On the Road

On the Road

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Carlo Marx Character Analysis

A poet and friend of Sal in New York, who Dean meets in Part One and quickly becomes friends with. Dean and Carlo go west before Sal does, and in Denver they maintain an intensely close friendship. In Part Two, Carlo seems to be somewhat fed up with Sal and Dean’s vagabond, wandering lives. Carlo’s name plays on its similarity to that of Karl Marx (the philosopher and critic of capitalism who founded Marxism), emphasizing Carlo’s countercultural, anti-capitalist stance. Carlo is often read as representing Kerouac’s friend and fellow Beat Allen Ginsberg, himself a famous Beat poet.

Carlo Marx Quotes in On the Road

The On the Road quotes below are all either spoken by Carlo Marx or refer to Carlo Marx. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of On the Road published in 1999.
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

Just about that time a strange thing began to haunt me. it was this: I had forgotten something. There was a decision that I was about to make before Dean showed up, and now it was driven clear out of my mind but still hung on the tip of my mind’s tongue. . . . It had to do somewhat with the Shrouded Traveler. Carlo Marx and I once sat down together, knee to knee, in two chairs, facing, and I told him a dream I had about a strange Arabian figure that was pursuing me across the desert; that I tried to avoid; that finally overtook me just before I reached the Protective City. “Who is this?” said Carlo. We pondered it. I proposed it was myself, wearing a shroud. That wasn’t it. . . . Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Carlo Marx (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Shrouded Traveler
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Sal mostly takes his desire to wander for granted; he rarely attempts to make sense of it or explain it. However, in this moment, it seems important for Sal to investigate why he wanders. He remembers describing a dream to his friend Carlo (one that seems intense enough to have been a vision) of a shrouded traveler pursuing him across the desert. That shrouded traveler is his desire to wander, and the fear implied by this pursuit runs counter to the way travel has been framed in the book up to this point. The characters, so far, have claimed to be running by choice towards freedom, rather than running in fear from something unknown.

The dream gives a more sinister cast to Sal's relentless romanticism of the road. It's important that Sal first thinks the shrouded figure is himself and then realizes it's not – this seems to be an acknowledgement that wandering is not his nature in the way that it is Dean's. He next settles on death to explain the shrouded figure, which seems to imply a fear that without wandering Sal won't be living his life to the fullest. 

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Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

“I want to know what all this sitting around the house all day is intended to mean. What all this talk is and what you propose to do. Dean, why did you leave Camille and pick up Marylou?” No answer—giggles. “Marylou, why are you traveling around the country like this and what are your womanly intentions concerning the shroud?” Same answer. “Ed Dunkel, why did you abandon your new wife in Tucson and what are you doing here sitting on your big fat ass? Where’s your home? What’s your job?”

Related Characters: Carlo Marx (speaker), Dean Moriarty, Marylou, Camille, Ed Dunkel
Page Number: 120-121
Explanation and Analysis:

Carlo is an important character, since he was first described as being just like Sal and Dean, but his friendship with them frays as his life goes in a different direction. In a sense, Dean represents the reckless and doomed extreme of the counterculture. He is accountable to nobody and has no ambition besides having fun new experiences.

Carlo rejects the same kinds of authority and mainstream culture as Dean, but Carlo is shown to be devoted to his poetry. Of anyone in the book, Carlo is the one who seems most productive; he always has new and interesting poetry to show the others, which implies that he has found a way to balance his lifestyle and his ambition.

Sal seems caught in the middle – he lives Dean's life most of the time, and tries to write sometimes. He's less carefree than Dean, and less productive and responsible than Carlo. While Sal romanticizes Dean throughout the book more than Carlo, this is a moment of reckoning in which Carlo becomes a center of morality. This is not the unexamined morality of mainstream society, but a heartfelt critique coming from a friend and fellow member of the counterculture. This is an important passage in that it challenges the simplistic ideals and reckless lifestyle of its protagonists, making the moral stakes of the book more fraught and complex. 

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Carlo Marx Character Timeline in On the Road

The timeline below shows where the character Carlo Marx appears in On the Road. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Writing Theme Icon
...York to meet some girls, but the girls didn’t show up. Dean ended up meeting Carlo Marx, a “sorrowful poetic con-man.” (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Dean and Carlo hit it off right away and Sal ended up following them as they rushed down... (full context)
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
In the spring, many of Sal’s friends—including Dean—took trips out west. Dean, Carlo, and Sal took a picture together before Dean left, and they cut it two so... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...girls in Iowa, but says he was in a hurry to get to Denver, where Carlo Marx, Dean, and Chad King were, as well as other friends. Sal continued hitchhiking, and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...Dean for some reason, and didn’t know where he was. Chad also wasn’t speaking with Carlo Marx at that time. Sal says that this was the beginning of “Chad King’s withdrawal... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
...dispute between Chad King (and some other friends), on the one hand, and Dean and Carlo on the other. According to Sal, this dispute had “social overtones,” as Dean was from... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Dean and Carlo had a basement apartment, where Sal would later spend “many a night that went to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
Sal continued to wonder where Dean was, until one day he received a call from Carlo Marx. Carlo told him that Dean was also in Denver, seeing two women at the... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Carlo told Sal that he and Dean were attempting to “communicate with absolute honesty,” while sitting... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
Carlo informs Sal of Dean’s schedule: he is with Marylou during the day while Carlo works,... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Carlo and Sal went to the house where Dean and Camille were. Carlo knocked on the... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Writing Theme Icon
Sal, Dean, and Carlo took off into the city. The trio went to a house where some sisters, all... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Friendship Theme Icon
Writing Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
After the party, Sal went to Carlo Marx’s house, where Carlo read him some of his poetry, in which he called the... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Dean and Carlo sat down cross-legged on Carlo’s bed, stared at each other, and talked: “they began with... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Sal went to some bars and then returned to the party. He wished Dean and Carlo were with him, but then realized they would probably be out of place with the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
When Sal came back to Denver, he found Carlo and was surprised to learn that Carlo and Dean had also been in Central City,... (full context)
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Writing Theme Icon
...Tim Gray. He wandered around Denver for a few days, unable to find Dean or Carlo. Sal says that he simply “had to go.” He finally found Carlo and listened to... (full context)
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...to San Francisco. Dean called Sal right before he left and said that he and Carlo would join Sal in San Francisco. Sal realizes that he “hadn’t talked to Dean for... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...that he had to leave the city or else he’d go crazy. He wrote to Carlo and Dean, and they sent replies that they were going to meet him in San... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Dean then suddenly sped away and asked Sal where Carlo was. Dean thought that “this was the new and complete Dean, grown to maturity.” He... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Writing Theme Icon
America Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
...from Camille, in San Francisco, looking for Dean. Dean called her back, while Sal called Carlo Marx and told him to come over. Carlo came, bringing his poetry. He had spent... (full context)
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Dean and Sal drove Carlo back into New York and then drove back down to Virginia to get more furniture... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
...had something to do with someone called the Shrouded Traveler. As he had once told Carlo, he had a dream about a “strange Arabian figure,” who pursued him across a desert.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Before Sal, Dean, Marylou, and Ed left, Carlo talked to them in his apartment and asked what they were all doing with their... (full context)
Friendship Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
...to see what Marylou was like with another man.” Dean and Sal went back to Carlo’s apartment and told Marylou their plan. (full context)
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Privilege and Prejudice Theme Icon
Carlo came back to the apartment, upset at “jam on the floor, pants, dresses thrown around,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
...discovered that Bull had seven personalities. Sal describes Bull as a teacher: he, Dean, and Carlo had all learned from him. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...They had a wild night and Sal and Dean thought a saxophone player looked like Carlo Marx. (full context)