If you’re planning on taking a summer road trip, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a must-read before you pack your bags. The 1957 novel is a timeless tale of two friends, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, who share a zest for life and love of the open road, where possibilities are endless.
Perhaps the most enticing aspect of On the Road is that it, and its characters, are based on Kerouac’s real life experiences from road trips he took with his famous friends of the Beat Generation, known as the “Beatniks” â€“ writers Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. From 1947 to 1950, the Beatniks took three road trips â€“ from New York to California and back; from New York to New Orleans to San Francisco and from New York to Denver to Mexico.
The overall theme of the novel â€“ expressing one’s free will and appreciation for life â€“ is enough to keep you turning the pages faster than crazy Moriarty drove Paradise’s old jalopy through Texas. But the taboos illustrated in the book, like sex and drugs, will make you turn pages even faster.
Moriarty, based on Cassady, is married three times in the book, and is even married to two women at the same time and has children with multiple women. When he’s not driving back and forth across the country to file divorce papers, he’s trying to seduce young women. In Denver, Moriarty tries to get a teenage girl’s attention by throwing rocks at her window. The girl’s mother chases him with a shotgun out of the neighborhood.
In Mexico, Paradise, based on Kerouac himself, and Moriarty smoke themselves silly with marijuana and stumbled into a whorehouse where they have sex with prostitutes. Moriarty’s whore is drunk and underage. Paradise feels sorry for her and the life she lives, but he still sleeps with his prostitute.
Kerouac often described people and scenes as sad and pathetic, just like he described the prostitute. However, this isn’t a setback to the uplifting and inspiring novel. Rather, Kerouac’s honest and raw writing style proves he explained things the way he saw them, which will make you want to get on the road yourself even faster because you’ll know you can experience similar endless possibilities.
In New Orleans, Paradise discovered Old Bull Lee, based on William S. Burroughs, had a heroin addiction. He looked past it, as he had his own addiction to the stimulant Benzedrine. Most of his friends, including Moriarty and Carlo Marx, based on Allen Ginsberg, are also addicted to the stimulant. Moriarty and Marx constantly stay up all night on Benzedrine, talking about poetry and philosophy. This proposed the possibility of inferred homosexuality, but potential judgment is easy to put aside because it’s interesting to read about the philosophies discussed by arguably some of the most brilliant writers of all time.
With the semester about to end and the blank slate of summer beckoning, you should read On the Road. It will inspire you to travel as many places as possible to gain the most experience possible. After all, there is no better way to learn about life than to experience all it has to offer firsthand.