Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: Whither Thou Goes in Thou Shiny Car
Jack Kerouac's On the Road is not gentle. It won't wait for you to call out of work, cancel appointments, or pay bills; it won’t wait for you to tell your spouse, "I just can't make it home tonight, dear." No, instead you're tossed into a shabby Ford and driven off at 110 mph, and as you sit up, straighten your collar, and look at the madman behind the wheel, all you can ask is, "Whither thou goes, America, in thou shiny car in the night?"
In 1947, Sal Paradise meets Dean Moriarty. He's instantly impressed by Dean, enchanted by his passion for life. So when Dean leaves for Denver, Sal promises himself that he, too, will soon make the pilgrimage west; and so begins his life on the road. For the next three years, Sal crosses and re-crosses America with little money, searching for "IT" (i.e. a meaning to life and God). He covers the whole country via the road -- big cities and small towns, countrysides and mountain ranges -- stopping only to visit friends and pick up hitchhikers. But of course, Sal isn't alone in this; in fact, he's not even usually the leader. That title belongs to the Denver madman himself, Dean Moriarty.
At times, Dean is enigmatic like Gatsby; crazed like Ahab; wild, youthful, and without family (though, also likewise, with a long-lost drunken father) like Huck Finn. But he's not just some literary hodgepodge, either (which would've been fascinating enough), but rather has something entirely unique to himself: madness. You see, Dean is mad to live and talk, mad to "dig" jazz and girls, mad to experience everything. So much so you often wonder, "Is this madness or psychosis?" (And is there a difference?) This is why Dean leads the way, and why Sal stays loyal to him, even when warned of Dean's destructiveness, even when, time and again, Sal witnesses this destruction and its victims, namely Dean's abandoned wives and families.
Like his characters, Jack Kerouac's prose is both rapid and expansive. His sentences twist and turn like the roads that snake across the country and take seemingly improvised, and very jazz-like, detours along the way: small adventures of their own.
Upon publication, Kerouac was hailed the voice of the Beat Generation. Although he wrote other books (e.g., The Dharma Bums and Big Sur), On the Road proved Kerouac's most enduring and powerful, influencing the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Dylan. A movie adaption of On the Road starring Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, and Sam Riley is due out in 2012.