On the Road

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The Shrouded Traveler Symbol Analysis

The Shrouded Traveler Symbol Icon
It is never clear—to the reader or even to Sal himself—what propels Dean and him to keep moving and traveling on the road. The closest thing to an explanation that we get is Sal’s dream of a shrouded figure who pursues him and urges him onward. This strange “shrouded traveler” thus symbolizes in some way Sal’s inexplicable urge to move, travel, and not stay rooted to any one place. At one point, Sal thinks that the traveler is probably death, suggesting that the inevitability of death is what drives Sal to get as much out of his life as possible by hitting the road and feeling madly alive. But, in Mexico, Sal also says that Dean reminds him of this mysterious figure. This may suggest that it is only Dean’s influence on Sal that propels him to stay on the move. Along this understanding, Sal’s relentless restlessness would be motivated by a desire to keep up with Dean and not be left behind by his friend. However, Sal himself is a kind of mysterious, wandering traveler for much of the book. Could the strange traveler represent Sal himself, or the part of him that desires to keep moving constantly? The identity of the shrouded traveler is never stated definitively. Thus, he does not simply represent any one person. Rather, this strange figure stands in more generally for the unknown (and unknowable) cause of the restlessness that afflicts Sal, Dean, all their friends, and even the whole Beat generation.
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The Shrouded Traveler Symbol Timeline in On the Road

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Shrouded Traveler appears in On the Road. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 4
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
...he had forgotten something. He thought it had something to do with someone called the Shrouded Traveler . As he had once told Carlo, he had a dream about a “strange Arabian... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2
Freedom, Travel, and Wandering Theme Icon
Society, Norms, and Counterculture Theme Icon
Sal imagined Dean traveling west like “a burning shuddering frightful angel...pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler .” He figured Dean had “gone mad again.” The new plan was now for Dean... (full context)