Loren’s conclusions

I started out this week hoping that On the Road would become one of my favorite novels of the 20th Century. It hasn’t. In fact, I found that I prefer Dharma Bums, the only other book I’ve read by Kerouac, to On the Road. The two works are written in a very similar style, and both focus on the narrator’s relationship to another person. In my opinion, Japhy is more interesting than Moriarity, and that makes the difference between the two books. My biggest objection to On the Road, though, is that I learned too little about either of the main characters. I wanted to know more about both Dean and Sal. I’ve met too many “Dean’s” in my teaching career, and I would have loved to gain more insight into their character. I didn’t, though. Nor did I identify with, or find much to admire, in either of the characters. Simply put, I’m relieved I haven’t lived my life the way they did, especially since I’d be dead by now.

I’ve never really wanted to live “on the road,” but if I were attracted to that life the television series Route 66 would have been much more likely to have drawn me to this kind of life. It offered a much more romantic, though probably less realistic view, of life on the road.

The biggest problem for me, though, is simply that there are better books out there than Kerouac’s On the Road. Hemingway does a better job of describing a lost generation, and at least he offered his Code as an alternative to the values that his generation has lost. As far as I can tell, Kerouac offers no such alternative, though I looked for it throughout the novel. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is a more shocking, and raunchy, novel, and, stylistically, Miller is a probably a better writer than Kerouac. Catch-22 does a better job of attacking and destroying American culture than On the Road ever does, if you’re looking for a counter-culture statement.

I asked Jeff Ward of Visible Darkness to offer another perspective on Kerouac, and he’s done an excellent job of providing an alternative perspective in Spirit of the Age 3/02/02. Great stuff, take a look.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up reading The Beats. It’s an important literary phenomena that I’m sorry I missed. I just bought Kerouac’s some of the dharma, which focuses on his studies of zen Buddhism. In fact, it appears it could serve as the basis of an awesome blog, following a very similar format. I also plan on reading Big Sur which Pagecount suggested was his favorite Kerouac work.

Diane’s going on vacation for a month, but when she comes back we will resume examining the beat poets by looking at Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others.

Diane’s Conclusions

Some glimpses through sixty year old eyes—

This novel was read by young people in the 50s and should have served as a warning more than as an inspiration to lead a counter-culture life style. I know now I gave it a very superficial reading in 1959 and dug through only one level of the book.

To me now, the two main characters Dean and Sal appear as two broken halves that will never make a complete and positive friendship. Dean comes by his misery legitimately as the son of an alcoholic out-of-work father, but Sal is middle class and semi- educated. Their lives deteriorate rapidly when the two are together. Sal wants Dean to have the answers to life’s difficult questions, and he may, but his frantic searching to communicate his understanding defeats him.

Too, there is way too much drug use and disrespect for women. I know I’m tipping my hand when I say these guys need education, a job, a family, stability–exactly the things they abhor even though I think that’s what they are seeking, they just haven’t identified it as IT. The unanswered question remains, Is it possible to lead a productive, compassionate life, caring for a family and friends and be happy? The boys seem to say no; I say yes.

Or think of this: Perhaps they could become true mystics, in which case they must remove themselves from the world they have created.

By the end of the novel Sal is well aware of how destructive his way of life is. He just hasn’t found a better way. Should there be an alternate alternative life style?

In real life neither man, Neal Cassady or Jack Kerouac found IT. Both died in their 40s in alcoholic hazes.

Their legacy was the recounting of their struggle to make sense of life, to find purity. Sadly most of us don’t come close to IT on earth; sadly neither did they.

Maybe that’s the point: there is no answer, no IT, no salvation at the end of earthly road. As Sal says “The road is life.”

A word about Sal’s last name which may make this whole novel clear. Try this. In the beginning of the book Sal says we will all find paradise but only after death. Sal Paradise is then the pilgrim, the everyman who searches for his name on earth, a search that will continue all of his life, and he will find what he is searching for only when he dies. Remember Kerouac was raised a Catholic. This makes the whole novel an allegory more akin to Pilgrim’s Progress than a book about counter-culture living.

Shoot me if you want to.

There are a lot of Kerouac and Beat sources on the net:

Jack Kerouac at the Blue Neon Alley is a great source of information.

Atlantic has an interesting article on Kerouac

Another Atlantic essay.

The Neal Cassidy Experience

On the Road : Part Four:

Part Four begins, and ends, almost exactly the same as the previous three parts, though we do learn a little more about the characters as The Wheel turns:

This was exactly what he had been doing with Camille in Frisco on the other side of the continent. The same battered trunk stuck out from under the bed, ready to fly. Inez called up Camille on the phone repeatedly and had long talks with her; they even talked about his joint, or so Dean claimed. They exchanged letters about Dean’s eccentricities. Of course he had to send ‘ Camille part of his pay every month for support or he’d wind up in the workhouse for six months. To make up lost money he pulled tricks in the lot, a change artist of the first order.

Surprise, surprise, Dean hasn’t changed. Is anybody beside Sal surprised?

At least Sal’s aunt isn’t surprised. In fact, she probably understands why Dean is the way he is and wants him to find a way to keep the wheel from turning once again:

We had a big supper. "Well, Dean," said my aunt, "I hope you’ll be able to take care of your new baby that’s coming and stay married this time."
"Yes, yass, yes."
"You can’t go all over the country having babies like that. Those poor little things’ll grow up helpless. You’ve got to offer them a chance to live." He looked at his feet and nodded.

Dean probably looks down on his feet because he realizes he’s doing exactly the same thing to his children that his parents did to him. He has grown up “helpless;” and unless he changes his children will grow up helpless.

Later, Sal meets a young fresh out of prison and makes the following observation:

He was on his way to live with his brother and sister-in-law; they had a job for him in Colorado. His ticket was bought by the feds, his destination the parole. Here was a young kid like Dean had been; his blood boiled too much for him to bear; his nose opened up; but no native strange saintliness to save him from the iron fate.

Sal, at least, seems to realize that what saves Dean is his “native strange saintliness,” whatever exactly that refers to. Perhaps it is really his drive, his sheer energy, and his audacity that most impresses people. Dean seems brazen enough to do what others only dream of doing, and others go along with him for the ride.

Unlike the east-west trips in the previous three sections, this trip goes from Colorado to Mexico, because Dean is looking for a quick Mexican divorce:

I couldn’t imagine this trip. It was the most fabulous of all. It was no longer east-west, but magic south. We saw a vision of the entire Western Hemisphere rockribbing clear down to Tierra del Fuego and us flying down the curve of the world into other tropics and other worlds. "Man, this will finally take us to IT!" said Dean with definite faith. He tapped my arm. "Just wait and see. Hoo! Whee!"

And, sure enough, the trip does seem to be taking them to new heights, or is that highs? Surely this must be IT!

After smoking unusually large, and apparently powerful, marijuana joints, they have a new vision:

Then the strangest thing happened. Everybody became so high that usual formalities were dispensed with and the things of immediate interest were concentrated on, and now it was the strangeness of Americans and Mexicans blasting together on the desert and, more than that, the strangeness of seeing in close proximity the faces and pores of skins and calluses of fingers and general abashed cheekbones of another world.

While still in this lightened state, they gaze upon the son of the man taking them to the house of prostitution and a have a new vision, perhaps a truer one:

We all wished we had a little son like that. So great was our intensity over the child’s soul that he sensed something and began a grimace which led to bitter tears and some unknown sorrow that we had no means to soothe because it reached too far back into innumerable mysteries and time.

Is this the “unknown sorrow” that the Americans have inflicted on the Mexican people, or is it the sorrow that pervades Dean and Sal’s lives?

Later, we get a very unusual glimpse into Dean’s generous side:

One particularly soulful child gripped at Dean’s sweaty arm. She yammered in Indian. "Ah yes, ah yes, dear one," said Dean tenderly and almost sadly. He got out of the car and went fishing around in the battered trunk in the back-the same old tortured American trunk-and pulled out a wristwatch. He showed it to the child. She whimpered with glee. The others crowded around with amazement. Then Dean poked in the little girl’s hand for "the sweetest and purest and smallest crystal she has personally picked from the mountain for me." He found one no bigger than a berry. And he handed her the wristwatch dangling.

Is Dean, at least while high, reminded by this child of his own childhood? Does he wish someone had shown him the same generosity? Or, does it reveal a generosity that hasn’t been shown before?

One final vision awaits our travelers:

Now Dean was sleeping and Stan driving. The shepherds appeared, dressed as in first times, in long flowing robes, the women carrying golden bundles of flax, the men staves. Under great trees on the shimmering desert the shepherds sat and convened, and the sheep moiled in the sun and raised dust beyond. "Man, man," I yelled to Dean, "wake up and see the shepherds, wake up and see the golden world that Jesus came from, with your own eyes you can tell!"

He shot his head up from the seat, saw one glimpse of it all in the fading red sun, and dropped back to steep. When he woke up he described it to me in detail and said, "Yes, man, I’m glad you told me to look. Oh, Lord, what shall I do? Where will I go?" He rubbed his belly, he looked to heaven with red eyes, he almost wept.

This seems like a totally unexpected vision, but perhaps it the vision you should expect from someone raised by a strict Catholic mother and sent to Catholic schools for many years? The trouble is that as a reader I don’t know what to do with it, have no context to interpret it.

Perhaps this strange ending might have been the most appropriate ending for a strange novel, but the real ending is much more predictable:

Then I got fever and became delirious and unconscious. Dysentery. I looked up out of the dark swirl of my mind and I knew I was on a bed eight thousand feet above sea level, on a roof of the world, and I knew that I had lived a whole life and many others in the poor atomistic husk of my flesh, and I had all the dreams. And I saw Dean bending over the kitchen table. It was several nights later and he was leaving Mexico City already. "What you doin, man?" I moaned.

"Poor Sal, poor Sal, got sick. Stan’ll take care of you. Now listen to hear if you can in your sickness: I got my divorce from Camille down here and I’m driving back to Inez in New York tonight if the car holds out."

"All that again?" I cried.

"All that again, good buddy. Gotta get back to my life. Wish I could stay with you. Pray I can come back."

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. "Okay, old Dean, I’ll say nothing."

Dean remains true to himself. The Wheel is simply on its fourth revolution, and Sal is once more at the bottom of the wheel.

In the next scene, though, The Wheel is on the rise, and it’s Sal that can look down:

So Dean couldn’t ride uptown with us and the only thing I could do was sit in the back of the Cadillac and wave at him. The bookie at the wheel also wanted nothing to do with Dean. Dean, ragged in a motheaten overcoat he brought specially for the freezing temperatures of the East, walked off alone, and the last I saw of him he rounded the corner of Seventh Avenue, eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again. Poor little Laura, my baby, to whom I’d told everything about Dean, began almost to cry.

"Oh, we shouldn’t let him go like this. What’ll we do?"

The continuation of the old themes

Sal has sold a book and has money now, but by the end of the novel the money will be gone, and moving back to San Francisco with Laura, his love, will not be possible. The search for meaning in Sal’s life continues.

The Quest

With the book money, Sal “Straightens out my aunt with rent” and for the first time leaves Dean in New York, but even Dean says “the mere thought of crossing that awful continent again…”

Dean is also gathering his family to him. He will send money to his dad in Seattle to come live in New York. He is searching for his sister to come to New York also. The end of the road is near. Snapshots of the themselves elicit this response.

Snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, or actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance.

Later we find Sal is off to Mexico via Denver where he meets Stan Shephard, a Denver boy with a big con-man smile. Then word reaches Sal that Dean is coming to join them, Dean “a burning shuddering frightful Angel” who Sal knows has “gone mad again.”

It was like the imminent arrival of Gargantua; preparations had

to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten

certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies.

The remaining days spent in Denver are filled with parties, drunkenness, references to Dean’s madness.

Ah, Mexico. “It was no longer east-west, but magic south…Man, this will finally take us to IT!”

On the way Stan is bitten by a bug that causes his arm to swell so badly he must go to the hospital. Continuing on the three men tell their stories, “O sad American night!”

They drive through Texas, checking out San Antonio then across the border into Laredo, deeper into Mexico toward Mexico City.

There is something allegorical about this trip which makes it different from the other road trips in the novel. They are going down, down, down into the jungles of Mexico. The landscape is mysterious, filled with unknown things; the people walking along the road are small, dark, s ilent. At one point they drive through the jungle at night without headlights and Sal sleeps on top of the car to escape the heat. “I realized the jungle takes you over and you become it…The atmosphere and I became the same.”

During the night a “wild horse, white as a ghost” trots down the road, easily side stepping Dean who is sleeping there. “What was this horse? What myth and ghost, what spirit?” asks Sal. No answer, and I can’t tell you either.

But just about the time I think there will be some revelation, Dean, Sal, and Stan meet Victor, a Mexican who provides them with marijuana and girls and a party at an old canteen. Victor in his poverty, however, stays home when Sal offers to take Victor back to the States. “I got wife and kid–ain’t got a money–I see.” Victor is his undesirable state instinctively knows better than to run to find IT.

In Mexico City Sal pick s up dysentery with fever and is delirious and unconscious, and Dean leaves him! “I got my divorce from Camille down here and I’m driving back to Inez in New York tonight if the car holds out…Gotta get back to my life. Wish I could stay with you. Pray I can come back.

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. ‘Okay, old Dean, I’ll say nothing.

Dean has managed to skate through life so far, paying very few consequences for his actions which allows him to continue his corrupting behavior. If Sal would shun him, if all Dean’s women would leave him, perhaps he would get the message, change or die. At least Sal and a lot of women would be happier.

Dean does get back to New York, marries Inez, then he jumps on a bus, travels to San Francisco to be with Camille and their two baby girls. So now Dean has been married three times, divorced twice, fathered four children and is living with his second wife. The man is 24 years old.

Sal recovers and returns to New York. On the way he meets an old man with flowing white hair who says, clomping down the road, “Go moan for man,” Sal immediately questions himself: does that mean I should continue my pilgrimage on foot? This to me is a gigantic leap to a conclusion. I don’t see that in the old man’s statement at all.

Sal writes to Dean that he and his girl, Laura, are returning to San Francisco. Dean says he will come get them on the train–he has a pass because he works for the railroad again– in six weeks and arrives 5 1/2 weeks early.

The last time Sal sees Dean in New York Dean can’t talk any more and says nothing. No explanation is made. Remi has tickets to hear Duke Ellington at the Metropolitan Opera and wants Sal and Laura to go. Sal wants Remi to take Dean also, and Remi refuses. So Dean walks off alone. Sal is not certain why Dean came to New York in the first place except to see him. The nove l ends with

nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.


Sal never seems to get what he really wants at any time–even in a Mexican canteen that readily supplies whores. He wishes to be with one young girl who is attractive to him but he sees her mother and and was “too ashamed to try.” Instead Sal goes with another who clings to him like a leech.


When Dean is living with Inez, they plan to move to Pennsylvania, live on a farm and have lots of kids. Inez smiles a lot and cooks, probably a good woman for Dean. She has told him she loves him and has promised him he can do anything with a minimum of trouble. Makes you wonder how well she knows him.

Inez talks to Camille and they discuss Dean.

At the end of the novel, back in New York, Sal finds “the girl with the pure and innocent dear eyes that I had always searched for and for so long. We agreed to love each other madly.” Their plans are to return to San Francisco in the winter.

Dean wants to gather Inez and the babies and take them back to San Francisco to live across town from Camille, their children and him, but Inez throws him out. Camille writes a letter in care of Sal, hoping Dean will return to her safely.” Dear Dean, its the end of the first half of the century. Welcome with love and kisses to spend the other half with us. We all wait for you .[Signed] Camille, Amy, and Little Joanie.” “So Dean’s life was settled with his most constant, most embittered and best-knowing wife Camille, and I thanked God for him.”

East versus West

East to West and back again becomes a journey south into the mysteries of Mexico.

Youthful Exuberance

Has been replaced with a sadness over growing old, “the forlorn rags of growing old,” anticipating becoming bums if that’s what they want to do.

The Beat Generation

There is no diminishing of drug use, a perceived staple of the Beat Generation. Dean enjoys his water pipe loaded with tea each evening as he listens to ball games on the radio.

The boys are delighted to play music, another perceived necessity of the Beats, as loudly as they wish in Mexico, something they have not felt they could do in the States. It’s about the only thing they haven’t done in the States.


It’s hard to remember these guys are still in their 20s, but then they have lived hard lives. Maybe they truly do feel themselves growing old. “You see, man, you get older and troubles pile up. Someday you and me’ll be coming down an alley together at sun down and looking in cans to see.”

“You mean we’ll end up old bums?”

Why not, man? Of course we will if we want to, and all that.

There’s no harm ending that way. You spend a whole life

of non-interference with the wishes of others, including politicians

and the rich, and no body bothers you and you cut along

and make it your own way.”…I’ve decided to leave everything

out of my hands. You’ve seen me try and break my ass

to make it and you know that it doesn’t matter and we know time–

how to slow it up and walk and dig and just old-fashioned spade kicks,

what other kicks are there?”

Enlightenment from direct, intuitive insights

Zen Buddhism?

Buddhist philosophy is not so apparent in this novel. I understand it appears in Dharma Bums, published in 1958, but Sal does express his oneness with nature in Mexico, his feeling for all races.


One of the more thoughtful passages in the book connects mankind around the world. The thought is prompted by Indians the boys pass on the road in Mexico:

The Fellahin Indians of the world, the essential strain of the basic primitive, wailing humanity that stretches in a belt around the equatorial belly of the world from Malaya…to India the great subcontinent to Arabia to Morocco to the selfsame deserts and jungles of Mexico and over the waves to Polynesia to mystic Siam …and on around,on around, so that you hear the same mournful wail by the rotted walls of Cadiz, Spain, that you hear 12,000 miles around in the depths of Benares the Capital of the World…The waves are Chinese,but the earth is an Indian thing. As essential as rocks in the desert are they in the desert of ‘history.’”


Sentences and paragraphs are just as long, but there is a clarity to Kerouac’s work. His style supports his subject.

Diane McCormick

Part Three : The Continuation of Old Themes:

::Thursday , February 28, 2002::

:: :

Part III marks a change in the pace and philosophy of the novel as Sal decides Middle America is where he will find what he has been seeking. He goes to Denver to settle down and become a “patriarch” which I find a very stunning departure from his early ramblings. Becoming a patriarch is a new one.

The Quest

But no one is in Denver. “I was lonesome. Nobody was there.”

Soon he is on his way back to San Francisco, knocking on Dean’s door at 2 a.m. “You’ve finally come to me,” Dean says. Dean is with Camille this time and Sal hears her sobbing upstairs. He thinks of his “arrival somewhat like the coming of the strange most evil angel.” Camille knows the two men together will push Dean into madness again.

After a few days together, Sal realizes it was up to him to save Dean. “The devil himself had never fallen farther.” “Let’s walk to New York,” Dean says, sounding like the old Dean only crazier. Sal suggests after New York they could go to Italy. Sal also realizes Dean is very needy now–maybe always has been, but up to now he was more fun than baggage. “I’d never committed myself before with regard to his burdensome existence.” Now he has, but he will not abandon his friend. “It was probably the pivotal point of our friendship when he realized I had actually spent some hours thinking about him and his troubles.” Sal finishes with the revelation that they are ”two broken-down heroes of the Western night.” Even so they will stick together and will “be buddies” till they die.

A word here about a unique form of travel these two have used. Apparently in the 50s it was possible to drop by certain travel bureaus in the big cities of America and pick up share-the-gas-cars, driving to certain destinations with other travelers. Sal and Dean have used this form of transportation frequently.

On the road again Dean reveals m ore about his alcoholic dad whom he has searched for off and on throughout the story. He talks of making and selling flyswatters in Nebraska, and watching, huddled and crying in the background, as his dad drinks up the profits in a five day binge.

Sal and Dean become so excited retelling their life stories that the car rocks. “Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our life…we know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE.” I wish I knew more about IT, but I sense a breakthrough as Dean continues, watching the driver of the car

Now you just dig them in front. They have worries they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there–and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry an d betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won’t be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it , which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end.

The road is life, Sal says.

In Denver Sal and Dean argue in the men’s room over growing old and Dean leaves his dinner, steps outside and cries, he says. Sal doesn’t believe him. “You don’t die enough to cry.”

Everyone of these things I said was a knife at myself.

Everything I had ever secretly held against my brother (Kerouac’s

brother died at the age of nine.) was coming out: how ugly I was and

what filth I was discovering in the depths of my own impure

psychologies…You know I don’t have close relationships

with anybody any more–I don’t know what to do with these

things. I hold things in my hand like pieces of crap and don’t

know where to put it down.

The holy con-man began to eat. “Its not my fault! It’s not my fault!…Nothing in this lousy world is my fault, don’t you see that I don’t want it to be and it can’t be and it wont’ be.

Once again the boys link up with strangers, this time a family from Oklahoma (Okies), party, act crazy, chase women, and for a few days destroy the peace; then they must move on. In Denver Dean connects with a cousin who only wants Dean to sign papers, stating he and his dad will stay away from the family. Dean is truly alone, attached only to Sal.

At the travel bureau they pick up a 1947 Cadillac to get them to Chicago along with other passengers. Dean’s crazy driving scares everyone again and the boys in the back seat ask Sal “Is he your brother?” Sal replies, “He’s mad…and yes, he’s my brother.” The two men do seem to have become two parts of a whole they find equally untenable.

Dean relates more about his life, how he met Marylou, and his search for his dad.

As they approach Chicago, Sal recounts they had driven from Denver to Chicago with a side trip in east Colorado, 1180 miles in 17 hours, an average of 70 miles an hour. Remember this is 1949.

From Chicago to Detroit they take a bus.

In Detroit, ragged and dirty, Dean and Sal spend the night in an all night theatre, watching, listening to, dreaming of a Western that replays six times, “the strange Gray Myth of the West” an appropriate movie for these two who once thought IT was located in the West. Could we substitute Gatsby’s Green light here? Sal has one terrific nightmare in which he sees himself wrapped around a toilet bowl asleep. During the night hundreds of seamen (the time of his dream is during W.W.II come “cast their sentient debouchements” on him till he is covered. His Conclusion? “What difference does it make after all?–anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what’s heaven? what’s earth? All in the min -d.”

In New York, Dean and Sal move in with Sal’s aunt who has had enough of Dean. She says “Dean can stay here a few days and after that he has to get out, do you understand me?” I should have kept track of how many women want to keep these two separated for everyone’s good. It reminds me of keeping two kids apart on the playground or in the classroom. Sal realizes the trip is over.

Incredibly five days later at a party Sal introduces Dean to Inez, and they begin the long distance calls to Camille, asking for a divorce so he can mar +ry her. The decision is made to go to Mexico to obtain the divorce because it will be quicker. A few months later Camille gives birth to a second baby, and a few months later Inez has a baby. At the end of Part III Sal tallies up. Dean has fathered four children and has “not a cent.” Needless to say, the trip to Italy is off.


Through sexual innuendo in an encounter with a homosexual, Dean becomes wise. The implication is in order to raise some money Dean confronts a homosexual (fag) in the story. (This has always been a derogatory word to me, and I believe it was in the 50s if I remember correctly–I don’t use the word myself. The only time Dean and Sal appear judgmental at all is when they meet a homosexual. Biographers mention Neal Cassady’s affair with Allen Ginsberg in between his hetero sexual affairs, and some hint at Kerouac’s homosexual encounters.) The homosexual backs off nervously apparently fearful Dean will now steal from him, but Dean comments as he has earlier in the story, “You see, man, it’s better not to bother. Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.” A theory I would have to test further, but it sounds like it would be true more often than not.


While Dean has been living with Camille, he has probably driven her mad. She cries and throws tantrums when Sal shows up at their door. Add this fact also. Dean has gone crazy over Marylou, following her around San Francisco watching her with other men.

Dean returns to Marylou I suppose because he still loves her, but he also wants “absolute proof that she was a whore.” Wow–Love is a dual, isn’t it, as Sal has already determined.

Under the influence of “bad tea, Dean runs to Marylou to share the stuff with her. He also takes a gun “I knew I loved her so much I wanted to kill her.” Later he gives her the gun and tells her to kill him. Their love has nearly destroyed them, and Marylou finally marries a used car dealer . But Dean carries a memento of his final days with Marylou, a badly damaged thumb he has broken when he struck her. I hate it when English majors make too much of the events in stories, turning them into heavy symbols, but the broken thumb which, poorly treated develops osteomyelitis, becomes a visible symbol of how Dean has changed. Sal says

“That thumb became the symbol of Dean’s final development.

He no longer cared about anything (as before) but now he also cared v

about everything in principle; that is to say, it was all the same to him

and he belonged to the world and there was nothing he could do about it.

Dean, I think, finally must pay a consequence for his actions and suffers from a wound just like anyone else.

Dean returns to Camille and goes to work at Firestone, but Camille throws both of the men out.

This is the moment Sal comes to realize that "all these women were spending months of loneliness and womanliness together, chatting about the madness of the men.” Hmmm, is Sal beginning to think about the feelings of others? I wonder.

Sal finds the woman he loves agai n after Dean has driven the car into the ditch on his way to Chicago. She is a young girl, standing in a field , watching her father pull the car out with a tractor. Sal calls her is “prairie angel “I’d give up everything and throw myself on her mercy and if she didn’t want me I’d just as simply go and throw myself off the edge of the world.” He doesn’t even speak to her.

East versus West

Interest in getting to either coast seems blunted now. The cross country trips seem to be more duty than desire. Sal even tries Denver, thinking that is the place for him. Chicago and Detroit are also major stops on the road. Middle America exerts its influence.

Youthful Exuberance

Remember it’s 1949. Sal is 27; Dean is about four years younger. Yet youth is over for these two. They are sti ll irresponsible in the eyes of the women they meet and love, but they are changing; Sal wants to settle down now; Dean has even married and found a job.

The Beat Generation

The drug use continues. Dean gets hold of some “bad green –green, uncured marijuana” and smokes too much of it. The first day he lies rigid, not moving or speaking, looking straight up. He hears buzzing, sees technicolor visions and feels wonderful.

EVERYTHING I’d ever done or known or read or

heard of or conjecture came back to me and rearranged

itself in my mind in a brand-new logical way and because

I could think of nothing else in the interior concerns of holding

and catering to the amazement and gratitude I felt, I kept saying,

‘yes, yes, yes.’” “I had understood everything by then, my

whole life was decided.”

It’s after the third day of this that he takes the gun to Marylou’s and threatens to kill her, then asks her to kill him. I don’t know about you, but I will stick to martinis.

Jazz continues to play in the background as Dean and Sal listen to “a wild tenorman bawling horn.” “Blow, man blow!” Dean cries. Jazz club patrons drink wine-spodiodi, and now I know the drink is a layer of port wine, whiskey, and port wine. Sorry I missed that. Everyone rocks and roars. They actually hear George Shearing play in Chicago.


Sal has never been judgmental. He would have benefited from good judgment. In Denver he accepts and longs to be a N egro, “feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.” Or maybe a “Denver Mexican or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a ‘white man’ disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions; that was why I’d abandoned a good woman like Terry in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Sal walks the streets of Denver, wishing he could find Dean and Maylou. He watches a softball game and wishes he had been able to play with such abandon. He had felt no joy when he played sports in school. Now it was too late. The people he hears, talking on the porches, know nothing of “white sorrows.”

But Dean is becoming “the Idiot, the Imbecile, the Saint of the lot,” int eresting, conflicting descriptions as he and Sal spend their last two days in San Francisco. He is now called the “HOLY GOOF,” and I am reminded of the fool in Shakespeare’s plays although I never thought of Shakespeare’s fools as being so self-destructive. When Dean is silent at a party, he frightens everyone, but Sal describes him as BEAT the root, the soul of Beatific….we’d made up our minds about time …Bitterness, recriminations, advice, morality, sadness–everything was behind him, and ahead of him was the ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being.” Since I’m not quite there yet, I’m not certain I fully understand how to get from one existence to the next.

Galatea wishes him dead. Sal counters “Very well then,…but now he’s alone and I’’ll bet you want to know what he does next and that’s because he’s got the secret that we’re all busting to find and it’s splitting his head wide open and if he goes mad don’t worry, it won’t be our fault but the fault of God.” Another friend who thinks he knows Dean better than anybody, says “All Dean was, was just a very interesting and even amusing con-man.”

But just about the time one thinks it ‘s time to commit Dean, he continues with his soul–which I think is wrapped up in a fast car, a coast to reach, and a woman at the end of the road–calmly and sanely as though nothing had happened.”

Enlightenment from direct, intuitive insights

Zen Buddhism?

On his way to San Francisco one more time he sees “God in the sky in the form of huge gold sun burning clouds above the d xesert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, ‘Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.” Other references to the influence of Buddhism are noted in previous sections.


I have to add something here. Does it bother anyone else that white folks see minorities, especially Blacks, as somehow happier than we are because they don’t have as many problems as we have? That’s how Sal views other races. That’s exactly how lots of Southerners saw Blacks during the Jim Crow days. As though working for low wages, living in poor housing with little or no medical care, lack of education and general opportunity to succeed didn’t produce problems. The kindest comment I can make about Sal’s wishing to be something other than white is how naive and how ego-centric.


If anything I think the sentences and paragraphs are longer in Part III, but I also think the expr ession is getting sharper; Kerouac’s voice is stronger.

Conclusion to Part III

Part III ends with the Dean and Sal pledging their everlasting friendship primarily because they really only have each other. Dean has fathered children whom he does not support and seldom sees. About to travel to Mexico to get a divorce from Camille, Dean is now living with Inez, but knowing him, one wonders how long that will last.

Both men have nearly broken through to “the path,” eschewing daily worries about clean clothes, gas money, food, but I still don’t think the masters would approve of the way these guys live, do you?

Diane McCormick

PageCount’s Tribute

On Monday’s blog entry Pagecount writes an eloquent tribute to Kerouac’s novels and provides a number of excellent sources on the web, some of which I will probably borrow as links at the end of the series. Obviously he started reading the novels a long time ago, and thus they meant more to him than they did to me. it’s a neat read.

I took On the Road to my surgeon’s office today since doctor’s waiting rooms are a great place to catch up on your reading. Doc, hardly a counter-culture kind of guy, pointed out that he read several of the novels while in college.

In fact, there seems to a whole generation of people who have grown up with Kerouac’s books. If I’d been more aware of that, I would have hesitated to take on this book. I’m still hoping to get short articles from people who can offer a different perspective.

:: On the Road : Part Three ::

For me, the novel finally begins to pick up in Part III. Although there may be a little less action, we finally begin to discover some of the reasons why these people act the way they do. Sal explains it in sociological terms, but it could be explained equally well in psychological terms:

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark mysterious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a "white man" disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions; that was why I’d abandoned a good woman like Terry in the San Joaquin Valley.

No doubt jazz and the blues had more emotional power than white music in the same period, which of course explains why the whites ripped it off so voraciously. I seldom attend church, but I always said that if I were going to go that I wanted to go to a black church where they sang gospel music because at least they sound happy about where they’re going. That said, it seems extremely naive to blame Sal’s depression on “white ambitions.” Black musicians have a long history of drug addiction, and there’s certainly more than enough despair in any black or Mexican community. He’s lying to himself to avoid the real problems that lie behind his depression.

When we first meet Dean in this section, he seems to have recovered from his depression. He greets Sal by telling him:

And yet-and yet, I’ve never felt better and finer and happier with the world and to see little lovely children playing in the sun and I am so glad to see you, my fine gone wonderful Sal, and I know, I know everything will be all right. You’ll see her tomorrow, my terrific darling beautiful daughter can now stand alone for thirty seconds at a time, she weighs twenty-two pounds, is twenty-nine inches long.

Anyone who’s read the first half of the book knows that Dean is blowing smoke, and he’ll soon become his old manic self. Sure enough, a few pages later we learn the real truth:

That thumb became the symbol of Dean’s final development. He no longer cared about anything (as before) but now he also cared about everything in principle; that is to say, it was all the same to him and he belonged to the world and there was nothing he could do about it.

In Part Three we also begin to understand the connection between these two. There’s even a brief moment when Sal and Dean really seem to care about each other and aren’t just using each other to liven up their lives:

"Why yass," said Dean, and then realized I was serious and looked at me out of the corner of his eye for the first time, for I’d never committed myself before with regard to his burdensome existence, and that look was the look of a man weighing his chances at the last moment before the bet. There were triumph and insolence in his eyes, a devilish look, and he never took his eyes off mine for a long time. I looked back at him and blushed.

Is it odd, though, that even at the very moment he makes his first commitment to Dean, that Sal looks for signs of betrayal? We know that Dean is incapable of any real commitment to anyone, but is Sal capable of commitment either?

I’m still not sure whether Sal’s pronouncement of Dean as the Holy Goof is a put down, a compliment, or both, but I’m thinking in the long run it would have to hang around your neck like an albatross:

I suddenly realized that Dean, by virtue of his enormous series of sins, was becoming the Idiot, the Imbecile, the Saint of the lot.

That’s what Dean was, the HOLY GOOF.

Still, in a few minutes everyone in the group is envying Sal’s relationship to Dean:

He was ‘BEAT-the root, the soul of Beatific. What was he knowing? He tried all in his power to tell me what he was knowing, and they envied that about me, my position at his side, defending him and drinking him in as they once tried to do. Then they looked at me. What was I, a stranger, doing on the West Coast this fair night? I recoiled from the thought.

No matter how much Sal sees Dean as an idiot, Sal seems to get more from the relationship than Dean does. Sal, lacking self-motivation, “drinks in” Dean’s energy.

In a high point in the novel, Sal and Dean actually seem to be feeding off each other on their trip back east in the Cadillac:

"For God’s sakes, you’re rocking the boat back there." Actually we were; the car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.

"Oh, man! man! man!" moaned Dean. "And it’s not even the beginning of it-and now here we are at last going east together, we’ve never gone east together, Sal, think of it, we’ll dig Denver together and see what everybody’s doing although that matters little to us, the point being that we know what IT is and we know TIME and we know that everything is really FINE." Then he whispered, clutching my sleeve, sweating, "Now you just dig them in front. They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there-and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won’t be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end.

At this moment, at this very moment, they seem to be living out the dream of the road consumed by the IT “of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars” instead of being stuck in the “established and proven” worries that haunt those who are not Beat. It is one of the few zen-like moments I found in the novel.

Soon the moment is gone, and they are at each other again. This time, though, it’s Sal who ends up apologizing to Dean for attacking him:

"Ah, man, Dean, I’m sorry, I never acted this way before wit you. Well, now you know me. You know I don’t have close relationships with anybody any more-I don’t know what to do wit these things. I hold things in my hand like pieces of crap and don’ know where to put it down. Let’s forget it." The holy con-man began to eat. "It’s not my fault! It’s not my fault!" I told him "Nothing in this lousy world is my fault, don’t you see that? don’t want it to be and if can’t be and it won’t be."

This is another moment of truth where we discover for the first time Sal admits that he doesn’t feel close to anyone, but worst, though he refuses to take responsibility, he feels responsible for the shape of the “lousy world.”

As a modern American male, I find it difficult not to identify with Sal and Dean’s identification with the car and the open road.

… I could feel the road some twenty inches beneath me, unfurling and flying and hissing at incredible speeds across the groaning continent with that mad Ahab at the wheel. When I closed my eyes all I could see was the road unwinding into me. When I opened them I saw flashing shadows of trees vibrating on the floor of the car. There was no escaping it. I resigned myself to all.

When I finally graduated from college and escaped that self-imposed poverty, I rewarded myself by buying a brand new flashy yellow ’65 Mustang. Driving to my first Army post in my brand new ‘tang, I felt everything was right with the world. Later, when life on post became suffocating, we would go out and see if we could outrace boredom. At 100 mph she literally started to lift off the ground and leave all cares behind. On my last trip home before leaving for Vietnam, with nothing left to lose, we must have surely set the land-speed record from Camp Irwin to Vancouver, U.S.A But, God, what a rite of passage I went through years later when I had to trade that car in for a Dodge Dart that could carry the crib, high chair, etc., etc. (Don’t worry, Dawn, I don’t hold it against you any more.)

On the bus ride that ends the chapter, we almost, almost, can see the point Dean made about IT when Sal:

… took up a conversation with a gorgeous country girl wearing a low-cut cotton blouse that displayed the beautiful sun-tan on her breast tops. She was dull. She spoke of evenings in the country making popcorn on the porch. Once this would have gladdened my heart but because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do. "And what else do you do for fun?" I tried to bring up boy friends and sex. Her great dark eyes surveyed me with emptiness and a kind of chagrin that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done-whatever it was, and everybody knows what it was. "What do you want out of life?" I wanted to take her and wring it out of her. She didn’t have the slightest idea what she wanted.

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