On the Road

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On the Road Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sal says that shortly after this he had “the greatest ride in my life.” It was in a truck driven by two young Minnesota farmers, who were picking up every single hitchhiker they came across in their large flatbed. Along with Sal in the truck bed were two young North Dakota farmers, two “young city boys” from Ohio, a tall man from Montana (called by Sal “Montana Slim”), a thirty-year-old hobo named Mississippi Gene, and Gene’s “charge”: a blonde sixteen-year-old runaway.
Sal has a fun time on “the greatest ride in [his] life.” He meets new friends from all over the country, brought together in a kind of hitchhiking community in the back of the truck. The hitchhiking brings together all sorts in a kind of democracy of travelers.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
America Theme Icon
The truck was headed for Los Angeles. Sal thought about riding all the way to California, but decided that he had to go to Denver, where all his friends were. The truck stopped so people could eat, and the two farmers driving shouted “Pisscall!” and “Time to eat!” Sal learned that the two farmers were brothers, who had to transport farm equipment from Los Angeles to Minnesota.
Sal has to make a choice between continuing this fun ride with his new road acquaintances and sticking with his original plan to meet up with his friends in Denver.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
The hitchhikers ate, and Sal bought a bottle of whiskey. The truck continued on, speeding into Colorado, as the hitchhikers in the back passed the bottle of whisky between them. Sal says he felt “like an arrow that could shoot out all the way.”
Sal enjoys the feeling of the open road, drinking with his fellow travelers, and his freedom from any obligations or duties.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Sal talked with Mississippi Gene, who told him he had some friends they could stay with in Ogden. Sal was tempted, but said he was headed for Denver. Gene reminded Sal of a hobo he had known called Big Slim Hazard. He asked if Gene had ever heard of Big Slim, and it turns out he had known him. Sal continued drinking as the truck drove on, and “was feeling pretty good.”
Sal is again tempted to change his plans and go off with his new hitchhiking friends, but again decides to go after Dean in Denver. Sal continues to feel “pretty good” on the road. The hitchhikers form a kind of countercultural community, as Sal and Gene both happen to know Big Slim.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
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Mississippi Gene made fun of Sal’s ragged shoes, and all the hitchhikers laughed together and continued drinking the whiskey. The truck sped through a town without stopping, disregarding Montana Slim’s request for a “pisscall.” Slim decided to urinate over the side of the truck, but then the driver swerved back and forth, making him fall down and urinate all over himself. The hitchhikers all laughed at the prank.
All the hitchhikers and fellow travelers share the bond of the road and act like good friends, drinking together and having fun with pranks.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
The truck stopped in a small town called Ogallala and the two North Dakota farmers got off to find work on farms. Sal went into a soda fountain and bought cigarettes for some of his fellow hitchhikers. The truck got going again and went into Wyoming. He looked up at the sky, happy with how quickly he was traveling and excited about what awaited him in Denver. He told Mississippi Gene, “I hope you get where you’re going, and be happy when you do.”
Sal is continually excited by speeding along on the road. He hopes that Gene will be happy when he gets where he’s going, but all of the characters Sal meets on the road (and himself, too) seem to be happiest not when they get to where they’re going but rather while they’re still going.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
The truck made it to Cheyenne, where it was Wild West Week, with everyone dressed like cowboys. Sal was disappointed at “what absurd devices [the West] had fallen to keep its proud tradition.” Sal parted ways with everyone in the truck, ready to head toward Denver. He and Montana Slim hung around Cheyenne, as the others left. Sal realized he would never see the others again and watched the truck “disappear into the night.”
Sal is disappointed when the real west doesn’t live up to his romanticized ideal of it, built up by ideas of the wild west and the frontier spirit. Sal’s new friends from the truck disappear as quickly as they came into his life.
Themes
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
America Theme Icon