It has been a long time since a novel like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road made me feel this way—caught up and involved, heartbroken and immensely sad that it has finished. Finishing the book gives you that shitty feeling you get when you have to say goodbye to friends who saw the inside of a new world with you. That devastating, painstakingly it-will-never-be-the-same-way-again! pain. I am so sad of losing the friends I made in that novel. Our crazy crazy times, mostly of them not giving a damn about the world and me sitting on the couch reading about it, were some really good times that made me laugh, made me shout in protest, inspired me, and put my heart on a roller coaster.
The story is about Sal Paradise (representing Jack Kerouac) and his buddies, most notably Dean Moriarty (representing Neal Cassidy), and their travels through the United States. Dean is a wild, ‘all for kicks’, outgoing, sweaty and excited young man whose mission in life seems to be to get with as many women as he can before his poor decision making skills kills him. His thrill for excitement, girls, alcohol and ‘tea’ seem to be the driving force behind him and many times puts them in difficult situations. Sal, whose point of view the book is written in, is a bit more controlled and seems to sit back and go along with the ride for the experience of it all, occasionally shouting out his thoughts and feelings so he doesn’t get taken advantage of or ignored, but participates in the craziness nonetheless.
You get picked up off the metaphorical road in this novel; you share rides with hillbillies, sore kids, utterly crazy people and get into a few accidents along the way. You stop in a handful of different states, tasting America’s different cultures, smoke some marijuana, take some benzene, and get to meet all of Sals’ friends, whether you would like to or not. If you are crazy like me, you fall in love with Dean Moriarty and the crazy things he says, the crazy way he acts, and the impulsivity of him.
“… I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because 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 that 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!”
One of the reasons why I love this book is because I see Sal and Dean in myself. Yes, granted, I am not as uncontrolled as Dean, running around the whole country looking for my next lay, but that loose puppy that is unable to control himself that lives inside of us all was so truly represented in Dean; I found it easy to relate to at moments. They live their life. They live in the ‘boyish fearlessness , that ‘possibilities are endless’ mentality that is easily attained from being a white male and living in the United States (my inexperienced opinion). I personally like Dean because he is very expressive, he’s doesn’t give a damn about the way others perceive him; he answers his door naked, he runs around bars, he stands with his mouth gaping open, he tries it with women in public spaces, when he is happy he shouts and runs around, he smiles and licks his lips and rubs his belly. It took me a while to realize that this novel woke me up. In a sense, I would like to be more like Dean when I am happy. Everyone knows when he is happy, he doesn’t sensor his feelings to the situation. I find this important and an essential component of living a fulfilled life. I feel woken up, and hope others have as well.
I see myself in Sal as well; his introspectiveness, seeing things the way they are, yet just not caring enough about it to do anything, his acknowledgment of the wrongness in situations yet going along with it anyway, or going along with it purely for the excitement of it, is something that is a part of me as well. The kids are in their early 20s, like me, and this is the position where you are pressured to figure out what to do with your life. Their adventures across America, the meaningless jobs they pick up to support themselves, the crazy women who they hopelessly fall in love with, represent what they know of life. They make very dumb decisions sometimes, but they push their limits and boundaries to figure more out about the world, themselves, and their friends. I admire their impulsiveness because of its inability to be extracted from the learning process of life. They are bold, stupid sometimes, but living. They go traveling across their country with little means, often times having to borrow money or find a way to get what they need, for example washing dishes at a restaurant to get a free meal. They do what they can to get what they need, something every traveler can relate to. The controversy lies in the question, ‘when is it too much?’ But like I said before, they are learning through life, and early adulthood is when bad decisions should be made (and not repeated later in life).
“I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
Their stories about crossing states, meeting locals on the road and in the bars, getting into fights, listening to jazz, falling in love, feeling the urge to see old buddies again so going out of the way to do so, gives you a chance to mess around without having to lose your job. I longed to be with these dudes in the back of their car, speeding down the highway, squeezing against each other to let in another poor hitch hiking soul like us, getting fed up and deciding to spend the small amount of money left in our pockets on a couple of beers and forget the night. I found this novel to be a representative book for many people I know and for myself, in a less extreme way. Their life on the road and meeting people, seeing old friends, making new ones is where I am at in life right now. The story is enjoyable and made me feel like I was hanging out with old friends I used to have when I was younger, and I appreciate that. It was nice to spend some irresponsible time with them.
Kerouac’s writing style is informal and easy going. It feels like you are floating on his stream of consciousness along with him. His prose changes with the story’s mood and you can feel particularly moved when they are in a special moment, such as when they are standing with a beer, mouths hanging open and sweat eluding from their foreheads due to the intensity of the Jazz kings ripping pianos apart in their incredible passion and talent in city bars. Sometimes, we as humans of society are just looking for things (most of the time we don’t know what exactly) and running around with our heads cut off trying to find peace.
Sometimes, we need to go somewhere, get driven by someone else, see the world through new fresh eyes. Sometimes we need to get in trouble, sometimes we need to hit lows to reach highs. Sometimes, it is good to be on the road. My thanks go out to poor Kerouac who arguably had ‘strong schizoid trends’ which got him discharged from the military, and drank too much that he developed cirrhosis and died of an abdominal hemorrhage (there is a limit, I do not deny this!) Cheers to a great American author who defined the Beat Generation.
“The road is life.”