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On the Road Summary – Jack Kerouac

6 min read ⌚ 

On the Road PDFInterested in a ride across America?

Or four?

Well, then Join Jack Kerouac and head “On the Road.”

Who Should Read “On the Road”? And Why?

If you like to listen to Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and “The Doors,” if you like films such as “Easy Rider” or “Paris, Texas” – well, “On the Road” is probably where they all began.

“I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed,” wrote Ray Manzarek in his autobiography.

“It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s,” said Dylan.

Need we say more?

Jack KerouacJack Kerouac Biography

Jack Kerouac was an American author of French-Canadian descent, the central figure of the Beat generation.

A literary iconoclast, he is recognized for his spontaneous autobiographical prose and his interest in themes such as jazz, drugs, travel, sex, and spirituality.

“On the Road,” his most famous book, was adapted into a film in 2012.


Jack Kerouac couldn’t have chosen a better title for this one, because “On the Road” happens almost entirely, well, on the road.

And just like another novel written later (but summarized here before) – Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – it’s never only about traveling.

It’s also about music and poetry, sex and drug use, nonconformity and crushed dreams.

Another similarity between the books: both are romans à clef.

Meaning: the characters in this book have real-life counterparts. And most of the events really took place sometime between 1947 and 1950.

In fact, the original manuscript of the book – a 120-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets cut to size and taped together (written in three weeks!) – features all the real names of the people in this book.

You get zero points for guessing who Sal Paradise, the narrator of the novel, is. Dean Moriarty, his best friend and idol, is the alter ego of Neal Cassady.

So that you are able to effortlessly add faces to the names, we present you with a photograph of the two main guys of our story; the author, Jack Kerouac, is on the right.On the Road Summary

Part One

The novel begins with Sal telling us how his outlook on life was profoundly changed once he met Dean Moriarty, a guy “tremendously excited with life.”

It didn’t take long for him to develop a certain longing for the road and the type of freedom Dean represents:

Somewhere along the line I knew there would be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.

Inspired by Dean – once Dean leaves to his hometown of Denver – Sal decides to set out on a journey to meet up with his friends.

After taking several buses and hitchhiking along the way, he finally arrives in Denver, where, among others, he hooks up with Carlo Marx, which is Kerouac’s unsubtle designation for none other than Allan Ginsberg.

Next, he goes to San Francisco where he plans to live some time with Remi Boncoeur – an old friend of his – and his girlfriend, Lee Ann (Henri Cru and Dianne Orin). Remi finds Sal a job as a night watchman, but their relationship soon deteriorates.

And Sal hits the road again.

On the bus, he meets Terry, the “cutest little Mexican girl,” and stays with her for a while, working with her family in the cotton fields of Sabinal.

Realizing that he’s not made for that kind of work, Sal leaves Terry and goes to his Aunt’s house in Patterson, where he learns that he has just missed Dean, who had come to see him.

Part Two

Sal’s second journey begins when Dean visits him in Testament, Virginia, where Sal is celebrating Christmas with his relatives.

We learn that Dean has left his second wife, Camille (Carolyn Cassady), and their newborn, Amy, in San Francisco – which isn’t too difficult to deduce, since he shows up with another girl, Marylou (LuAnne Henderson).

Sal and Dean leave and go to New York, where they meet Carlo and where Dean wants Sal to make love to Marylou; Sal, however, declines.

Then they leave for New Orleans where they stay with Old Bull Lee (a morphine-addict) and his wife Jane, i.e., William S. Burroughs and Joan Vollmer.

After driving for some time through Texas and Arizona (stealing food and gasoline along the way), Sal, Dean, and Marylou reach San Francisco.

Once there, Dean leaves Marylou to be with his current wife, Camille.

Eventually, Dean and Sal meet up once again, until the drinking and the nightclubbing wears Sal down, and so he decides to return to New York.

Part Three

A few months later, Sal takes a bus from New York to Denver. He misses his friends, so once he receives some money, he leaves Denver for San Francisco once more.

There, Dean is futilely struggling to start a new, more domestic type of life.

He’s even less successful once Sal shows up.

So, unsurprisingly, the pregnant Camille throws Sal and Dean out. Sal invites his friend to go with him to New York; the plan is to travel to Italy afterward.

On the way to Sacramento, Sal and Dean meet a “fag,” and Dean tries to swindle some money out of him.

Eventually, after a few ecstatic discussions about “It” and “Time,” Dean and Sal end up in Denver, where Dean’s lust for young girls almost gets him shot.

To make matters even worse, Dean steals the car of a police detective, and the two realize that they need to leave Denver asap.

They get a 1947 Cadillac that needs to be brought to Chicago – and, thanks to Dean’s wild driving, they manage to reach Chicago in seventeen hours!

Needless to add, the car is not in good condition.

From Chicago, they move to Detroit where Dean expresses his hope to find his homeless father, Old Dean Moriarty.

From Detroit, they share a ride to New York, where Dean meets another girl – Inez – and gets her pregnant as well.

Part Four

In the spring of 1950, Dean is living with Inez and working as a parking lot attendant in Manhattan, drinking and smoking pot a lot.

So, basically what he was doing before – only now with a different girl.

Sal leaves him in New York and sets on this fourth and final trip alone.

Eventually, he reaches Denver, where he meets Stan Shephard.

The two plan to go to Mexico City when, suddenly, they learn that Dean has spent the last of his savings to buy a ’37 Ford Sedan.

Needless to add – he joins them.

Once they cross the border, the three have a feeling as if they are in some kind of a Beat Paradise: there’s cannabis all around, the people are friendlier, their money buys more, and the police doesn’t seem to care about anything.

And to top things off – the landscape is magnificent.

In Gregoria, they meet Victor, a local kid, who gives them drugs and leads them to a bordello. There, the three guys have sex with underage girls – and for very little money, mind you!

However, Sal gets sick with dysentery and is “delirious and unconscious.” Dean does what a Dean would do if you knew him in reality: he leaves Sal there.

For some reason, Sal has an explanation:

when I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

On the Road Epilogue

Part Five

Sal returns to New York, where he finds that Dean first married Inez and then divorced her to go back to Camille in San Francisco.

What a surprise!

(And, really, what kind of a heart does Camille have?)

Sal meets a girl named Laura – actually Joan Haverty and, for one year, Kerouac – and plans to move with her to San Francisco.

He writes Dean, who says he’s willing to come to New York and accompany the couple back to San Francisco.

Dean arrives in New York about a month early – at a time when Sal doesn’t have the money to relocate to San Francisco.

Once he hears this, Dean decides to go back alone to Camille – and that’s the last time Sal ever sees Dean.

As the novel closes, Sal sits on a riverbank under the New Jersey night sky and thinks about everything he was privileged to see, and, mostly, about Dean Moriarty.

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“On the Road PDF Quotes”

My aunt once said that the world would never find peace until men fell at their women's feet and asked for forgiveness. Click To Tweet

We agreed to love each other madly. Click To Tweet

I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future. Click To Tweet

I just won't sleep, I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do. Click To Tweet

Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“On the Road” defined a whole generation – the Beat Generation, to be more exact. And when a literary work does that, it speaks in the language of millions.

And at least as many should read it.

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