On the Road is a semi autobiographical novel about Jack Kerouac’s travels through America. Set in 1947 the novel documents the travels of Sal Paradise with his friend Dean on a quest of self-knowledge and life experiences. This novel is often considered as the definitive ideal of the Beat generation and living life postwar. The Beat movement is a cultural movement which rejected a normal life for a bohemian lifestyle; this movement inspired jazz, poetry and literature. The non-conformity and spontaneous creativity as well as experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities and interest in Eastern religions lead to the hippy movement in the 1960’s even though there are many differences.
On the Road is a novel of friendship, not just between Sal and Dean but the people that come and go from your life. Hitchhiking through America gives an opportunity to see this quickly; Sal meets new people all the time and just like that they are gone from his life; their impact on Sal may very but it really is a good way to show the effects people have without having to scratch a story over a few years. Then there is the friendship between Sal and Dean, it’s clear to me that Sal is idolising his friend and his need to be just like him is really not helping him to grow. Sal does grow through the book but it never feels like Dean has, this really changes the dynamic of their friendship as the book goes on.
This is also a book on the ideals of the beatniks; they are young and wanting to experience life, learn from their experiences. But underneath it all Sal feels unhappy. Either alone, in a relationship or just having casual hook-ups, Sal is never content. The only time I ever feel like Sal is enjoying himself is when he is having intellectual conversations, but he never really works out how to channel that passion to make his life mean something, I did think he would find contentment in writing but he never really does. The characters feel they should learn from life instead of books and this leads more to sex, substance abuse and even madness seem to be the end results of their experiences rather than knowledge.
While some might think this is a rather boring novel, I tend to think there is so much in the book worth exploring. I like the style and feel of this book, it reminds me of dirty realism and the quest for knowledge and satisfaction in life really hit home for me. My past experiences are nothing like those of Sal or Kerouac’s but there is something so real and raw about this book that I enjoyed. Overall it was interesting to read the book as a manifesto to the beat generation.