On the Road
|On the Road|
|Publication date||September 5, 1957|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Town and the City
|Followed by||The Subterraneans
On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac. On the Road is based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America. It is considered a defining work of the postwar Beat and Counterculture generations, with its protagonists living life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry and drug use.
The idea for On the Road formed during the late 1940s. It was to be Kerouac's second novel, and it underwent several drafts before he completed it in April 1951. It was first published by Viking Press in 1957.
When the book was originally released, The New York Times hailed it as "the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as 'beat,' and whose principal avatar he is." In 1998, the Modern Library ranked On the Road 55th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Plot summary
- 3 Major themes
- 4 Language
- 5 Reception
- 6 Influence
- 7 The scroll exhibition
- 8 Film adaptation
- 9 Documentary
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
||This section is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (December 2012)|
Many aspects go into understanding the context of On the Road, and they must be viewed cohesively in order to appreciate why the book was as relevant and pertinent as it was. The following issues are important to consider as the foundation for the book and its reception by the public.
Kerouac was born in a French-Canadian neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts, and learned English at age six. (He had difficulty with the language into his teens.) He grew up in a devout Catholic home, and this influence manifested itself throughout the work. During high school, Kerouac was a star football player and earned a scholarship to Columbia University. After dropping out following a conflict with the football coach, he then served on several different sailing vessels before returning to New York in search of inspiration to write. Here he met the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs who would not only become characters in the book but also form the core of the Beat Generation.
Many of the events depicted in the book are the experiences that shaped both its content and production. Kerouac met Neal Cassady, who would become Dean Moriarty, in December 1946 and began his road adventures in 1947 while writing what would become The Town and the City. The adventures themselves, which took place between 1947 and 1950, were meant to help him overcome writers block during early attempts to write the book. It was through letters and other interactions with his friends that Kerouac decided to write the first person narrative that became On the Road as we know it today.
The publication process was another adventure unto itself, which took a major psychological toll on Kerouac. He was discouraged by the struggle (even though he continued to write during the period) and finally agreed to substantially revise the original version after years of failed negotiations with different publishers. He removed several parts in order to focus the story and also to protect himself from potential issues of libel. He also continued to write feverishly after its publication in spite of attacks from critics.
On the Road portrays the story of a fierce personal quest for meaning and belonging. This comes at an interesting point in American history when conformity was praised and outsiders were suspect. The Beat Generation arose out of a time of intense conflict, both internally and externally.
The issues of the Cold War, the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism took center stage of the cultural arena in the 1950s. As the U.S government cracked down on left-wing influences at home and abroad, the sentiment of unifying and banding together led to extreme measures of censorship and control.
The Cold War was the backdrop for this fight. In a short time after defeating Germany, the Soviet Union fell from ally to threat in the eyes of the United States. In the postwar reconstruction process, the two powers found themselves continually at odds. The sentiment arose clearly as a struggle between two opposing ways of life. Contention over Soviet support for alleged communist revolution in Iran, then Turkey and Greece, led to the American policy of containment and the Truman Doctrine. Before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman stated, "I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support the people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." That summer, Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe. While Western European countries planned how to go about rebuilding with American help, the Soviets walked away and forced the Eastern European countries to do the same. A Soviet aid and recovery plan followed for these countries and would mark the beginning of a punch and counterpunch pattern that would typify the early years of the Cold War. This laid a foundation for the tension that would define the period.
Beat Generation summary
It was in this climate that some individuals of the young generation were seeking meaning outside the mainstream worldview. Amidst all the conflict and contradiction, the Beats were seeking out a way to navigate through the world. As John Clellon Holmes put it, "Everywhere the Beat Generation seems occupied with the feverish production of answers—some of them frightening, some of them foolish—to a single question: how are we to live?"
The idea of what it means to be "beat" is still difficult to accurately describe. While many critics still consider the word "beat" in its literal sense of "tired and beaten down," others, including Kerouac himself promoted the generation more in sense of "beatific" or blissful. "Beat" can also be read as a 'rhythm' such as in music, as in Jazz - a rhythmic beat or 'the rhythm of life' itself.
Holmes and Kerouac published several articles in popular magazines in an attempt to explain the movement. In the November 16, 1952 New York Times Sunday Magazine, he wrote a piece exposing the faces of the Beat Generation. "[O]ne day [Kerouac] said, 'You know, this is a really beat generation' ... More than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and ultimately, of soul: a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself." He distinguishes Beats from the Lost Generation of the 1920s pointing out how the Beats are not lost but how they are searching for answers to all of life's questions. Kerouac's preoccupation with writers like Ernest Hemingway shaped his view of the beat generation. He uses a prose style which he adapted from Hemingway and throughout On the Road he alludes to novels like The Sun Also Rises. "How to live seems much more crucial than why." In many ways, it is a spiritual journey, a quest to find belief, belonging, and meaning in life. Not content with the uniformity promoted by government and consumer culture, the Beats yearned for a deeper, more sensational experience.
Holmes expands his attempt to define the generation in a 1958 article in Esquire magazine. This article was able to take more of a look back at the formation of the movement as it was published after On the Road. "It describes the state of mind from which all unessentials have been stripped, leaving it receptive to everything around it, but impatient with trivial obstructions. To be beat is to be at the bottom of your personality, looking up."
At the time of publication, On the Road was not the first book to criticize contemporary American culture. A nonconformist sentiment characterized the arts and popular culture of the 1950s as a way of rejecting societal norms. Many of the best selling books of the time achieved this same mission.
J. D. Salinger produced the first shock to the tranquil suburban landscape with the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. His protagonist Holden Caulfield struck a chord with young readers also at odds with the adult world. Caulfield's rejection of the regimentation and "phoniness" of the world around him resonated with the struggle for meaning that drove the Beat Generation. Salinger's rejection of traditional middle-class values signaled the first widely recognized public stand against the cultural conformist pressure.
Among the best-selling novels of 1950s was Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. Published in September 1956, it managed to be the second most sold book in the country that year and then to top the chart in 1957. In fact, it went on to be the best-selling book in American history up to that point. Often cited as the prime example of the decline in American culture of the decade, the novel examines the traditional values of a New England mill town by introducing the complications of extramarital sexual affairs. A book that received a broad range of reviews after publication, Peyton Place's popularity shows that popular culture was ready for a break from their traditional expectations.
Another popular contemporary was Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) that dealt with the increasing suburbanization of American society. Tom Rath struggles with the dilemma of following his conscience or pursuing the big salary and lush lifestyle typically portrayed of the 1950s family. In the end, though, he discovers that he can have both. While Wilson can be seen as chastising the societal norms at times, he concludes with his character achieving them. This shows the dichotomy of attitudes toward the middle-class values of the day.
Production and publication
Kerouac often promoted the story about how in April 1951 he wrote the novel in three weeks, typing continuously onto a 120-foot roll of teletype paper. Although the story is true per se, the book was in fact the result of a long and arduous creative process. Kerouac carried small notebooks, in which much of the text was written as the eventful span of road trips unfurled. He started working on the first of several versions of the novel as early as 1948, based on experiences during his first long road trip in 1947. However, he remained dissatisfied with the novel. Inspired by a thousand-word rambling letter from his friend Neal Cassady, Kerouac in 1950 outlined the "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" and decided to tell the story of his years on the road with Cassady as if writing a letter to a friend in a form that reflected the improvisational fluidity of jazz.
The first draft of what was to become the published novel was written in three weeks in April 1951 while Kerouac lived with Joan Haverty, his second wife, at 454 West 20th Street in Manhattan, New York. The manuscript was typed on what he called "the scroll"—a continuous, one hundred and twenty-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets that he cut to size and taped together. The roll was typed single-spaced, without margins or paragraph breaks. In the following years, Kerouac continued to revise this manuscript, deleting some sections (including some sexual depictions deemed pornographic in the 1950s) and adding smaller literary passages. Kerouac authored a number of inserts intended for On the Road between 1951 and 1952, before eventually omitting them from the manuscript and using them to form the basis of another work, Visions of Cody. On the Road was championed within Viking Press by Malcolm Cowley and was published by Viking in 1957, based on revisions of the 1951 manuscript. Besides differences in formatting, the published novel was shorter than the original scroll manuscript and used pseudonyms for all of the major characters.
Viking Press released a slightly edited version of the original manuscript on 16 August 2007 titled On the Road: The Original Scroll corresponding with the 50th anniversary of original publication. This version has been transcribed and edited by English academic and novelist Dr. Howard Cunnell. As well as containing material that was excised from the original draft due to its explicit nature, the scroll version also uses the real names of the protagonists, so Dean Moriarty becomes Neal Cassady and Carlo Marx becomes Allen Ginsberg, etc.
In 2007, Gabriel Anctil, a journalist of the Montreal's daily Le Devoir discovered, in Kerouac's personal archives in New York, almost 200 pages of his writings entirely in Quebec French, with colloquialisms. The collection included ten manuscript pages of an unfinished version of On the Road, written on January 19, 1951. The date of the writings makes Kerouac one of the earliest known authors to use colloquial Quebec French in literature.
The two main characters of the book are the narrator, Salvatore "Sal" Paradise, and his new friend Dean Moriarty, much admired for his carefree attitude and sense for adventure, a free-spirited maverick eager to explore all kicks and an inspiration and catalyst for Sal's travels. The novel contains five parts, three of them describing road trips with Moriarty. The narrative takes place in the years 1947 to 1950, is full of Americana, and marks a specific era in jazz history, "somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis." The novel is largely autobiographical, Sal being the alter ego of the author and Dean standing for Neal Cassady. The epic nature of the adventures and the text itself creates a tremendous sense of meaning and purpose for the themes and lessons.
The first section describes Sal's first trip to San Francisco. Disheartened after a divorce, his life changes when he meets Dean Moriarty, who is "tremendously excited with life," and begins to long for the freedom of the road: "Somewhere along the line I knew there would be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me." He sets off in July 1947 with fifty dollars in his pocket. After taking several buses and hitchhiking, he arrives in Denver, where he hooks up with Carlo Marx, Dean, and their friends. There are parties — among them an excursion to the ghost town of Central City. Eventually Sal leaves by bus and gets to San Francisco, where he meets Remi Boncoeur and his girlfriend Lee Ann. Remi arranges for Sal to take a job as a night watchman at a boarding camp for merchant sailors waiting for their ship. Not holding this job for long, Sal hits the road again. "Oh, where is the girl I love?" he wonders. Soon he meets Terry, the "cutest little Mexican girl," on the bus to Los Angeles. They stay together, traveling back to Bakersfield, then to Sabinal, "her hometown," where her family works in the fields. He meets Terry's brother Ricky, who teaches him the true meaning of "mañana" ("tomorrow"). Working in the cotton fields, Sal realizes that he is not made for this type of work. Leaving Terry behind, he takes the bus back to New York and walks the final stretch from Times Square to Paterson, just missing Dean, who had come to see him, by two days.
In this section, Kerouac not only introduces many of the book's characters but also its central conflicts and dilemmas. He initially shows Sal as the deep thinking writer who yearns for greater freedom. As the plot unfolds he shows the depth and degree of Sal's internal conflict in the pursuit of "kicks," torn between the romanticized freedom of the open road and practicality of a more settled, domestic life. Dean appears as the "yellow roman candle" that catalyzes the action of the novel. His uncontainable spirit invites Sal to follow but also foreshadows problems of commitment and devotion that will reappear later on.
In December 1948 Sal is celebrating Christmas with his relatives in Testament, Virginia when Dean shows up with Marylou (having left his second wife, Camille, and their newborn baby, Amy, in San Francisco) and Ed Dunkel. Sal's Christmas plans are shattered as "now the bug was on me again, and the bug's name was Dean Moriarty." First they drive to New York, where they meet Carlo and party. Dean wants Sal to make love to Marylou, but Sal declines. In Dean's Hudson they take off from New York in January 1949 and make it to New Orleans. In Algiers they stay with the morphine-addicted Old Bull Lee and his wife Jane. Galatea Dunkel joins her husband in New Orleans while Sal, Dean, and Marylou continue their trip. Once in San Francisco, Dean again leaves Marylou to be with Camille. "Dean will leave you out in the cold anytime it is in the interest of him," Marylou tells Sal. Both of them stay briefly in a hotel, but soon she moves out, following a nightclub owner. Sal is alone and on Market Street has visions of past lives, birth, and rebirth. Dean finds him and invites him to stay with his family. Together, they visit nightclubs and listen to Slim Gaillard and other jazz musicians. The stay ends on a sour note: "what I accomplished by coming to Frisco I don't know," and Sal departs, taking the bus back to New York.
In this section, Marylou sums up the dilemma of Dean's lack of commitment and selfishness when she says that he will always leave you if it isn't in his interest. This central conflict appears again after Dean returns to Camille in San Francisco, abandoning his two travel companions. Sal again finds himself at a loss for purpose and direction. He has spent his time following the other characters but is unfulfilled by the frantic nature of this life. Much of the euphoria has worn off as he becomes more contemplative and philosophical.
In the spring of 1949, Sal takes a bus from New York to Denver. He is depressed and "lonesome"; none of his friends are around. After receiving some money, he leaves Denver for San Francisco to see Dean. Camille is pregnant and unhappy, and Dean has injured his thumb trying to hit Marylou for sleeping with other men. Camille throws them out, and Sal invites Dean to come to New York, planning to travel further to Italy. They meet Galatea, who tells Dean off: "You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your kicks." Sal realizes she is right — Dean is the "HOLY GOOF" — but also defends him, as "he's got the secret that we're all busting to find out." After a night of jazz and drinking in Little Harlem on Folsom Street, they depart. On the way to Sacramento they meet a "fag," who propositions them. Dean tries to hustle some money out of this but is turned down. During this part of the trip Sal and Dean have ecstatic discussions having found "IT" and "TIME." In Denver a brief argument shows the growing rift between the two, when Dean reminds Sal of his age, Sal being the older of the two. They get a '47 Cadillac from the travel bureau that needs to be brought to Chicago. Dean drives most of the way, crazy, careless, often speeding over 100 miles per hour, bringing it in a disheveled state. By bus they move on to Detroit and spend a night on Skid Row, Dean hoping to find his homeless father. From Detroit they share a ride to New York and arrive at Sal's aunt's new flat in Long Island. They go on partying in New York, where Dean meets Inez and gets her pregnant while his wife is expecting their second child.
After seeing how he treats Camille and Marylou, Sal finally begins to realize the nature of his relationship with Dean. While he cares greatly about him, several times discussing future plans to live on the same street, he recognizes that the feeling may not be mutual. The situations are beginning to change, though, as Sal has received some money from his recently published book and can begin to support himself and also Dean when he comes to New York. Sal is taking a more active role in his freedom as opposed to just following Dean.
In the spring of 1950, Sal gets the itch to travel again while Dean is working as a parking lot attendant in Manhattan, living with his girlfriend Inez. Sal notices that he has been reduced to simple pleasures — listening to basketball games and looking at erotic playing cards. By bus Sal takes to the road again, passing Washington, Ashland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and eventually reaching Denver. There he meets Stan Shephard, and the two plan to go to Mexico City when they learn that Dean had bought a car and is on the way to join them. In a rickety '37 Ford sedan the three set off across Texas to Laredo, where they cross the border. They are ecstatic, having left "everything behind us and entering a new and unknown phase of things." Their money buys more (10 cents for a beer), police are laid back, cannabis is readily available, and people are curious and friendly. The landscape is magnificent. In Gregoria, they meet Victor, a local kid, who leads them to a bordello where they have their last grand party, dancing to mambo, drinking, and having fun with prostitutes. In Mexico City Sal becomes ill from dysentery and is "delirious and unconscious." Dean leaves him, and Sal later reflects that "when I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes."
In this section we see Dean's selfishness finally extend to Sal, as he leaves Sal abandoned in Mexico City. Sal has sunk to the bottom of his reality having seen Victor put his family obligations over the freedom of the road and Dean was not ready to do the same thing. This is the moment where the paths diverge and Sal realizes that he has more to live for than just constantly moving.
Dean, having obtained divorce papers in Mexico, had first returned to New York to marry Inez, only to leave her and go back to Camille. After his recovery from dysentery in Mexico, Sal returns to New York in the fall. He finds a girl, Laura, and plans to move with her to San Francisco. Sal writes to Dean about his plan to move to San Francisco. Dean writes back saying that he's willing to come and accompany Laura and Sal. Dean arrives over five weeks early but Sal is out taking a late-night walk alone. Sal returns home to Laura and sees a copy of Proust and knows that it is Dean's. Sal realizes that his friend has arrived, but at a time when Sal doesn't have the money to relocate to San Francisco. On hearing this Dean makes the decision to head back to Camille and Sal's friend Remi Boncoeur denies Sal's request to give Dean a short lift to 40th Street on their way to a Duke Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. Sal's girlfriend Laura realises that this is a painful moment for Sal and prompts him for a response as the party drives off without Dean; to which he replies "He'll be alright". Sal later reflects as he sits on a river pier under a New Jersey night sky about the roads and lands of America that he has travelled and states ". . . I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty."
"Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same person's name in each work."
|Real-life person||Character name|
|Jack Kerouac||Sal Paradise|
|Gabrielle Kerouac||Sal's Aunt|
|Alan Ansen||Rollo Greb|
|William S. Burroughs||Old Bull Lee|
|Neal Cassady||Dean Moriarty|
|Hal Chase||Chad King|
|Henri Cru||Remi Boncoeur|
|Bea Franco (Beatrice Kozera)||Terry|
|Allen Ginsberg||Carlo Marx|
|Alan Harrington||Hal Hingham|
|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 main ideas of the Beat Generation, the longing for belief and meaning in life, are reflected in On the Road. While interest in the book initially revolved more around Kerouac's personal life rather than the literary nature of the text, critical attention has burgeoned in recent years. Although the book can be viewed through many lenses, several major themes rise up from a deeper study.
Kerouac has admitted that the biggest of these themes is religion. In a letter to a student in 1961, he wrote:
"Dean and I were embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and to FIND the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him."
This idea of an inward adventure is illustrated in all of the experimentation. The Beats had a more liberal definition of God and spirituality closely related to personal experience.
All of the travel and personal interaction in the book permit an examination of the ideas of masculinity and mobility in the 1950s. While these concepts may seem unrelated, Kerouac weaves them together to provide another form of rebellion against the social norm of conformity. Mary Pannicia Carden examines this and proposes that traveling was a way for the characters to assert their independence. "[Sal and Dean] attempt to replace the model of manhood dominant in capitalist America with a model rooted in foundational American ideals of conquest and self-discovery." Travel is a very symbolic act both in history and in literature of coming of age and self-realization, especially for males. But not only do they see conformity as restricting, but in many senses, they view women this way as well. "Reassigning disempowering elements of patriarchy to female keeping, they attempt to substitute male brotherhood for the nuclear family and to replace the ladder of success with the freedom of the road as primary measures of male identity." The interactions of the book come down to balances of power and gains and losses of masculinity. Even though they seek to defy its traditional markers, Dean and Sal also rely on this masculinity in their self-definition. In the end, their divergence to different paths reflects Sal's understanding of the limitations of complete freedom that is sought on the road in so far as it pertains to relations to culture and identity.
In a broader sense, On the Road's major lesson is about the proper way of growing up. Unlike Holden Caulfield, Sal Paradise is struggling with getting through adolescence and maturity rather than delaying it. We see this contrasted with Dean Moriarty who is portrayed as the depiction of a child, always on the move. Sal's struggle is how to balance these opposing forces. We saw these exact issues in Holmes's definition of the Beat Generation as a whole, of which Sal Paradise becomes the metaphorical face.
In addition to the themes and controversial topics addressed in On the Road, Kerouac's apparently erratic writing style garnered much attention for the novel. Some have said that On the Road was merely a transitional phase in between the traditional narrative structure of The Town and the City (1951) and the so-called "wild form" of Kerouac's later books like Visions of Cody (1972).
Kerouac's own explanation of his style begins with the publication of "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" (1953) in which he outlines the core features of his techniques. He likens his writing to Impressionist painters who sought to create art through direct observation. He endeavored to present a raw version of truth which did not lend itself to the traditional process of revision and rewriting but rather the emotionally charged practice of spontaneity he pursued.
This spontaneity produced a book that was not only readable in 1957 but still captures the attention of audiences today. The personal nature of the text helps foster a direct link between Kerouac and the reader. Because he is writing about actual experiences, conveying appropriately the environment provided this connection. Kerouac chose to do this through his detailed descriptions, rarely pausing for a breath between sentences. His more casual diction and very relaxed syntax, although viewed as less than serious by some, was an intentional attempt to depict events as they happened and to convey all of the energy and emotion of the experiences.
The book received a mixed reaction from the media in 1957. Some of the earlier reviews spoke highly of the book, but the backlash to these was swift and strong. Although this was discouraging to Kerouac, he still received great recognition and notoriety from the work. Since its publication, critical attention has focused on issues of both the context and the style, addressing the actions of the characters as well as the nature of Kerouac's prose.
In his review for The New York Times, Gilbert Millstein wrote, "its publication is a historic occasion in so far as the exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion" and praised it as "a major novel." Millstein was already sympathetic toward the Beat Generation and his promotion of the book in the Times did wonders for its recognition and acclaim. Not only did he like the themes, but also the style, which would come to be just as hotly contested in the reviews that followed. "There are sections of On the Road in which the writing is of a beauty almost breathtaking...there is some writing on jazz that has never been equaled in American fiction, either for insight, style, or technical virtuosity." Kerouac and Joyce Johnson, a younger writer he was living with, read the review shortly after midnight at a newsstand at 69th Street and Broadway, near Joyce's apartment in the Upper West Side. They took their copy of the newspaper to a neighborhood bar and read the review over and over. "Jack kept shaking his head," Joyce remembered later in her memoir Minor Characters, "as if he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t happier than he was." Finally, they returned to her apartment to go to sleep. As Joyce recalled: "Jack lay down obscure for the last time in his life. The ringing phone woke him the next morning, and he was famous.”
The backlash began just a few days later in the same publication. David Dempsey published a review that contradicted most of what Millstein had promoted in the book. "As a portrait of a disjointed segment of society acting out of its own neurotic necessity, "On the Road", is a stunning achievement. But it is a road, as far as the characters are concerned, that leads to nowhere." While he did not discount the stylistic nature of the text (saying that it was written "with great relish"), he dismissed the content as a "passionate lark" rather than a novel."
Other reviewers were also less than impressed. Phoebe Lou Adams in Atlantic Monthly wrote that it "disappoints because it constantly promises a revelation or a conclusion of real importance and general applicability, and cannot deliver any such conclusion because Dean is more convincing as an eccentric than as a representative of any segment of humanity." While she liked the writing and found a good theme, her concern was repetition. "Everything Mr. Kerouac has to say about Dean has been told in the first third of the book, and what comes later is a series of variations on the same theme."
The review from Time exhibited a similar sentiment. "The post-World War II generation—beat or beatific—has not found symbolic spokesmen with anywhere near the talents of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Nathaniel West. In this novel, talented Author Kerouac, 35, does not join that literary league, either, but at least suggests that his generation is not silent. With his barbaric yawp of a book, Kerouac commands attention as a kind of literary James Dean." It considers the book partly a travel book and partly a collection of journal jottings. While Kerouac sees his characters as "mad to live...desirous of everything at the same time," the reviewer likens them to cases of "psychosis that is a variety of Ganser Syndrome" who "aren't really mad—they only seem to be."
On the Road has been the object of much study since its publication. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of publication, several critics took a fresh look at the text in 2007. It is interesting to consider how the perception has evolved in the last half century.
David Brooks of the New York Times compiled several of these opinions and summarized them in an Op-Ed from October 2, 2007. Where as Millstein saw it as a story in which the heroes took pleasure in everything, George Mouratidis, an editor of a new edition, claimed "above all else, the story is about loss." "It's a book about death and the search for something meaningful to hold on to — the famous search for 'IT,' a truth larger than the self, which, of course, is never found," wrote Meghan O'Rourke in Slate. "Kerouac was this deep, lonely, melancholy man," Hilary Holladay of the University of Massachusetts Lowell told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "And if you read the book closely, you see that sense of loss and sorrow swelling on every page." "In truth, 'On the Road' is a book of broken dreams and failed plans," wrote Ted Gioia in The Weekly Standard.
John Leland, author of Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think), says "We're no longer shocked by the sex and drugs. The slang is passé and at times corny. Some of the racial sentimentality is appalling" but adds "the tale of passionate friendship and the search for revelation are timeless. These are as elusive and precious in our time as in Sal's, and will be when our grandchildren celebrate the book's hundredth anniversary."
To Brooks, this characterization seems limited. "Reading through the anniversary commemorations, you feel the gravitational pull of the great Boomer Narcissus. All cultural artifacts have to be interpreted through whatever experiences the Baby Boomer generation is going through at that moment. So a book formerly known for its youthful exuberance now becomes a gloomy middle-aged disillusion." He laments how the book's spirit seems to have been tamed by the professionalism of America today and how it has only survived in parts. The more reckless and youthful parts of the text that gave it its energy are the parts that have "run afoul of the new gentility, the rules laid down by the health experts, childcare experts, guidance counselors, safety advisers, admissions officers, virtuecrats and employers to regulate the lives of the young." He claims that the "ethos" of the book has been lost.
"It changed my life like it changed everyone else's," Dylan would say many years later. Tom Waits, too, acknowledged its influence, hymning Jack and Neal in a song and calling the Beats "father figures." At least two great American photographers were influenced by Kerouac: Robert Frank, who became his close friend — Kerouac wrote the introduction to Franks' book, The Americans — and Stephen Shore, who set out on an American road trip in the 1970s with Kerouac's book as a guide. It would be hard to imagine Hunter S. Thompson's road novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had On the Road not laid down the template; likewise, films such as Easy Rider, Paris, Texas, and even Thelma and Louise.
Since the mobile lifestyle popularized by "On The Road" had a strong influence on the large market segment of baby boomers who joined the hippie movement the death of Jack Kerouac was of interest to the readers of the pioneering new journalism publication Rolling Stone. As a result, editor and publisher of the tabloid, Jann Wenner, printed a detailed account of the funeral of the "On The Road" author by writers Stephen Davis and Eric Ehrmann. According to the Rolling Stone article, Jack Kerouac's open casket viewing at the Archambault Funeral Home and subsequent burial funeral at the Edson Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts were attended by few of his "On The Road" era friends. Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in the book) had died the year before in 1968. San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti chose not to come east to attend. Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx in the book) showed up with Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso was there filming the event. Author Terry Southern sent a floral arrangement that was on display near the bier. One writer in attendance not associated with the "On The Road" group or Beatnik crowd was New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who, like Kerouac, came from a working-class background. Breslin, who had been inspired by "On The Road" in his youth, journeyed up to Lowell to pay his respects, his feelings about Kerouac's appearing as part of the Rolling Stone coverage. Many writers, actors and artists including Ann Charters and Hettie Jones, inter alia, would later share their feelings about how they were influenced by "On The Road" and the Beat culture in the Rolling Stone Book of The Beats edited by Holly George Warren published by Hyperion in 1999.
The scroll exhibition
The original scroll of On The Road still exists. It was bought in 2001 by Jim Irsay (Indianapolis Colts football team owner) for $2.43 million. It has occasionally been made available for public viewing, with the first 30 feet (9 m) unrolled. Between 2004 and 2012, the scroll was displayed in a number of museums and libraries in the United States, Ireland, and the UK. It was exhibited in Paris during the 2012's summer to celebrate the movie based on the book.
|This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (May 2012)|
A film adaptation of On the Road screened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2012 and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. Russell Banks wrote a screenplay for producer Francis Ford Coppola, who bought the film rights for $95,000 in 1980. The Brazilian director Walter Salles directed the movie. After seeing Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries, Coppola decided on Salles. In preparation for the film, Salles traveled the United States, tracing Kerouac's journey and filming a documentary on the search for On the Road. José Rivera adapted the book into a screenplay. Coppola's American Zoetrope produced the film, in association with MK2, France 2 Cinéma, Canal+, Film4 in the U.K. and Videofilmes in Brazil. Sam Riley starred as Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise. Garrett Hedlund portrayed Dean Moriarty. Kristen Stewart played Mary Lou. Kirsten Dunst portrayed Camille. Filming started on August 2, 2010. Filming took place in New Orleans, Montreal, Mexico and Argentina with a $25 million budget.
On 12 December 2007, BBC Four aired Russell Brand On the Road, a documentary presented by Russell Brand and Matt Morgan about the writer Jack Kerouac focusing on his novel On the Road. The documentary American Road, which explores the mystique of the road in US culture and contains an ample section on Kerouac, premiered at the AMFM Festival in California on 14 June 2013 when it won the award for Best Documentary.
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- References in On the Road
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- Love Always, Carolyn
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- Ann Charters' introduction to the 1991 edition of On the Road
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- Release dates for On the Road
- Awards for On the Road
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- Gifford, Barry & Lee, Lawrence (2005), Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, ISBN 1-56025-739-3
- Leland, John (2007), Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think), New York: Viking Press, ISBN 978-0-670-06325-3
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- Theado, Matt (2000), Understanding Jack Kerouac, Columbia SC: University of SC Press, ISBN 978-1-57003-846-4
- Definitive guide to the 600 characters in Kerouac's and related novels
- The Beat Museum in San Francisco
- On the Road on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- Map of Sal Paradise's First Trip across the USA
- Interactive Google Maps of the Four Trips in On the Road