As much as it is a novel about journeying, On The Road is also a novel of friendship. To whatever extent Sal and others form a coherent “movement,” it is not an official club or organization, but is simply a loose community brought together by various ties of friendship. Wherever Sal goes, he thinks of friends he can call up to stay with, go out with, or drink with. The narration often casually drops the names of friends, as if the reader is another of Sal’s friends, familiar with his acquaintances. In traveling around the country, Sal forges more and more friendships through the unique camaraderie of travel (and especially hitchhiking) companions.
In addition to Sal’s vast network of friends, travel buddies, and acquaintances, Kerouac explores some especially close, intense friendships. In Denver, for example, Dean and Carlo meet every day early in the morning to sit on a bed together and talk, sharing everything about their lives. The most important friendship in the novel, though, is that between Dean and Sal. Both of them fall in love with different women over the course of the novel, but their friendship remains constant. Dean leaves Marylou, Camille, and Inez, but always comes back to Sal. And at the end of the novel, Dean and Sal’s parting ways is narrated more tragically than any parting from a female love interest. On The Road thus explores and celebrates this intense male friendship as even more important than romantic relationships. Sal and Dean often seem more interested in each other than in Marylou, Camille, Lucille, or any other woman. (Ironically, while the novel celebrates intense, quasi-romantic relationships between male friends, it treats the idea of actual romantic relationships between men, i.e. homosexuality, somewhat derisively, as seen with the “fag” who drives Sal and Dean out of San Francisco in Part Three.)
The intense friendships of the novel can be seen as a substitute for the family that many of Kerouac’s characters either lack or run away from. Dean, for example, doesn’t know his parents and spends some of the latter half of the novel searching for his father. Sal, on the other hand, leaves his family behind when he travels west, and Stan Shephard, in Part Four, quite literally flees from his grandfather. For Sal and his friends, their close friendships form a new kind of road family. Sal even refers to Dean as his brother at times. But, these friendships are not always ideal. Early in the novel, Sal fears being left out of Dean and Carlo’s circle. Dean abandons Sal multiple times, including while Sal is feverishly ill in Mexico. And Sal ultimately abandons Dean at the end of the novel for his plans with Remi and Laura. Nonetheless, despite its somewhat tragic ending, Kerouac’s novel still celebrates the community and camaraderie of the uniquely close friendships forged by Sal and his fellow travelers on the road, even if these relationships don’t always survive. After all, Sal may part ways with Dean at the end of the novel, but he never stops thinking of him.
Friendship Quotes in On the Road
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.