Title: On The Road
Author: Jack Kerouac
Original Publication: September 1957
Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
Opening Line: “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”
Closing Line: “the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Jack Kerouac’s iconic novel ‘On The Road’ has been on my to-read list for many years. The novel has a lot of preconception, as it is an iconic work of ‘beat literature’ and is often included on “best novel” lists. As a result, I had a lot of expectation before reading the novel and the actual text itself was not completely what I was expecting. However, this didn’t mean that I was disappointed as I did really enjoy reading the novel.
I have a particular interest in the concept of the ‘American Dream’ – my final essay at university was about the American Dream in the writing of Fitzgerald and Plath. As such, I found this novel a really interesting addition to this and I enjoyed the apathetic and free-feeling attitude of the narrator, Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty. The novel is quite ambivalent and I like how Kerouac offers very little judgement on the story: he focuses on the story and allows the reader to develop their own interpretation of the events. I felt that the characters were often bored and that their lives were somewhat bittersweet and empty, whereas others would see their lives as fulfilled, exciting and free because of their pursuit of the American Dream. The writing itself does not lead you to a particular conclusion: I personally feel that the pursuit of the American Dream in this way often leaves the individual feeling quite lost and meaningless, but someone else might read this in a completely different way. On The Road really highlights that it is all a matter of perspective.
The novel was actually included as July’s selection for Sefton Virtual Bookworms and one of the discussion questions actually raised quite an interesting point. The novel acts as an almost fictitious autobiography as many of the characters are heavily based on real people. I think knowing this would change your perspective on the book and explains why the novel is always so inextricably linked with the author and his life.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘On The Road’ and I can see why Kerouac is lauded as such a talented author. His sparse yet poetic style is quite readable and his subject matter is honest and personal, meaning that his writing feels authentic. It was not what I was expecting, but I think that this is actually a good thing. The novel moves around so many themes and has so many side-stories that gel together to make a whole novel that celebrates hedonism, a free flowing attitude to life and the pursuit of happiness. It is easy to read this as a cautionary tale and I got quite a hollow impression from the novel, but Kerouac leaves this entirely up to your own perspective and interpretation.
Some Questions To Think About After Reading The Book:
- Why do you think this book has become so iconic?
- How does this develop your idea of the ‘American Dream’?
- What do you make of Kerouac’s presentation of this lifestyle?
- Does the book make you want to go on a road trip?
- Could this type of story only take place in America?
Obviously, I wasn’t driving when this photo was taken as that would be insanely dangeorus- it was just for the effect!!
Photography: Matthew Jones.
P.S. My music choice for this post is Katie Melua’s version of ‘On The Road Again’. Enjoy 🙂