· grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts but moved to New York at age 17 to attend Columbia University
· dropped out of Columbia, worked odd jobs, and then joined the Marines in 1943
· he returned to NY where he befriended Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs
· Cassidy and Kerouac took several cross-country road trips to Chicago, LA, Denver, and Mexico City
· Published On the Road in 1957 and it became an instant classic
· Accredited with starting the “Beat Generation” of literature
1. Dean is constantly deserting Sal, yet Sal always forgives him. Marylou comments to Sal, “Dean will leave you out in the cold any time it’s in his interest” (170). Why is Dean always leaving? Is Sal foolish for keeping him as a friend? How would you describe Dean and Sal’s friendship?
2. As Sal travels across America, he says he was at the “dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future” (15). Throughout the novel, we see Sal’s views and expectations of the East coast versus West coast. What are Sal’s views of his home and what are his expectations of the new places he visits, such as Chicago, Denver, California and Mexico? How does travel change them? Do any of the places that Sal and Dean visit actually meet their expectations?
3. We encounter several female characters such as Camille, Marylou, Galatea, and Terry. How can the women be characterized? Describe the attitudes of Sal and Dean towards the women. Are there any “healthy” relationships in On the Road?
4. Kerouac had been discharged from the Marines because he had “schizoid tendencies”. Within the first page of the novel, Sal admits from recently recovering from a serious illness. We also see several examples of Sal conducting strange behavior, such as when he imagines himself in 1750 England when walking down Market Street in San Francisco (172). Since Sal is a representation of Kerouac, who was known for his depression and probable mental illness, is Sal a reliable narrator? Are there any inconsistencies in his narration? How does Sal’s narration affect our interpretation of the characters and stories?
5. On the Road has commonly been called the Huckleberry Finn of the 20th century. Both represent youths going on a quest of identity through travel, whether it be by road or Mississippi River. How does Sal change along the road? Does he find identity? What is Kerouac saying about the affect of travel on youths?
6. On the Road is a hallmark work of the “Beat Generation” and has garnered a “cult” following. The “Beat” culture came about post-World War II and was characterized by a rejection of conventional standards, a rejection of materialism, illegal drug use, sex, and explicit portrayals of the human condition. We have seen some of these themes in other works, such as Tales of the Tikongs and Black Rainbow. How are these themes represented differently in the works? What is different about Kerouac’s style of writing from past works? What aspects of On the Road makes it have a “cult” following?
7. In one of Dean’s ramblings he asks Sal, “what’s your road, man?- holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow” (251). What “road” do you think Dean and Sal ultimately choose? Do you think we can simply choose a road like Dean alludes to?
8. It is rumored that Kerouac crafted On the Road over a three-week period on a single scroll of paper that was 120 feet long. Kerouac termed his style of writing as “spontaneous prose” and rejected the idea of revision because it detracted from the ability to capture the true feeling of a moment (Asher, 2). An example of this stream of consciousness is in chapter 1 when Sal talks about the “mad people” (5). However, On the Road, is not simply a mash-up of thoughts, since the novel is divided into five parts and tells a cohesive story. How does the “spontaneous prose” form of writing relate to the type of travel he experiences? What does the reader gain from this style of writing? Why do you think Kerouac organizes the novel in the way that he does? What is similar and/or different in each part?