Pen To Paper: 'On The Road' - Exploring Beat Generation's Iconic Road Trip Novel

Pen To Paper: 'On The Road' - Exploring Beat Generation's Iconic Road Trip Novel

On the Road follows the story of Sal Paradise, a writer who, through the course of the novel, travels throughout the US with a rotating cast of companions, most notably Dean. These stories are inspired by Kerouac’s own adventures travelling in real life. Read more.

Angad Singh BachherUpdated: Friday, April 19, 2024, 04:53 PM IST
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Angad Singh Bachher | File

Throughout my childhood, I was a voracious reader, and reading remains an integral part of my daily routine. However, there was a short span of time in middle school where I found myself drifting away from books. In 2022, I actively tried to rekindle my love for reading and bought four books to help me achieve that goal. One of those was Jack Kerouac’s On The

Road, although I didn’t end up reading the book until late last year. I was incredibly excited to read it, given that many of my favourite musicians rave about Kerouac and his writing. However, I found my relationship with this book to be rather complicated.

On the Road follows the story of Sal Paradise, a writer who, through the course of the novel, travels throughout the US with a rotating cast of companions, most notably Dean.

Moriarty, who Sal sees as his hero. These stories are inspired by Kerouac’s own adventures travelling in real life. Despite being relatively divisive, the novel is considered to be one of the most important books of the Beat generation and has been incredibly influential over the years as the first “road trip novel.”.

There are definitely things that I respect about the novel. It perfectly encapsulates the time and the context in which it was written. You get an in-depth look into the lives of characters who may not have the most money but do whatever they can to make the most of their lives.

As someone who tends to read a lot of bleak and dark literature, it was interesting to read something that wasn’t obsessed with tough questions. I can also appreciate how iconic the novel is for being the first road trip novel. While it may not seem revolutionary today, it had never been done before at the time of its release, and Kerouac deserves credit for that.

That being said, there are a lot of things that made reading this novel an absolute chore. The plot of the book is incredibly repetitive and gets really boring after a while. Kerouac’s writing style is also incredibly bland.

When people rave about this book, they often talk about how it was written in only twenty days. And while that seems impressive, it does read like something that was written down in a hurry. There are some lovely quotes, but I found most of the writing in the book to be rather uninteresting.

I think the book was intended to be more character-focused, and its readers were supposed to fall in love with Sal, Dean, and the people they encounter. However, none of the characters are interesting or dynamic. Despite spending an entire novel in his shoes, I can’t say what Sal’s defining trait is as a character.

He’s one of the most bland and forgettable first-person narrators I’ve ever come across in a book. I also wish the aspect of him being a writer was explored in greater detail, since it would have added another dimension to the book. Sal sees Dean as his hero, though I don’t really see what’s so special about him.

Sure, he’s had a lot of interesting experiences in life, and he seems full of the desire to live life to the fullest. But I think Kerouac could have done a much better job at fleshing out his character and making him less one-dimensional. The rest of the characters in the book are extremely forgettable. I only finished the book two months ago, and yet I can’t recall a single thing about the other characters.

I wish that we had a smaller group of well-developed characters instead of a large number of boring ones. Something else that drags the book down for me is the way it talks about certain groups in society, particularly its numerous casually sexist and mildly racist and homophobic comments. I do understand that this is a result of the time during which the book was written, but even with that in mind, these elements appear too often for me to ignore them.

Overall, I definitely don’t hate On The Road, and I am glad that I read it. I would still recommend this book as an important part of the American literary canon. However, while it has its moments, I did have to force myself to get through it, and the payoff was not there.

This review is part of the winning reviews published in the Pen to Paper contest hosted by The Free Press Journal annually. This exclusive contest is open to teenagers only.

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