On The Road by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac is one of those American Legends, one of those legendary writers you say you wish you had read by now, and take note of the recommended books of his.

I got my hands on On the Road when I was staying on the road, spending the week at a cousins house. It seems I slip all my Kerouac books from houses I’m staying at, on the road. I’m fairly certain my cousin’s wife got the book in a college class as prescribed reading.

Source: beatbookcover.com

1st USA Viking Press Book Cover | Source: beatbookcover.com

Jack Kerouac was a beat writer, considered by at least the media as the spokesman for the generation. Reading the fascinating introduction by Ann Charters – possibly just as intriguing as the book itself – at the front of the book explains how Kerouac changed the names of the non-fictional characters he’s written about to avoid any legalities, but [most] all of them represent real people in the movement. I think this might be why Kerouac became the voice of the movement, in a way.

For myself mostly, I’ve mapped out [ok, I stole it from Wikipedia] the characters [because I’m going to read more about each of them].

Real-life person Character name
Jack Kerouac Sal Paradise
Gabrielle Kerouac Sal’s Aunt
Alan Ansen Rollo Greb
William S. Burroughs Old Bull Lee
Joan Vollmer Jane
Lucien Carr Damion
Neal Cassady Dean Moriarty
Carolyn Cassady Camille
Hal Chase Chad King
Henri Cru Remi Boncoeur
Bea Franco (Beatrice Kozera) Terry
Allen Ginsberg Carlo Marx
Diana Hansen Inez
Alan Harrington Hal Hingham
Joan Haverty Laura
Luanne Henderson Marylou
Al Hinkle Ed Dunkel
Helen Hinkle Galatea Dunkel
Jim Holmes Tom Snark
John Clellon Holmes Ian MacArthur
Ed Stringham Tom Saybrook
Herbert Huncke Elmer Hassel
Frank Jeffries Stan Shephard
Gene Pippin Gene Dexter
Allan Temko Roland Major
Bill Tomson Roy Johnson
Helen Tomson Dorothy Johnson
Ed Uhl Ed Wall
Helen Gullion Rita Betancourt

The Book

On the Road takes the reader… on the road with Kerouac. It’s written as a collection of his cross country travels: hitchhiking, busing, driving, moving, working, loving, drinking, and not sleeping. Well, there is some sleeping, but most of it is getting their kicks.

The book is written from the first person, from Sal’s point of view, and usually intertwines with Dean Moriarty. Dean’s crazy, and continues to get more. Dean is a man who yells out “blow, blow, blow, yea yea yea!” when they walk into the jazz clubs. Dean is the guy who commands the party with his discussions. Dean yells “lesssgo” and Dean has the schedule. Dean, in the span of the book, marries – and balances dating – three women. He marries one, then dates the other, divorces the first but still makes it with her, and marries the second. Gallivants across the world with the first, while leaving the second with a child at home, then divorces the second only to marry a third who he immediately runs from to get back with the second! But you know, Dean doesn’t overpower the book in this regard, for it’s all through the eyes of Sal, who in his own mind, loves Dean. They are brothers.

This book is a grand novel. It’s insight into a time gone, the 50s. It explores a part of the United States that is just recovering from the great depression, the America Woody Guthrie sang about. A time of rampant benzedrine use and the iconification of blue Levis and white tees. Rusty Ford jalopys, and the Rocky Mountains.

I think it’s safe to say that American culture grabbed onto this picture that Kerouac painted so.


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