesn't see it I feel sorry for. And while On the Road was an enjoyable read, one that I don't regret nor ever will, I still can't help but feel disapointed. This was supposed to be meaningful...where is the meaning? Generally, I'm better than most people at finding allegories within works of fiction, being a nit-picky satirist myself. I can give you symbolism for every event in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. I can give you the moral, philosophical points of Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. I can decode the works of Burroughs. But 'On the Road' left me feeling like it was pointless...a good, enjoyable read, but...pointless. So here's my advice: Read the book, don't believe the hype. Enjoy the story, but don't expect it to be life-changing, intellectually charged, and allegorically moral, like so many fans want you to believe.

    17 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 22, 2011


    To anyone with a wildly out of control friend, that one who makes you crazy but you just can't quit, the story of Sal and Dean will send echos through your head. To anyone who wants to intimately know the post-WWII wanderlust that struck so many Americans, to anyone who wants to know how the Beats and the hippies came to be, this is the bible.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2011

    Voice of an Era

    The most useful purpose On the Road serves is not as a great character exploration - which it is - or as a wild adventure story - which it isn't - but as for better understanding a generation of people inspired by it. In some ways, it's a book about nothing, a book about drifting... which sometimes makes for an aimless narrative, but does capture the way so many have wandered after.

    The most appropriate thing about this nook version is that you can take Kerouac's classic on the road with you:)

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2010

    On the Road, Jack Kerouac

    On the Road is written by Jack Kerouac, published by Penguin in 1955. This book is considered to be an authentic representation of the movement in our society called the "Beat Generation." The book tells of Sal Paradise, and his decision to travel from New York to California during the late forties and early fifties, a time when the nation was recovering from the effects of World War II. The music of the time changed from a swing beat to jazz; this was a change from what was known, to something with a beat--jazz was edgy and different. This change in music was indicative of the change in young people, and this is the adventure from which Kerouac writes, because he was part of this beat generation.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2012

    Seems to be glitched on my nook

    I was looking forward to reading On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately, with this copy, the actual book doesn't start until page 97. Unfortunately, I was only able to read the first page. My nook has been locked up beyond that point.

    Save your $14.00

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2011

    Piece of a Generation

    Jack Kerouac sets out to capture the essence of his beat generation in to one book and for the most part is successful. On the Road chronicles Sal Paradise, an archetype of the beat generation, and his aimless ramblings across the continental US. Living penniless and destitute, Sal travels cross-country several times meets many different people and places, including but not limited to, drunken southern californian vineyard adventures, the hustle and bustle of Manhattan and nocturnal guard shifts at a prison in seattle. The story is interesting and captivating, especially with the broadness of it which makes it relatable to almost anyone's own life experience. Sal's search for a home and a lover and beer, is similar to the younger generation of today, perhaps even the origin. Kerouac's reference towards other Beat Generation notables and friends, like his nod toward Neil Cassady under the guise of Dean Moriarty, gives the reader a sense of who these character's really were and most importantly, what the generation stood for. At times, the narrative can be dull and move slow however, possibly On the Road's greatest strength is that it is realistic, showing an un-biased, impartial perspective of the beat's. Kerouac chooses to leave nothing out, showing a brutal honest picture of the beat generation, the good, the bad and the down right weird. In doing this, he best captures the purpose of the beats. The book is not short of powerful, thought provoking moments which humble the reader, as it should. On the Road is one of the 20th centuries greatest literary achievements.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2012

    A must read for the free spirit adventeror A must read for those who love no ties and true freedom

    Great story based on free spirit and free love just before the hippie era

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    On the Road

    Really enjoyed the book. Kerouac's cross-country adventure is a fun read and gives an interesting look at counter culture.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2011


    a classic american read

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2011

    Important Read

    This book started off strong for me and I got into it really fast. About halfway through I started to really hate the characters particularly Sal but I still wanted to keep reading and I am glad that I did. While the characters were completely unlikable to me the way this story shows the expanse of America and represents a different side of this generation than what I am used to reading is great. I definitely thing everyone should read this book it might not be the best book you have ever read but you won't regret reading it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Simple and Carefree

    On The Road is a simplistic story about a man who wanted to make a drastic change with his life. Most people don't have the guts to do it. Sal Paradise was unhappy living his life as it was so took off for the west coast in search of...meaning. It was something he was skeptical in doing at first, but his buddy Dean Moriarty was sure this is what he needed. Dean is the extreme adventurous type who can never stay in one place for too long. He is the proof that as much as people need to mix it up, everything needs to be done in moderation. This gives hope to those who would like to have the option to escape from it all. It shows that it can be done. Sal experiences what life is like all throughout the country again and again. It's a scenic trip the whole time that I would recommend to any reader with a free spirit.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012


    Kerouac is such a great writer, and I recommend watching the film adaption of this novel (directed by Walter Salles). It has great performances and captures the feelings that the book gives you perfectly.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012


    Kristen Stewart plays Marylou in the movie :)

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2012

    Life Changing

    I loved this book and it made me a Kerouac fan for life. I can't wait to see the new movie adaptation and read Big Sur. A lot of people either love or hate the "Beat" generation and writings, I'm firmly in the LOVE camp.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2012

    the ultimate american "tour de force..."

    I first heard "On The Road" on tape... a most enjoyable and truly impressive presentation... subsequently bought the book for my library and an ebook version so I could read excerpts while... on the road. The written version is heavyweight great...!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    Makes you think

    I have seen life differently since I have finished this book. Its a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:


    A beautiful novel by a beautiful author, Jack Kerouac has blessed us all with this esoteric, truly original piece of art. The way Kerouac writes should be seen as abstract, for it's by no means technical nor should it be treated as such. With that notion, this novel could use a bit more structure, but I think the sporadic writing is what makes this novel work. All in all, the characters are believable and dastardly charming while the mildly philosophical statements are perfection and not at all over the top. Thank you, Mr. Kerouac, for providing such wonderful escapism.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2015

    Is this a joke?

    What a piece of crap. Possibly the worst book I've ever read. One drunken escapade after another...and that's it! Clearly, I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate such brilliance. Truman Capote had the best quote regarding Kerouac, "That's not writing. It's typing."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    I don't get how people don't get this book! It's brilliant. Beli

    I don't get how people don't get this book! It's brilliant. Believe the hype. Having said that, for me, it's not as good as The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels or Big Sur. But each to their own. Lest us not forget that Kerouac single handedly changed our limits of what could be written and how, just as Naked Lunch did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    ¿On The Road¿ is a largely autobiographical account written by J

    “On The Road” is a largely autobiographical account written by Jack Kerouac in the 1950s of his trans-American road trips in the years preceding the completion of the novel. This novel has long been accredited with awakening a sense of wanderlust in the American public largely dormant since the migrations accompanying the Great Depression as well as largely influencing both the Beat generation and the subsequent hippies. It was apparent to me almost immediately upon beginning to read the novel how this might have been possible. In the beginning, Kerouac, written as the character Sal Paradise, puts his life on hold in order to travel across the country. In this alone the reader can see the difference in values and pace of life at that time as opposed to in today’s world. This facet alone instills in the reader a sense of restlessness that stays with you throughout the story as Kerouac and Neal Cassady (as Dean Moriarty) travel across the United States with a slew of other characters, many of them famous Beat poets such as Allan Ginsberg. This enchanting trip not only sends the reader on an unparalleled journey through all aspects of life on the road but also acquaints him with a sense of history and purpose found nowhere but on the American highway.
    In the novel the reader is introduced to a version of the American Dream that is both new as well as as old as the country itself—a love of travel and of adventure. At this time the journey seemed to be the new destination, and one of the greatest revelations of life was that it should be enjoyed to the point of madness. Kerouac creates an image of nationalism and love of America similar to much of the Beat literature. For the reader the American highway is transformed into a world delicately structured in a balance of give and take, a world where people took care of each other and responsibility could either be avoided with reckless abandon or sought out eternally with the turn of a thumb. Kerouac presents post WWII America in a midst of a generational detachment from the former moral and social norms; at this time Jazz was king, God took the form of George Shearing, and time was measured according to the speedometer. For the characters of the story, a four course meal consisted of apple pie, whiskey, cigarettes and amphetamines, escape was a six letter word, and the road was gateway to the world. Kerouac captures the reader in a tailwind of endless hours and limitless possibilities that he proves time and time again is impossible anywhere but out on the road.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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