On the Road

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of On the Road published in 1999.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Road
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote kicks off the lust for travel that pervades the book. From it, we get the sense that Sal fantasizes about traveling but may not have himself possessed the will to make it happen without Dean as a catalyst. This illustrates an important difference between their personalities: Sal is more reflective and passive, whereas Dean is impulsive and makes things happen.

This quote could be said, also, to explain what propels the dynamic of their friendship throughout the book. Sal needs Dean to show him adventures and motivate their wandering lifestyle. Dean seems to need Sal to give their life importance. Dean likes that Sal is a writer and even hopes to write himself, though he can't make himself sit still long enough to do so. So Dean and Sal need each other in a sense, and this cements their bond through the ecstasy and tribulations of the adventures that follow.

The quote also lays the foundations for the ways that their different temperaments lead to the eventual fracture in their friendship in which Dean careens himself into disaster (as his wandering nature suggests he would) and Sal settles into a life of writing, tired but still admiring of his life on the road with Dean.


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In the bar I told Dean, “Hell, man, I know very well you didn’t come to me only to want to become a writer, and after all what do I really know about it except you’ve got to stick to it with the energy of a benny addict.”

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

While in the bar with Dean, Sal – who can, perhaps, be seen as a proxy for Kerouac himself – explains his attitude towards writing. Sal claims that it's tenacity, rather than skill or natural talent, that makes a writer. This is echoed in Kerouac's prose, which is loose, rambling, and only vaguely edited. Sal's attitude seems to be that simply getting the words out is more important than crafting them. His metaphor of writing "with the energy of a benny addict" also shows the world that Sal lives in. Benzedrine, an upper popular in Kerouac's time, was a drug that the counterculture loved to use recreationally.

Rather than being a stuffy or academic writer, it's clear that Sal wants to break with the social norms that govern writing and daily life. While Dean claims to want to learn to write, it seems clear that Dean is not cut out for it. He is someone who lives for experiences themselves, not for representations of those experiences. But Dean admires Sal's art and Sal admires Dean's spirit, so the two bond despite their differences.

But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “awww!”

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

This luminous passage is Sal's clearest articulation of his compulsion towards people who are eccentric, reckless, and even dangerous and self-destructive. Sal isn't interested in banal daily life or in people who follow rules and live out other people's ideas and expectations – he wants passionate people who are unique and unafraid of consequences. This explains his attraction to the counterculture and the group of freewheeling friends he accumulates throughout the book.

It's important that Sal specifies that these are the types of people he's "shambled after...all my life." His wording suggests that he sees a difference between himself and those people. He is following after people who interest him in order to see their world, but he doesn't see himself as one of them necessarily. For this reason, his friendships – while intense and often rewarding – always seem a little precarious. Sal's values and interests are always slightly ajar from the group. By the end of the book we get the sense that it might be his ambition and instincts as a writer that separate him from these people who strive only to be present in the moment.

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Hell’s bells, it’s Wild West Week,” said Slim. Big crowds of businessmen, fat businessmen in boots and ten-gallon hats, with their hefty wives in cowgirl attire, bustled and whoopeed on the wooden sidewalks of old Cheyenne; farther down were the long stringy boulevard lights of new downtown Cheyenne, but the celebration was focusing on Oldtown. Blank guns went off. The saloons were crowded to the sidewalk. I was amazed, and at the same time I felt it was ridiculous: in my first shot at the West I was seeing to what absurd devices it had fallen to keep its proud tradition.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Montana Slim
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

This is Sal's first time in the western United States, and his pre-existing conceptions about it are very specific. He has an almost frontier-period imagination of the West; he associates it with freedom, cowboys, open spaces, and the ability to re-invent one's self without accountability. When Sal saw his first real cowboy in Nebraska, he felt that something he thought he knew about the West had been confirmed.

However, in Cheyenne he realizes for the first time that his ideas about the West are over-simplified and outdated. The town has turned the old West into a sort of Hollywood spectacle that strikes Sal as deeply inauthentic. Sal's self-awareness, by this point, is neither strong nor sharp. He thinks it's sad that Cheyenne has stooped to this kind of celebration, but he does not recognize that his ideas about what the West should be are equally romantic. During his time in the West he finds many different realities that aren't what he expected. This passage marks the beginning of his reckoning with the stereotypes he once believed in. 

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

I wanted to go and get Rita again and tell her a lot more things, and really make love to her this time, and calm her fears about men. Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk—real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Rita Bettencourt
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, nearly all the male characters have dismissive, patronizing, and even abusive attitudes towards the women in their lives. While Sal seems to genuinely like Rita, that does not translate to respect for her. Sal describes Rita as being "tremendously frightened of sex," and he says he wants to "prove" to her that sex is "beautiful." Instead of respecting that it seems she doesn't want to have sex, he feels compelled to teach her something. This is patronizing on its face, but this reasoning also seems to be a screen for Sal's more self-serving desire to have sex with her. In this passage, Sal is lamenting that he is leaving Denver and can't return to Rita, although this seems an ambivalent sentiment since he made vague plans to meet up with her in San Francisco that he never follows up on. Women are disposable objects of delight and fascination (and sometimes scorn and frustration) in this book, but rarely anything more.

Sal's lament, too, that American norms dictate that men and women must have sex immediately without talking about anything deep first seems misguided. Rita was not eager to have sex with him immediately – it was he who pressured her without first asking about her dreams and desires. As a narrator, Sal's take on the world can't be trusted at face value, but the warped ways he describes his experiences shed light on his inner life.

Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do. So what if a bunch of men talk in loud voices and drink the night?

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Sal is working as a guard at a barracks that houses construction workers – he has a cop's badge and uniform, which would seem to be symbols of law and order. However, Sal doesn't oversee or discipline the workers; he drinks with them instead and does his job badly because he is too drunk and rowdy. This passage comes after Sal has unsuccessfully tried to persuade a co-worker to give the men another chance and not arrest them for their behavior the previous night (which was also Sal's behavior, though Sal is not in trouble himself).

Sal doesn't protest hard or implicate himself, rather he thinks to himself a platitude about how, "This is the story of America" and everyone is doing what they think they're supposed to do rather than being true to themselves. This is an odd and contradictory position for Sal to be in, because he is suddenly an authority figure – he represents the establishment rather than the counterculture to these men – and, because of this, he is immune from punishment. So he is benefiting from being a guard, but, all the while, he denounces such authority figures as conformists. This mirrors Sal's position in the book overall. He is devoted to a romanticized counterculture, but he's only able to choose the life he lives because he has some money and he's a white man (women and minorities in this book generally do not have the freedom to make the choices he has made). In other words, he is always both the establishment and the counterculture at once.

Here I was at the end of America—no more land—and now there was nowhere to go but back.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point in the novel, Sal is tiring of San Francisco. He thought that he would go West and find the freedom and happiness he craved, but he quickly sours on this idea as his friendships strain, he runs into trouble at work, and he finds certain parts of the city boring. This encapsulates one lesson of the novel, that a person's initial goal never turns out to be what they thought it would be, and the path to get there is always more rewarding than the achievement itself.

This also marks a shift in mentality for Sal. Until he got to California he could still have the romanticized frontier-era ideas about the West that initially drove his journey, but once he has reached "the end of America" he has to acknowledge that America is not going to give him what he initially hoped. In saying that "there was nowhere to go but back," Sal is admitting that he needs to re-evaluate his desires and expectations and, perhaps, revisit the realities that he had overlooked in favor of his illusions about America. As he traverses the country once more on his way back East, his observations become more specific and nuanced, less about what he hopes he will see and more focused on what he actually sees and experiences.

Part 1, Chapter 13 Quotes

There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama; they moved right along their rows, bent and blue, and their bags increased. My back began to ache. But it was beautiful kneeling and hiding in that earth.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Much like Sal's assessment of his interaction with Rita, this passage points to Sal's unreliability as a balanced and reasonable narrator. Often in the book, Sal and Dean and others fetishize the African American experience as one that is somehow free from the pressures and norms of white America. Obviously, that assessment ignores the violence and prejudice that, in fact, limit African American choices in ways that a white American's choices would not be limited. Here, Sal easily praises the beauty of picking cotton, though he speaks only from an experience of doing it casually and by choice. By contrast, the black farmers and sharecroppers that pick cotton have to do this particular work in order to survive – and it's grueling labor, something that Sal can't appreciate from his tourist's understanding of it. Most tellingly, Sal casually refers to the "God-blessed patience" with which African Americans have picked cotton for generations; he's romanticizing slavery here and implying that there was something peaceful and beautiful in being enslaved and forced to pick cotton.

In a sense, this easy reverence for the labor of cotton picking flies in the face of the racist de-valuing of jobs that were traditionally held by minorities. Sal likely believes – and he is, perhaps, correct – that his attitude towards African Americans and their work is more generous than the mainstream white attitude towards minorities in the 1940s. However, replacing racist disdain with romanticized reverence is still evading a frank acknowledgement of the realities that minorities were facing. As much as Sal believes he is on a journey to learn the real America, he doesn't seem capable very often of seeing past the surface.

Part 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

I thought all the wilderness of America was in the West till the Ghost of the Susquehanna showed me different. no, there is a wilderness in the East; it’s the same wilderness Ben Franklin plodded in the oxcart days when he was postmaster, the same as it was when George Washington was a wild-buck Indian-fighter, when Daniel Boone told stories by Pennsylvania lamps and promised to find the Gap, when Bradford built his road and men whooped her up in log cabins. There were not great Arizona spaces for the little man, just the bushy wilderness of eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, the backroads, the black-tar roads that curve among the mournful rivers like the Susquehanna, Monogahela, old Potomac and Monocacy.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Sal is traveling back East from California and he is spending more time noticing the parts of the country he initially passed over in his hurry to get out West. This marks a part of the book in which his observations become more specific. Instead of dealing in vague tropes about the West, Sal is suddenly thinking about specific historical figures and their relationship to the American landscapes they inhabited.

Significantly, he frames all these men as wanderers, much like him, who were searching for something in the American wilderness. He does not acknowledge that these were all men with very specific goals and tangible attachments and commitments to their society. While this is, again, an example of Sal romanticizing the past in a self-serving way, it is, at the very least, a little more nuanced than the romantic ideas he conjured up earlier in the book, and it is an explicit acknowledgement that Sal was wrong before to look for freedom in a specific place. This passage seems to imply that Sal is discovering that the kind of freedom he once associated with the West can be found anywhere – that freedom is more tied to attitude than place.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

It was a completely meaningless set of circumstances that made Dean come, and similarly I went off with him for no reason. In New York I had been attending school and romancing around with a girl called Lucille, a beautiful Italian honey-haired darling that I actually wanted to marry. All these years I was looking for the woman I wanted to marry.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

By this time in the book Sal has returned to New York from his travels out West. He seems to have been living a much less countercultural life, spending a year attending school and forming a serious relationship with a woman he wanted to marry. However, this passage shows the flippancy with which he is able to abandon this life, which implies that his attachment to it was never so deep.

This passage is an indication of Sal's ambivalence about wandering and it shows the differences between his values and Dean's. While Dean has casually married and abandoned many women, Sal has never married and it seems that, when he does, he plans to take it seriously. This implies that someday he will look to move on from his life on the road, which is a goal that Dean never claims. As the book moves forward it becomes clearer and clearer that Dean and Sal, while close friends, have profound differences that will eventually take their lives in different directions.

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. 

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. 

I could hear Dean, blissful and blabbering and frantically rocking. Only a guy who’s spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes. . . Dean had never seen his mother’s face. Every new girl, every new wife, every new child was an addition to his bleak impoverishment. Where was his father?—old bum Dean Moriarty the Tinsmith, riding freights, working as a scullion in railroad cookshacks, stumbling, down-crashing in wino alley nights, expiring on coal piles, dropping his yellowed teeth one by one in the gutters of the West. Dean had every right to die the sweet deaths of complete love of his Marylou. I didn’t want to interfere, I just wanted to follow.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty, Marylou
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite Carlo's evisceration of Dean's lifestyle and morality, Sal still seems to worship Dean and want to do everything he can to help him. Instead of holding Dean accountable for his treatment of Marylou, he excuses it by empathizing with Dean's difficulties – his time in jail, his absent mother, his degenerate father. Instead of listening to Carlo's admonishment of Dean's treatment of Marylou, Sal comes to almost the opposite conclusion, deciding that Dean deserves Marylou's love because of his troubled past. This is another instance of Sal viewing women as objects who have importance solely through their relationship to men, as opposed to human beings who have value in themselves.

On the other hand, though, this passage is one of the most intense moments of friendship between Dean and Sal. While Dean has offered to let Sal sleep with Marylou, Sal decides, out of loyalty to Dean, that he can't do it even though he wants to. Sal views this as an act of kindness and empathy towards Dean, which, in a way, it is, despite that Marylou is caught in the middle. 

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

On rails we leaned and looked at the great brown father of waters rolling down from mid-America like the torrent of broken souls—bearing Montana logs and Dakota muds and Iowa vales and things that had drowned in Three Forks, where the secret began in ice. Smoky New Orleans receded on one side; old, sleepy Algiers with its warped woodsides bumped us on the other. Negroes were working in the hot afternoon, stoking the ferry furnaces that burned red and made our tires smell. Dean dug them, hopping up and down in the heat.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

Sal loves to rhapsodize about the American landscape, which is of a piece with his frontier-era ideas about open land being synonymous with freedom. However, something that his romantic frontier-era ideas about the landscape never acknowledged was that the American continent was already settled by American Indians, and to re-populate the West with white settlers was not simply to find freedom in open land, but to violently remove others from their land. In other words, romanticizing the American landscape has always been bound up with erasing the pain of others, particularly minorities.

This is clearly evident in this passage, as Sal's description of natural features of the landscape bleeds seamlessly into a description of African-American laborers; Sal's description indicates that he sees these people as part of the landscape, rather than as people with complex and important lives who have themselves constructed the American landscape as we know it through their labor. Much of Dean and Sal's conception of America is filtered through their own position as middle-class white men. They have a lot of trouble imagining the lives of others who aren't like them.

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

Suddenly Dean was saying good-by. He was bursting to see Camille and find out what had happened. Marylou and I stood dumbly in the street and watched him drive away. “You see what a bastard he is?” said Marylou. “Dean will leave you out in the cold any time it’s in his interest.”

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Marylou (speaker), Dean Moriarty, Camille
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

While Dean and Sal often discredit Marylou's opinions and character, she is able to see something about Dean that Sal can't; he is fundamentally selfish, which is a threat to his and Sal's friendship. Prior to this passage, Sal and Dean and Marylou were all traveling together, but Dean left them on a whim in San Francisco in order to go visit another woman. Sal seems just as surprised by this as Marylou as they watch him drive away, but Marylou is the one who is able to show Sal that this is part of a pattern of behavior for Dean.

The reason Marylou is able to see this aspect of Dean is that, as a woman, Dean treats her with less respect than he treats Sal, and once Sal is in the position of being disrespected by Dean it takes Marylou to make sense of it for him. This passage shows a faultline in the friendship between Dean and Sal; it indicates that the friendship might not be as important to Dean as it is to Sal, and it foreshadows a time in which Dean will seriously let Sal down.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered me was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. . . . I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point, Sal has tried to settle in Denver and commit to a stable job at a fruit market, but he is dissatisfied with the life that he is living after the excitement of the road. His response to this dissatisfaction is to romanticize the lives of minorities because they seem to Sal to be living exciting lives that are outside of the American mainstream.

What Sal does not understand is that their lives are not an example of the kind of countercultural existence that Sal chose for himself. The people he romanticizes live in white-imposed exile from the American mainstream because of bigotry. For Sal to imagine the excitement and ecstasy of being a minority (in contrast to the dreary disillusionment of being a white man with an obligation to go to work every day) shows how profoundly he does not understand America, even though his whole purpose in life seems to be to explore America and try to see it for what it is. 

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

I looked at him; my eyes were watering with embarrassment and tears. Still he stared at me. now his eyes were blank and looking through me. It was probably the pivotal point of our friendship when he realized I had actually spend some hours thinking about him and his troubles, and he was trying to place that in his tremendously involved and tormented mental categories.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a pivotal moment in Sal and Dean's friendship, and, because of that, a pivotal moment in the book. Sal has come to find Dean in San Francisco and discovers that Dean's life seems like a mess; he's in trouble with women, his health isn't great, and he seems unhinged. Instead of writing him off or trying to get him help, Sal decides that the best thing to do for Dean is to get him on the road again. This is a role reversal in their friendship, as it is usually Dean who spurs Sal to action. It also points to something sinister about their friendship; they seem to be enablers of each other's worst traits, including their desire to evade all responsibility in their lives.

Despite that Sal's method of helping Dean seems not to be the best one, Dean is deeply moved to realize that Sal has spent time considering his needs and problems. This empathy would seem to be a fundamental function of friendship, and the fact that Dean takes note of this in Sal emphasizes Dean's persistent inability to empathize with others – it just isn't the way he operates. So even though this is presented as being a beautiful moment for the two men's friendship, it spells trouble to come and points to problems from the past.

Part 3, Chapter 11 Quotes

All the cigarette butts, the bottles, the matchbooks, the come and the gone were swept up into this pile. Had they taken me with it, Dean would have never seen me again. He would have had to roam the entire United States and look in every garbage pail from coast to coast before he found me embryonically convoluted among the rubbishes of my life, his life, and the life of everybody concerned and not concerned.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point, Sal and Dean have spent the night in a movie theater in Detroit with a bunch of socially marginal people that Sal and Dean think are sad. Sal imagines being swept up with all the trash left on the floor of the movie theater. His description of this trash echoes, in a sense, his description of the kinds of people in the theater, which points to an implicit fear in Sal that he is becoming one of these sad people instead of achieving his countercultural dreams.

The passage seems to mark a rare moment of near-self-awareness by Sal about the fine line between being a member of a drug-fueled counterculture and being an addict with few ambitions, although he snaps out of it quickly to imagine himself happy in the dustbin with all the rubbish and to say that it is better to be anonymous in the world than famous. This seems to be another case of Sal's willingness to put a positive spin on almost any experience that he perceives as being outside the American mainstream.

Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

Whenever spring comes to New York I can’t stand the suggestions of the land that come blowing over the river from New Jersey and I’ve got to go. So I went. For the first time in our lives I said good-by to Dean in New York and left him there.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Road
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Sal has stayed in New York a while and made progress on his book, but when Spring comes he feels compelled to hit the road again – this time without Dean. First, this points to the tension Kerouac consistently sets up between writing and experience. Unlike Carlo, Sal never seems able to find a lifestyle that allows him to simultaneously write and have experiences; he is always bouncing back and forth between the two, never seeming fully satisfied either way.

Second, this points to a new dynamic in Sal and Dean's friendship in which Sal does not need Dean to inspire him to travel. This also comes at a moment in which Sal is recognizing Dean's patterns with women – Sal seems able to criticize Dean for the first time and imagine a life without him being the prime motivator. This is by no means an end to their friendship, but an evolution of it in which Sal seems less in awe of Dean and more his equal.

Dean took out other pictures. I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dean and Sal are looking at photographs from their friendship and Sal imagines that their children will one day see these pictures. He is startled to realize that the pictures do not convey the excitement and rebellion that he feels has characterized his and Dean’s lives. He worries, as a result, that his children won’t know how complex and adventurous their lives actually were.

Sal's worries point to several things. While Dean has previously imagined him and Sal growing old together as hoboes, it seems that Sal’s vision of the future is one in which the two of them grow old as reasonably mainstream white male Americans, raising a family in a context in which their children could conceivably not know that their fathers had once been part of the counterculture except through photographs. This suggests, again, Sal’s and Dean’s diverging futures. It also, importantly, acknowledges that appearances are reductive. Sal himself doesn’t explicitly make this leap, but he has spent the whole book judging people (minorities, women, even his white male friends) based on their appearances, and this passage indicates that Sal’s superficial judgments, like the imagined judgments of Sal’s imagined children, could fail to scrape the surface of what is true.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Shrouded Traveler
Page Number: 246-247
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sal (who is in Denver with friends) learns that Dean is on his way to Denver. The news causes Sal to have a vision reminiscent of the one he described to Carlo of the shrouded traveler, except this time the shrouded traveler chasing him across the desert is neither Sal himself nor his fear of death; it is Dean. This is a dark and frightening vision in which Dean is a kind of demon causing Sal to travel based on fear rather than friendship. Sal is generally worshipful of Dean and willing to go along with whatever he says, but his vision here points to an alternate possibility about Sal’s and Dean’s friendship: that it is based on fear in addition to, or even instead of, love.

Throughout the book Sal seems uncertain about the extent to which wandering is part of his nature or simply brought about by Dean’s presence. While the reality seems to lie somewhere in between, this passage suggests that Sal’s wandering impulse is a result of Dean’s presence, and that it is not a good thing.

Part 4, Chapter 5 Quotes

Behind us lay the whole of America and everything Dean and I had previously known about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Road
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as Sal began his journey to the Western United States with romantic and simplistic notions about what he would find there, he and Dean travel to Mexico with the notion that somehow Mexico will provide the magic that America didn’t. Sal seems unable to shift his paradigm for viewing the world. He constantly believes that the vague and romantic reality he craves is out there for him to find, despite the fact that all his traveling has only served to present him with places whose complexity and difficulty disappoint him.

Sal never reassesses his belief that his romantic ideas are true, which points to his preference for his romantic fantasies about the world over a frank assessment of the reality before his eyes. In a sense, it seems that it is this quality (more than any other that he might attribute to a Shrouded Traveler) that propels his wandering.

Part 4, Chapter 6 Quotes

And he was gone. Twelve hours later in my sorrowful fever I finally came to understand that he was gone. . . When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dean and Sal are in Mexico and Sal is sick. Instead of staying and taking care of his friend, Dean leaves him to go back to New York and see Inez. This is a complicated moment for Sal because, after Dean's departure, he is finally admitting “what a rat” Dean is for being so unreliable and such a bad friend. It’s stunning, in a sense, that it Sal so long to realize Dean's nature, but, on the other hand, for Sal to acknowledge this major fault of Dean’s is a big step forward for Sal’s ability to reckon with the reality of the world rather than retreating into his fantasies about what reality should be.

Nonetheless, Sal fails to hold Dean accountable for this behavior, seemingly chalking it up to fate and “complexity” that Dean always seems to be abandoning people and getting into trouble. This passage points to the morality of the book overall, which seems not to put much stock in the importance of human choice and decency. Sal seems unable to affirm that anyone should have any responsibility to anybody else.

Part 5, Chapter 1 Quotes

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Related Characters: Sal Paradise (speaker), Dean Moriarty
Related Symbols: The Road
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

In this final passage, Sal and Dean have seen one another for the last time, and it is under conflicted circumstances. Sal has found the woman he wants to marry and is close again with a friend who had been previously estranged from him and Dean. Sal seems to be finally assimilating to mainstream society and ready to leave his days on the road behind. When Dean asks to ride with Sal to Penn Station and Sal’s friend refuses, Sal waves goodbye to Dean, symbolically choosing his new life over his old one.

However, in this last poetic passage that seems to be Sal’s attempt to capture the essence of the American continent by describing landscapes and people and the constant road moving through all of it, Dean emerges in the end to tie it all together. This implies that Sal sees Dean as emblematic of America overall, and it also presents Dean as a redemptive figure in the face of death. Despite the fact that Sal has left Dean behind, Sal recognizes that Dean taught him to live and showed him the best and worst of America.

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