I Wish they would get Off the Road- A Review of Jack Kerouac’s Novel

In On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the adventurous Sal Paradise narrates his exploration of the winding roads of America with his friend Dean Moriarty, who represents Neal Cassady. Through Denver, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Mexico City, Sal and Dean pick up colorful characters and hope to desperately grasp a “madness” that plagues the Beat Generation.

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac- BFFs for Life

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night,” states Sal.

The novel captures the Beat Generation with their praise towards non-conformity and follows their careless adventures with no consequences. It celebrates America in a frantic and almost exotic nature. Readers might find themselves examining the long paragraphs with an upbeat jazz tempo in the back of their minds.

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Kerouac’s descriptions of passing landscapes are inspiring and soulful:

“And here for the first time in my life I saw my beloved Mississippi River, dry in the summer haze, low water, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw body of America itself because it washes it up. Rock Island – railroad tracks, shacks, small downtown section; and over the bridge to Davenport, same kind of town, all smelling of sawdust in the warm midwest sun.”

Yet Dean’s hyper attitude and Sal’s restless narration (Kerouac allegedly wrote the novel on a single roll of paper) make a droning novel that does not live up to its standards. Readers are supposed to envy the male generation that escapes superficiality and norms, yet the characters are shallow, incomplete, underdeveloped and always searching for “the next best thing.” After reading the novel, I’m thankful I’m not a part of the Beat Generation.

Is this a Pink novel?

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That’s a negative. Dean is a womanizer who uses his friends and no one, including Sal, can stand up to him. The only one who sees through his bull is one of his friend’s wives, yet after her heroic rant at Dean she gently asks Sal if he could tell her husband to come back home. The male group marries women, abandons them, takes to the road, picks up other women, comes back months later, repeat. It’s SO weird that I’m not a fan of this cycle because it sounds utterly delightful for the opposite sex. 

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The flow of women in the novel are only described by male characters. The readers receive a detailed description of their body, the size of their breasts, hair color and texture, if they’re married and whether they’re “stupid,” “dull,” or “idiots.” The women fall in love with the male characters, especially Dean who is never denied pleasure, and are at their every command. Dean eventually has three wives and four children that welcome him every time he decides to come home for a week. His obsession with pleasure is focused in the following excerpt: “Oh I love, love, love women! I think women are wonderful! I love women!” He spat out the window; he groaned; he clutched his head. Great beads of sweat fell from his forehead from pure excitement and exhaustion.” A woman’s value is solely based on her looks and little is said about her personality or inner qualities. For a generation against superficiality, this novel plays into the idea of shallowness and it disregards meaningful insight.

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In a New York Times article, author Morris Dickstein states that the novel inspired celebrities such as Norman Mailer, Bob Dyan, Jack Nicholson, Nick Nolte and Jim Morrison. I wonder why it didn’t inspire any female celebrities…

3 Problems I have with the novel:

1.Dean, supposedly the “hero,” is simply annoying. His arrogant and dangerous actions are never punished. He objectifies women and is glorified by his male companions.

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2. There’s no problem, solution or conflict. It’s like reading someone’s 307-page daily journal. The only minor problems the gang find themselves in is spending all their money on alcohol and attempting to bag women. It gets old quick.

3. There’s no one to root for. Dean? Puh-lease. Sal? He just follows and hungers for whatever Dean likes. The constant flow of women who are not offered a voice in the novel is sickening. The male character’s “deep” relationships with each other lasts a few pages…or at least until a woman walks by.

I understand why people might find inspiration in the sporadic writing and descriptive pages. I, too, want to unveil the secret madness that lies on the dusty roads of an untraveled country. Although their journey is made to seem epic, unchallenged and inspiring, I despise most of the characters and would rather critique their journey than join. Excuse me if I don’t want to go on the road, leave my family, sleep in cars, hitchhike or build bonds with friends that last three pages. I’m not about that patriarch life. 

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The novel fails in character development, plot objective and capturing women’s attitudes. Throughout the novel, I wished that Dean and his gang would just get off the road and find their “madness” in the chaotic and corrupt relationships they created on their journey…
BookSmart Nutrition Facts

Published: 1957
Cost: $9.32 ($9 too much)
Titles by Author: The Town and the City, The Dharma Bums, Visions of Cody
First Sentence: “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”
Awards: TIME’s “All-Time 100 Novels” since 1923

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5 responses to “I Wish they would get Off the Road- A Review of Jack Kerouac’s Novel

  1. Second opinion I have heard on ‘On The Road,’ first I heard loved it and you clearly didn’t! I think I’ll have to check out the book for myself here.

    • Let me know what you think after you read it! After reading a few reviews, many people said they change their opinion after reading it a second time. I’ll read it next year and see if the theory works!

      • Haha yes American Gods AND On the Road might take a bit! A bibliophile’s biggest dilemma: reading all the books on their book list or having a “normal” life. I pick books.

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