On the Road to Nowhere

This is a review I wrote in college after reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

The characters in On the Road feel they must travel across America having numerous adventures in order to prove to themselves that they are alive. In the midst of confusion, chaos and merriment, Sal and Dean believe they will be enlightened about the meaning of life. Because life is ordinarily so sad, Sal follows Dean everywhere so that he can make the most of it.

Sal wants to know how it feels to have complete and utter freedom. Sal admires people who are excited about life, enthusiastic about everything. Dean is this type of person. Sal knows Dean could get him to enjoy the endless opportunities and mysteries of experiences on the road. Sal likes Dean’s constant mad state of mind and Sal wanted to have it himself. Sal wants life in the extremes of love, joy, fun, and ecstasy. He feels this is the only way to live.

The spirit and pace of the book is fast and exciting. The reader can’t help but get caught up in the roundabout lives of the characters. This sort of lifestyle however, places no value on true friendship, responsibility, maturity or growth.

Dean’s life is all about fun. Kerouac sustains this meaning throughout the book by his descriptions of the muddled events and their consequences, the confusion, jazz music, drugs, drinking, parties and women.

The characters move constantly from one place to another without thinking or really caring about who they’ve left behind. Sal keeps getting the ‘bug’ to go back on the road. In the process, he destroys Dean’s domestic life with his wife, Camille, and their child.

At parties, Sal and all his friends drink heavily and throw women around like playthings. They don’t like it when their women interfere with their escapades. They just want women to be quiet, silly, and beautiful. Life for Sal and his friends seems to always be in a state of frenzy. At one point, Dean becomes mad and delirious. He talks nonstop and becomes fidgety and strange.

My own view of life does not correspond with the views in this book. The views I find reasonable and agree with are those of the characters, Carlo Marx and Galatea. They both call Dean on his irresponsible actions and rootless, meaningless existence. Carlo questions their actions angrily and warns them that this way of life could lead to early death. Dean is much more than a free spirit, he’s a wife-beater and drug abuser.

Galatea also chastises him in a great speech. She says, “You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks. All you think about is what’s hanging between your legs and how much money or fun you can get out of people and then you just throw them aside. It never occurs to you that life is serious and there are people trying to make something decent out of it instead of just goofing all the time.” I agree, vehemently, with this reaction to Dean. This passage sums up my opinion of the entire story.

There is a time for fun, but there is also a time to be serious and responsible. Getting the most out of life is an admirable goal, but not if it means taking advantage of people and abandoning children. Sal and Dean could have had fun together without going to such extremes.

The life they led was dangerous, meaningless and absurd.  They could have had fun, drunk in moderation, lead normal lives and maintained healthy relationships with women. I feel that Dean and Sal, despite all of their adventures, still had much to learn about life.


April 4, 2013. Tags: , , . books, writing.


  1. neenslewy replied:

    I tried to read this – as it is such an iconic read. I found it difficult to get into. Reading your review I may try to pick it up again. Thank you.

  2. ksocorro replied:

    I know what you mean, I expected to love it because of it’s reputation, but it left me kind of cold. It would be interesting to read it now years later and see if my opinion changes. Thank you for your thoughts 🙂

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