Moving Targets

Now that we’ve looked at plot in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, we can turn to the people of this groundbreaking novel.

Even before we meet our narrator, Sal Paradise, we meet Dean Moriarty. This character drives so much of On the Road at times it’s hard to get away from him.

Dean is reckless with energy and ideas, a guy who pushes everyone out of their comfortable decisions and takes them into events and actions they’d never agree to otherwise.

We know Deans in our own life … and Thank God for them! I’ve had Deans sprinkled throughout my life; in college they gave me political petitions to take door-to-door and weren’t afraid to loudly criticize capitalism and its greedy fallout. They drank too much, danced too wildly, spoke truth to power. They showed me that the borders of the world are not firm. We set them, ourselves, by our own daring.

Sal Paradise is our narrator. He is immensely likable as he plods through his life, looking for hope and good times, always lonely, never connecting fully with others.

Kerouac’s Sal helped to establish the idea of a dispassionate narrator. We see this kind of narrator in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. These narrators are never really involved in the action around them, nor do they judge or comment. They simply see what’s happening and tell us.

At the same time, Sal in this novel develops his own verve for the road and after meeting Dean, sets out to hitchhike across the country.

At one point, he spends several months with a Mexican woman who’s a migrant worker; he falls in love with her on a bus when she looks at him. This are some of the most meaningful moments in the novel, because they illustrate the great longing inside the book’s bravado.

There are so many others … Carlo Marx, Old Bull Lee, Marylou and the girlfriends.

We can’t forget, either, that Kerouac based these folks on his own experiences with Allen Ginsberg (Carlo), William Burroughs (Old Bull) and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty).

For me, that’s less important than the quality and achievement of the book.

AHEAD: Why the “Road” prose moves

2008-05-21 11:42:07 GMT

2 Responses to “Moving Targets”

  1. Gene-O says:

    Marion, you continue to inspire me to stretch my reading wings. Before starting “On the Road,” I’m preparing myself with the “Portable Kerouac” and it is, along with your blog, a great introduction to the author. What strikes me first is that his spontaneous-prose style is so easy to read, especially aloud, because it he so accurately captures human thought, in all its scrambled yet connected glory. Some of it makes little sense, just as our unedited thoughts often make little sense. (And in that way, the moments of senselessness makes perfect sense!) You don’t have the burden of uncovering hidden symbolism, themes, etc.; it all becomes obvious if you just abandon your preconceptions and allow yourself to flow with his “thought current.”

    Have not been able to determine if I actually like the work yet (can I overcome my basically Victorian literary mindset?), but it is certainly fascinating.
    –Gene-o


    2008-05-21 13:58:11 GMT

  2. marion says:

    These are interesting reflections. I admit that after my first reading of On the Road, I wasn’t sure I liked Kerouac … or the book … much either. I found it a little tedious.

    Through the years, reading other works like Big Sur and Lonesome Traveler, have better shown me the authenticity and truth of his works.

    —- MB