On the road by Jack Kerouac



On the road by Jack Kerouac ISBN: 978-0143120285, Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 20, 2012)

Plot Summary:

When Sal first meets Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), he is attracted at once to his level of energy and enthusiasm for life. Dean is described as a jailkid who had “spent a third of his time in the poolhall, a third in jail, and a third in the public library.” Dean is intelligent, but different from Sal’s other, more polished intellectual friends. Dean wants to learn how to write and about Nietzsche and other such topics but does not know the jargon and so often sounds nonsensical and rambling. Sal also describes Dean as a conman who is using him but that he is okay with it. The two undertake a series of trips in search of new experiences and in search of America. As the story progresses Dean’s selfishness becomes more and more evident and culminates in Dean’s leaving Sal stranded in Mexico City, sick with dysentery.

Critical Evaluation: 

Jack Kerouac’s style of writing that he called spontaneous prose – writing with very little revision in order to arrive at the raw truth – is immediately engaging. The story is related in a rambling way that is reminiscent of a letter or a conversation. Kerouac’s characters also feel very real because they are real, as are many of the experiences. Sal’s journey is his journey. One of the biggest themes of the book is the search for a deeper meaning in life. Sal and Dean travel across America seeking kicks, but also seeking a kind of spiritual enlightenment. By the end of the book, the theme of coming to terms with responsibility is also apparent. Sal is ready for commitments that constrain his personal freedom; in essence, he is ready to grow up. Dean, however, chooses to remain a child, never taking his commitments seriously and thinking only of himself.

Information about the author:

Born Jean-Louis Kerouac, Kerouac is the most famous native son of Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents had immigrated as very young children from the Province of Quebec, Canada, and Kerouac spoke a local French Canadian-American dialect before he spoke English. He was a football star at Lowell High School and upon graduation in 1939 was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University. However, after an injury sidelined him on the football team, Kerouac grew unhappy with Columbia and dropped out of school. During this period in New York City, Kerouac became friends with the poet Allen Ginsberg and the novelist William S. Burroughs, as well as Herbert Huncke and others who would be associated with the “Beat Generation.”

During World War II, he briefly joined the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy, and after the war, in 1947, he met Neal Cassady, with whom he would in the late 1940s begin crisscrossing the country by automobile.

Kerouac wrote his first novel, “The Town and the City,” about his struggle to balance the expectations of his family with his unconventional life, which was published in 1950 with Ginsberg’s help. Kerouac took several cross-country trips with Cassady during this time, which became the basis for his most famous work, “On The Road.” The manuscript – presented to his editor on a single, unbroken roll of paper, the scroll that was later exhibited to record crowds in Lowell – was rejected and six years would pass before it was published in 1957. In the years in between, Kerouac followed Ginsberg and Cassady to San Francisco and the term “Beat Generation,” which Kerouac coined, gained popularity. When Kerouac finally broke through with the release of “On The Road, he was faced with challenges presented by the fame that followed as he tried to live up to the image portrayed in his novels and facing criticism from the literary establishment for being part of what was considered a fad. He would go on to publish additional novels, many of which used settings based on Lowell – including “Doctor Sax,” “The Subterraneans,” “The Dharma Bums” and his final great work, “Big Sur.” He settled in Florida with his wife, Stella Sampas, and his mother, where he died in 1969 at age 47. He was buried in Lowell.

Reader’s Annotation:

Based on Kerouac’s road trips with Neal Cassady in the late Forties, On The Road is a story about the search for meaning and while it is known as the defining book of the Beat Generation, it has remained relevant to every generation since then. 


Realistic fiction. Autobiographical. Counterculture/beat generation literature. Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

American history.

Booktalking Ideas:

This the book that started it all

Reading Level/Interest Age:


Challenge Issues:

Language, sexual situations, alcohol, sex, drugs.

I would make sure that all material was purchased in accordance with my library’s collection development policy and make sure to keep a file containing positive reviews for books that I thought might be challenged. In the event of a challenge, I would actively listen to the parent’s concern and ask if they had read the book. I would then explain why the book had been added to the collection and provide with the reviews and a copy of the collection development policy. I would affirm that they are within their rights to limit what their children read, but that other parents also have the right to determine what their children can read. If all else failed, I would provide the parent with a reconsideration form.

Reasons for inclusion:

Though this book may not be appropriate for all teens, advanced thinkers may benefit from a book was such a key factor in American counterculture movement.


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