America is one of my favourite places but, coronavirus pending, I haven’t been able to visit it for almost a year now. As a result, I’ve turned more and more to American literature to relive my own travels.
One of the best things I’ve read on this mission is Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The novel follows Sal Paradise, a young writer, and his friends as they travel across the US in the late 40s and early 50s. The book is hailed as an artefact of the post-war Beat and Counterculture generations in the US that were prevalent during this time, featuring strong themes of drug use and jazz. A funny mixture of fiction and non-fiction, the novel features a lot of infamous figures from the Beat movement. Dean Moriarty – whose free-spirited Western attitude turns the world of Sal upside down – is modelled on Neal Cassidy, a prominent figure of the period.
Split into five parts, the narrative traces the travels of the group across the US, and you can’t help but be enthralled by their easy-going attitude. It’s an extremely refreshing far cry from the corona-ridden environment of today. The recklessness and apparent randomness of the journey follows characters in and out of jail, travelling back and forth across the country through bus journeys, hitchhikes, and stops along the way. They move between New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, the South, Denver, Mexico, and more.
This constant movement doesn’t stop with the geography of the novel but extends also to the characters. There is a constant flow of exuberant personas who influence one another’s personal development. As such, we follow Sal’s journey, starting as an enfeebled and worn-out man who slowly gains confidence and happiness as he and Dean get to know each other more.
Kerouac’s fluctuating and enthralling narrative conceives a world that is far removed from the restrictions we have all come to know. The free-spirited nature of the characters and their ability to move across space and time is something that we all crave right now. Kerouac’s novel is a refreshing opportunity to travel through the mind of him and his characters. Maybe one day I can go back and realise the road trip (in a slightly more legal and less drug-fuelled way) myself.
To finish, here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the novel:
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies”
“Because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars”
“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”
Featured image by Yaroslav Shuraev via Pexels.