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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Get Your Read On!

    Title: On the Road (307 pages)

    Author: Jack Kerouac

    Published: 1955

    There are some books that you read on a whim and some that are always an item tucked away in the shadowy corners of your mental reading list. For a lot of people, On the Road is one of those latter works. It is, somehow, a staple of American literature, much like To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men. Jack Kerouac has a lot to offer with On the Road.

    As was the case with the book Crash, by J. G. Ballard that I reviewed last semester, we see a peculiar relationship between the narrator and the main object of his musings. If you will remember, I compared Crash to Fight Club. The comparison is extant here as well – Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter ego) is completely enthralled with the character Dean Moriarty. He possesses a wanderlust that is exacerbated, and satiated, by bumming around the country with Moriarty. He says ‘With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.’ Just like Tyler Durden, Moriarty seems to give Paradise the ability to live his life.

    The writing is very low-level. It is rudimentary and, at times, grainy. However, this only contributes to the gritty feel of the novel that readers have come to adore. Since Paradise spends most of the novel ‘on the road’ and homeless, it is fitting that he speak accordingly. He says things like, ‘It was as hot as the inside of a baker’s oven on a June night in New Orleans.’ Rather basic, with just a subtle reference to geography. There is no need for fanciful vocabulary or Socratic philosophical revelations. The plot of the novel sells itself easily, because it is so easy to relate to.

    If you’ve never even been excited about a road trip, this is probably not the book for you. It revolves around the specific desire to see the world and experience the possibilities that may or may not be out there for all of us. Paradise falls in love with several different women over the course of the narrative, all in different places of the country. Saying goodbye to Terry, a sweet Mexican girl, Paradise remembers, ‘Emotionlessly, she kissed me in the vineyard and walked off down the row. We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.’ While these affairs are generally ended in heartbreaking style, there is the constant promise of new experience in the next destination.

    On the Road is full of ups and downs, but instead of regretting anything that happens, Paradise simply rejoices in the opportunity to have experienced so much. His time on the road is not wasted – it teaches him more about himself than any other time in his life.

    There are also several other eccentric and genuinely lovable characters aside from Dean Moriarty. Carlo Marx, Old Bull Lee, and Ed Dunkel, not to mention the variety of women, are all prominent at one point in the story. They each have an individual view of the world, and while some share it more readily than others, the philosophy of each of these characters is indirectly discernible through their dialogues with others. Kerouac wants to offer the reader as many ways as possible to view his tale.

    If you want to travel, especially within the U.S., On the Road is almost essential for you to read. It’s short, and easy to digest, and it will keep you entertained for a week or so. Less, if you love it, which you just might.

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