Kerouac’s On The Road
While I was in San Francisco in April I made a point to visit some of the literary spots the city has to offer. I grabbed a coffee at Cafe Trieste, which was a common hangout for Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg, and I checked out Ginsberg’s house (which is now a daycare). I also hit up the City Lights Bookstore where I bought a copy of Kerouac’s On The Road.
I just finished On The Road and although it wasn’t my all-time favorite, I can see why it’s been deemed so important and influential to American literature. I really liked the style of the work – I felt that the free-flowing style of the prose perfectly illustrated the restlessness of the characters. It’s almost as if the work is written as a stream of consciousness and I can see why it was often rumored that Kerouac write the work in just a few weeks (in reality, it took nine years to complete). And oddly enough, Kerouac typed the manuscript on a long scroll – a continuous, one hundred and twenty-foot scroll of paper on which he typed single-spaced, without margins or paragraph breaks.
On The Road recounts Sal’s (Kerouac himself) journeys across America with a variety of friends and aquaintances in the 1940’s. Most often he travels with Dean (based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady) and Carlo Marx (based on Allen Ginsberg). The trio hitchhike, steal and drink their way across the US (with a stop in Mexico). They are an unlikeable group – there’s lying, cheating and stealing – but nevertheless we learn to love them.
I felt like Dean and Sal’s adventures across the US were an embodiment of the restlessness and desire for fulfillment that everyone feels. If I could drop everything and venture across the country, lazily hitching and bussing, seeing cities and towns you’ve never dreamed of, trusting friends and strangers, I’d do it too. At one point, Sal asks his friend Ed what he’s going to do with his life and Ed responds, “I don’t know… I just go along. I dig life.”
The peace and stress, the loneliness and friendship, the sorrow and happiness are experienced over and over again throughout the work. Sal was looking for something – some sort of answer to the world and life – and I’m not so sure he didn’t find it in his travels. At the close of the novel, Sal is watching a sunset and thinking of all the land between the east and west coasts: “All that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it…and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old.” Sal, you’re a pretty smart guy.