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On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road is a book written by Jack Kerouac and published in 1957. The book follows a group of friends who take a road trip across the country and come in contact with some eccentric characters. The friends taking the road trip represent the youth as a whole in the United States of America in the 1950s. The carefree group bonds over their overarching disdain for the conformist lifestyle that was so encouraged at the time. This bonding was, in part, because WWII had just ended. Before the end of the war, young men knew that once they turned 18, they would be headed for the war. The parents of the characters in the book had their lives planned out for before and after the war. However, the war had ended and the young men in the book did not have a life paved for them. They needed to make a life for themselves, and they were attempting to do so by expressing themselves through writing. However, the group knew that they needed to do something to help figure out their true individual identities.
The main characters in the story are all based on people who Kerouac knew and respected. Sal (the narrator) is a young, aspiring writer who Kerouac based on himself. Sal hears of a man, Dean Moriarty, who is frenetic and hyper and “full of ideas” (Kerouac 15). Dean is based on the writer Neal Cassady. Cassady was the real genius behind the beat movement, of which the characters in On the Road were indisputably a part. After Dean and Sal meet, the two go out for a night on the town when they meet Sal’s friend Carlo Marx, a energetic young poet. He is based on Allen Ginsburg. Dean and Marx hit it off immediately and spend hours talking about poetry and society’s flaws. When the spring comes, Dean Marx, Sal and a few of their friends are ready for a road tip. The gang hits the road and encounters many hitchhikers whom they pick up in hopes that the hitchhikers will give the group gas money as compensation for the ride.
There are only two kinds of stories: there are stories where a stranger comes to town, and there are stories where someone goes on a journey. On the Road is a combination of the two. First, Dean Moriarty (a stranger) comes to town and makes a big impact on Sal’s life; he influences his writing style as well as his personal thinking style. The group then goes on a journey both physically and mentally. Their physical journey, obviously, is their road trip across the country. But furthermore, each character grows or progresses as individuals throughout the story. Not all characters remain in the group; some stay in other states or towns that they visit because they feel as if that town or state is where they belong. But Sal, Dean and Marx all eventually make it back to New York, where they all work on their writing individually.
The characters in On the Road are really the main focus of the story. Yes the group goes on a wild adventure, but the fact that the group is made up of young intellects is what makes the story a culmination and representation of the 50’s beatnik generation.





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