Review: On The Road by Jack Kerouac
By Nazanin Soghrati
“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!'”
Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel, On the Road, was my second introduction to the Beat Generation after Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. The narrator-protagonist, Sal Paradise, is a war veteran studying on the G.I. bill and writing books before he decides to embark on his life “on the road” with friend Dean Moriatry. Together, the two travel around the United States and Mexico, weaving their way around New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major American cities with little money in their pockets, fueling their journey with episodes of personal experimentation, alcohol, and jazz in a combination that is iconically reminiscent of the post-WWII cultural movement.
On the Road is, in a way, liberating. Sal and Dean live in a self-contained world of hedonism and absolute freedom, experiencing life’s pleasures on the edge, two free-spirited souls whose only anchor seems to be the road they travel on. They are seemingly bound to nothing. Dean even leaves his multiple wives ‒Marylou, Camille, and Inez‒ and kids several times to travel and he is repeatedly, rightfully, accused for “having no sense of responsibility.” "You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your kicks,” Galatea tells Dean.
While I personally wasn’t a big fan of Kerouac’s memoir-esque novel about the libertine impulses of a group of hippies, I recognize that the book was a product of its time. After two devastating wars and economic boom and social stasis, one is ultimately forced to search for answers to life’s most existential questions. The uncertainty of the past and future provided the perfect breeding ground for young people to seek clarity and certainty from the present — from within. I couldn’t help but see a reflection of my own generation ‒or perhaps a reflection of the general teenage experience‒ within Sal and Dean’s raw, spontaneous urges to travel, to seek individualistic experiences, and “long for the freedom of the road.”
I would personally recommend this book to the small subset of youth who do not easily fall into the trap of romanticized spontaneity and irresponsibility. As well, if you’re looking to gain perspective on the literary movement of the 1950s, On the Road is a great historical gem.