Jack Kerouac was an American novelist and pioneer of the beat generation. His writing style was erratic and largely unedited. He was influenced by jazz music and based most of the work of his own life experiences. When read aloud, the words take on a certain musical rhythm and tempo.
“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
On The Road takes you along on a back and forth journey through America in the 50s. Sal, an aging youth, pressed on completing his novel but craving something more, lives in New York with his aunt. He expresses that feeling of being out-of-place, a restlessness or yearning for some meaning or adventure. Sal and his peers are out of place and struggle to adapt to the general expectations of society. They don’t seem to care much or suit the role of working a normal nine to five job.
The journey Sal takes throughout the book isn’t a coordinated one. There is an endless back and forth, coupled with periodic pauses and stopovers. It’s hard to make out where the road might take them, and it would appear they are equally oblivious to this too.
Sal sees Dean as this energetic and free-spirited character that is fruitfully bathing in all the good things that life can offer. Dean has a careless and impulsive personality that ignites a similar yearning for adventure in Sal. This friendship, although rich in experiences and encounters, often limits Sal’s progress in his creative work and relationships. The book Sal is writing is delayed multiple times. His expenses often outweigh his finances and he requires support from his aunt back home. Sal struggles to find a meaningful partner, whereas, the womanizer, Dean, is engaged with multiple women.
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
After years of fruitless travels in the States, they arrive in Mexico. A destination they deem fitting for the end of the road. A paradise. Here, Sal and his companions are treated like royal guests. They can finally bathe in a temporary ecstasy of having no worries, an endless supply of cheap liquor and women. They believe they have finally found a place they belong. Sal eagerly eyes the strange setting in front of him. The hot, steamy days spent in Mexico are filled with excitement and joyfulness. However, it is short-lived. Reality greets them like the rising sun, reminding them of their responsibilities back home. Dean flees to recoup with his wife and sort out marital affairs. Sal, sick with dysentery, lays bedridden and eventually needs to make the long journey home.
The book ends with Sal moving back home and finding a partner to love and invest in. Laura is the kind of woman Sal was looking for this whole time. They are visited by Dean. Dean is no longer the wholesome and fuelled character he once was. Sal and Laura are on their way out for the night and don’t have time to converse much with Dean. Dean is left standing on the street corner alone. The sun goes down, and Sal thinks of Dean.
To me, the book symbolizes a youthful angst and uncertainty that plagues most teenagers or young adults entering the big world. Society isn’t made for those that can not fit in. Sal is a lost cause; battling with conformity and a clear path. Sure, you can argue that he has not tried hard enough, or simply not cared enough to better his situation. A vagabond or misfit by choice. But beneath the surface, Sal and his friends are searching for a way to express themselves. The endless searching for something of satisfaction, of meaning, of enlightenment. This craving clings to most of us, leading us along our own, often irregular roadmap. Keep searching.
The themes and emotions portrayed in the book are still relevant today. The scenarios and events that unfold are relatable. This book is recommended for those teenagers and young adults who are not sure of what they want out of life or feel like they’re lost.