Road: Plot, or not?

Time to turn again to our work at hand, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

It’s always useful to start with a little about plot. Though I’m not a big fan of plot as all-consuming the way best-sellers do it, plot tells us a lot about a work and why it matters.

On the Road goes something like this:

Restless young man just divorced from his wife meets a California guy with boundless ideas and energy. Restless man feels inspired by California guy and finds that spending time with him enables him to shed his inner hung-up-ness.

Restless man takes several fast car trips with California guy and discovers some confidence in his own wandering ideal. A sense of nobility in the suffering and accomplishments of the road. Restless young man takes off on his own and hitch-hikes across the country, meeting many interesting people and enjoying some crazy parties. Sex occurs.

So what’s the big deal about this plot?

First of all, let’s consider where the novel was in 1957. Our books were great romances, a la Tolstoy and Bronte, or novels of great families, a la Balzac and Austin, or of great people, a la Dostoevsky and Twain, or of tragedies a la Hawthorne and Hemingway.

Detective stories were taking off and spawning pulp novels about bad people in bad situations.

Here comes Kerouac writing about people who are neither in love nor in a family; who don’t pretend to be noble or dignified; who are roaming around looking for girls and parties. These are individuals without homes or even hometowns, whose parents are absent, dead or bums.

They are rootless and forming their own values and society in a chaotic, post-war world.

AHEAD: Who are the people of On the Road?

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