Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
On the Road is a tale of wanderlust, friendship, madness, and above all, exploration. It chronicles the travels of Sal Paradise, both on his own and with Dean Moriarty, a whimsical and provocative character who draws people to him with magnetic and contagious excitement. Sal hitches, walks, and buses it across the country, with sundry adventures along the way. Dean keeps women on both coasts and fathers a few kids over the course of the novel. Sal and Dean and the other characters work odd jobs and embrace opportunities when they arise (read: Dean steals a car or two or ten along the way) and romp west from New York City to San Francisco, to Denver, to Virginia, to New York City, and then all the way over to San Francisco and back again. Wherever Dean and Sal go, parties follow, and no trip is without adventures, scrapes with the police, and a million random acts of kindness and free meals (and booze, and sometimes drugs) along the way. Dean and Sal's last adventure together takes them south to mystical Mexico, and of course hijinx ensue. Dean marries yet another woman, Inez, only to leave her and head back to San Francisco to his second wife, Camille, and two of his children. Sal settles down in New York and finds a woman for himself, and in the end, Dean is a puzzle piece in Sal's life that doesn't fit anymore.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
I really enjoyed this book. The constant road-tripping made me nostalgic for my fantastic (if often less-than-perfectly-planned) road trips with my sisters. The descriptions of places I'd been and places I have yet to go reminded me of the awe-inspiring immensity of America, and I felt like jumping into my car and starting off again. I dug (as Dean would say) the jazzy quality to Kerouac's prose, though I think if I continued to read more Kerouac I might find it a bit trying, and his characters felt true and meaningful in a heartfelt, tender sort of way. If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it. I ardently agree that it belongs on a list of classics and it's earned its place in literature.
I want to give you a few snapshots of some of the characters throughout the novel. I underlined and starred passages left and right, so there were many sections I couldn't squeeze in here (all the more reason to read it yourself!) but I think these snippets give you a taste for the flavor of Kerouac's writing and the spirit of his heros.
- "He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him."
- "In the West he'd spent a third of his time in the poolhall, a third in jail, and a third in the public library."
- "Dean's intelligence was every bit as formal and shining and complete, without the tedious intellectualness. And his 'criminality' was not something that sulked and sneered; it was a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy."
- to one of his 2 girlfriends at the time: "Are we straight in the deepest and most wonderful depths of our souls, dear darling?"
- "Now we must all get out and dig the river and the people and smell the world."
- "Furthermore we know America, we're at home; I can go anywhere in America and get what I want because it's the same in every corner, I know the people, I know what they do. We give and take and go in the incredibly complicated sweetness zigzagging every side."
-- During one of his later bouts of seeming madness, Sal references that Dean's been reading his Proust all along the train-hitching-trip across America. Good taste, Dean ;)
- on his first day road-tripping and his epic fail of a start: "I wanted to go west and here I've been all day and into the night going up and down, north and south, like something that can't get started."
- "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!" this is my favorite sentence in the book.
- trying to work up the courage to talk to a cute girl on the bus: "You gotta, you gotta or you'll die! Damn fool, talk to her! What's wrong with you? Aren't you tired enough of yourself by now? And before I knew what I was doing I leaned across the aisle to her (she was trying to sleep on the seat) and said, 'Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?'"
- on leaving his love Terry behind: "We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time."
- "The car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives."
- "We know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE."
- a note for Sal taped on the door of his shack in San Francisco:
- quoting Truman: "We must cut down on the cost of living."Sal and Remi and Dean are totally the original Freegans, and some of their "reclaiming" seems awfully close to stealing... ;)
- "Marylou was watching Dean as she had watched him clear across the country and back, out of the corner of her eye - with a sullen, sad air, as though she wanted to cut off his head and hide it in her closet, an envious and rueful love of him so amazingly himself, all raging and sniffy and crazy-wayed, a smile of tender dotage but also sinister envy that frightened me about her, a love she knew would never bear fruit because when she looked at his hangjawed bony face with its male self-containment and absentmindedness she knew he was too mad."
Sal, about Dean: "We understood each other on all levels of madness."
Terry, to Sal: "If you can't boogie I know I'll show you how."
Sentences I particularly liked:
- "The sun went all the way down and I was standing in the purple darkness."
- "The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream."
- "We talked in loud voices in the sleeping stillness."
- "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 burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries."
- "People ate lugubrious meals around the waterfalls, their faces green with marine sorrow."
- "His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light."
- "On rails we leaned and looked at the great brown father of waters rolling down from mid-America like the torrent of broken souls - bearing Montana logs and Dakota muds and Iowa vales and things that had drowned in Three Forks, where the secret began in ice."
- "From bushy shores where infinitesimal men fished with sticks, and from delta sleeps that stretched up along the reddening land, the big humpbacked river with its mainstream leaping came coiling around Algiers like a snake, with a nameless rumble."
- "As of yore I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind."
-- Dean: "What's your road, man? - holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow."
Dean: "Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there."
Sal: "Where we going, man?"
Dean: "I don't know but we gotta go."
As Sal elegantly puts it, "we look forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." I'm off to a day exploring the tourist side of DC and looking forward to my next crazy venture - Tiny Lasses. Join me!