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On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Member Name: MurphEE
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
Date: 28/08/02, updated on 28/08/02 (2158 review reads)
Advantages: Breathtaking prose and wild characters.
I am not a good enough writer or critic to write about or review this expression of a time, this explanation of a feeling, this chronicle of a friendship. For that is what I believe this book is. All of those things and many more besides. Read it but be prepared to be challenged and to have your experiences of life called into question.
Sal Paradise is actually Jack Kerouac and this novel tells the story of his friendship with Dean Moriarty. Dean is actually Neal Cassidy a real friend of Kerouac's. The novel is really autobiographical fiction. Sal is a struggling young author who decides that he wants to make a trip before settling down and discovers that the trip will change his attitudes and bring him into contact with the strange creature that is Dean. Exposure to Dean will open up new avenues of existence for Sal.
The novel tells about how Sal travels across America with and without Dean and their adventures as they travel. Simple really? Not so. Think of what you know or think that you know about post WWII America. Then forget about all that rampant consumerism and the pursuit of the American Dream and meet Dean and Sal! These guys will show you parts of America that you were not supposed to see. They will introduce you to free thinkers, jazz musicians and dope smokers. Come on, hop on board; you know that you want to!
Sal decides that he wants to experience everything and in Dean he finds a role model. Dean is the living expression of what came to be called the Beat Generation. He is careless and carefree. A hard drinking womaniser. A drug user and abuser
. A freethinker and non-conformist. A friend. All this in the time of ritual conformity within America. Sal wants to be just like Dean but he discovers that he is incapable of this and the two drift apart. Their relationship suffers a terminal blow when Dean abandons Sal at a time when he really needed him. They part amicably but their experiences and time together will live on in Sal’s memory and psyche.
The power of this novel comes from the ideals that lie behind it. Kerouac believed in free expression and looked up to characters like Dean. He wanted to experience everything and found the expression of his thoughts and ideas in the jazz of the time. He loved the way that thoughts and feelings could be expressed by the musician and instantly translated to the audience. The music broke down any barriers that existed. This instant transfer is not possible with the written word. I have to think about what I am writing before I write it and you will think about what it is that you are reading before you register the idea. This time delay was something that Kerouac wanted to confront.
He does this by writing what he called spontaneous prose. The movement of the ideas to the paper is speeded up and there is little thought to form or structure. In this way you should experience the thoughts of the writer in a manner similar to the music of the jazz player. I tried to do this in the first paragraph of this review. Go back and see if I succeeded? Sometimes it works for Kerouac and sometimes it does not. When he pulls it off you feel like you are there and moving through the night with Sal. It is almost lyrical in its feel. The characters never stand still and they resist anything that might tie them down. This was essential to the beat outlook. Physical and mental movement were essential to the experience of life. They believed that it was not possible to live while sitting still and conforming.
My own experience of the book
then? I found that at the start I hated Dean. He is a callous man with no regard for others. Slowly I began to understand the relationship between Sal and Dean and while I still have reservations about aspects of Dean’s character I grew to admire the ideal behind his life if not the execution of it. The book is a rush and while the language and images are outdated now it still has a power that will have you longing to hit the hobo trail and experience life on the road.
There is also harshness there. Nothing is sugar coated in this novel and you will see many hard and cruel images. But life is like that. We know what Kerouac is saying because we all have to live. And to live is to experience pain. This book is a snapshot of a time and an ideal that some aspired to, read it and be blown away!
Cassidy (Dean) never changed and moved into the sixties with the same intensity of spirit that saw him through the fifties. He died after a heavy night from a heart attack. Kerouac struggled to accept the success of this novel and died an alcohol related death a bitter and twisted man. He realised in the end that to be a force of nature like Dean one has to be born that way.
Thank you for reading.