Tuesday, 5 October 2010
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road was first published in 1957 and is a largely autobiographical account of Jack Kerouac’s various road trips taken with his friends during the 1940s. All names were changed (to protect the not so innocent) and the story mostly features the characters Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (based on real life person Neal Cassady) along with various other real life characters occurring throughout.
I have used this image from Wikipedia to show the different trips that Kerouac took and the book is about these journeys and about the drugs, casual sex and general naughtiness that went on while travelling the American highways. This book was originally written on a fifty-foot-long roll of paper and the narrative is realistic and vivid.
The novel overall has a fresh feel and I think this is because the idea of youth searching for more than the conformity of the society they are in is an idea which is being constantly being explored. This does not mean that the book is cliqued however as although the subject matter might not be original, the descriptions of their methods, ideas and the people they encounter is. Crossing the American continent is exhausting enough (I know, I did it) and Kerouac does not hide from the reader the sheer exhaustion, the dirty aspects, the arguments and broken friendships along the way.
One of the stronger aspects of the novel are the people that Sal and Dean encounter along the way. They have various conversations with drunks, travellers, drug addicts and poor immigrant workers all of whom often add more insight than Sal and his friends can provide. The friendship between Sal and Dean is also interesting and goes through many changes throughout as they spilt then meet up again.
A lot has been said on the bad behaviour of the characters and yes they take drugs, have wild parties, visit Mexican brothels and steal cars. This might not seem so shocking now but when you consider these guys were born before my grandmother it just goes to show that despite the fact that each generation thinks they invented teenage bad behaviour, they really didn’t.
There is no plot really, just the endless travels around which I think is the point. The book starts off as a celebration of youth while all the characters are young and free but as the novel progresses and the characters become older a sadness descends on the overall feel of the book. While their drug infused last adventure in Mexico might have been fun for the characters, I was left wondering why the character Dean was doing this while he had a wife who was pregnant and three other children in various states. I’m afraid I became a boring square and wondered when they were going to go home and face up to their responsibilities that THEY had created.
There was an even bigger sadness to come though after I finished the book and looked up what eventually happened to some of the characters long after the book was set. Kerouac died at 47 from cirrhosis caused by years of heavy drinking and his friend Neal Cassady died at 41 from exposure after passing out in the street in Mexico after a party. Perhaps these fates were inevitable when part of a generation collides with the society they live in, but really, was it worth it?
Would I recommend this? Well I was going to give a 3 star rating. But on reflection over a week later I am giving it 4 stars because its certainly given me a lot to think about.
Posted by Jess