On the Road :: Final Review

Welcome to the On the Road read-a-long! We’re reading this book through June and July. You can see the reading schedule and guidelines on the Starting Post Page.

Week Seven: To the End

Discussion:

I am glad I finally read this book, though I wish I had done so earlier. I think I would have been more entertained by it in a different stage of my life. Where I am now, this book felt tedious and somewhat juvenile in a way that I couldn’t connect with. It’s not that I’m so mature (I can certainly connect with that juvenile-self in plenty of ways, just not here). I didn’t mind the rambling, though he lost me when he got really “jazzy” in the writing – but I think that may have been the point. He even had some really poignant moments, and quotes; this week, I particularly liked the beginning of chapter 4 when he tells us about Stan Shephard getting stung in the arm, “He had his arm draped over the broken door and was riding along and talking happily when suddenly a bug flew into his arm and embedded a stinger in it that made him howl” (268). I think that was a wonderful metaphor for Sal’s journey through this book (and something we’ve all felt at times… rolling along happily in our lives and then something happens that feels like a sucker punch). I also happened to like the fact that they visited so many places and talked a lot about two of which I am very familiar with (having lived there), Colorado and California.

What I didn’t like was Dean (just put a period there, because I liked almost nothing about Dean… and by almost I mean nothing, period). I also didn’t like all the random sex these grown men had (especially with teenage girls), the drugs, the crazy driving, the constant searching and leaving and searching again. And the reason I didn’t like these things is not because I don’t actually like those things (even though I don’t), but rather because they became tedious. There are only so many times you can say you did the exact same thing before it becomes boring. I tried, tried to put myself back in time when these things would be shocking and even important to tell in order to change the conversation of the day – and I think, for the most part, I failed. Even if I had succeeded – taking 307 pages to say the same thing over and over again and then just come to the conclusion that Dean is really a messed up slightly terrible friend is a bit much in my opinion.

Here’s the weird part… I was a little shocked when Dean left Sal (feverish, ill Sal) in Mexico at the end. But I’m glad he did. By that point, I wanted Sal to learn his lesson – Dean was not his friend. Dean was nobody’s friend, not even Dean’s.

But – like I said – I AM glad I read it. Thanks for reading along with me. What did you think?

Who’s Reading Along:

** Please don’t forget to come to this blog each Friday and share your thoughts in the comments section of the weekly On the Road discussion (see below for more information).**

Susan E
JacquelineM (@jackiemania)
June @So_Meow
Ashley J.
Ashley
Meg @ A Bookish Affair
Melody (Fingers & Prose)
Jessi (@j_addict)

Friendly Reminders:

  • If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know in the comments section. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. 
  • Comments from the previous week’s reading will be closing Thursday afternoon (before the next discussion takes place on Friday). If you would like to be part of the discussion, please remember to comment before then. 
  • Each week, on Friday, share your thoughts about the previous week’s reading. If you are stuck on what to comment about, you can respond to my post or others’ comments. Regardless, you MUST check in each week (two weeks without a response and you will be taken off of the list — see below for details on why). You may have only one “off week” (which may not be the last week of reading for obvious reasons) and still be kept on the list, but you must let me know in the comment section by saying something like, “I’m catching up,” or “I’m still reading.” ***for all week’s discussions please refrain from posting ahead, even if you have read ahead, as to not spoil the book for others***
  • If you are a blogger you may post a link to your blog if you are posting about each of the each week’s reading. If I, or other readers, have extra time we will gladly try to visit your blog; however, you must make sure to share your thoughts here on this blogand be part of the main conversation or your comment will not be counted.
  • If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list (*NEW GUIDELINE*, in order to get back onthe list, you need to a.) Have missed no more than two weeks of discussion, b.) Let me know you would like to be on the list again, and c.) consistently be part of the discussion for the next two weeks after requesting to be put back on the list.). This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized (and helps me remember who’s completed what read-a-long…there (ahem) might be something fun for different levels of participants at the end of the year! Thanks!


24 thoughts on “On the Road :: Final Review

  1. I too am glad that I read this one. I had a copy of the original scroll which was daunting due to their being no formatting, so I’m glad I read this one with a group and it actually had paragraphs.

    Overall, my favorite parts were when Sal was trying to get to Denver that first time and when they got to Mexico in the end. The rest of the book was exciting just like a road trip but it started to drag on and as they got older the more I hoped they’d be over the whole travel business. By the middle I wanted Sal to drop Dean and at one point even wrote in my notes that I wanted him to leave Dean and go to Mexico with his regular crew. Plus with Dean leaving Sal ill in another country, I was pretty mad with him. I also can’t believe his womanizing and marrying Inez and then going back to Camille. It’s like he wanted to own all these women and only wanted to live with the ones he wasn’t officially married to. Ugh.

    I was happy to see that Sal had a bit of a life with a nice girl in NYC. The Dean part was pretty sad in the end but how can you feel bad for a guy who clearly was just using Sal until he didn’t need him anymore. Sal obviously loved him as a friend, even at the very end, but I don’t think Dean deserved all that. He was a friend and I know it’s hard to get over losing your best ones but Dean ditched Sal and flitted in and out of his life, dragging him across the country just one more time, over and over.

  2. I was so happy to have read this book along with you all. I connected all over again with Kerouac’s fresh metaphors, revolutionary writing style, and bottomless heart. This book was never about the plot for me, but rather the road as a symbol for a search for a new way of living in America. I read this comment from Carolyn Cassidy (Camille was based on her) and couldn’t agree more:

    Our generation was reacting to the horrors of World War II. So what they were really trying to do, both of them, in their living and reading about things, was to find out, Why are we all here? What is life all about? They were looking for “it.” There were an awful lot of people concerned about that. That was their big quest, all of ours, really. Then the hippies came along. They thought Jack gave them freedom to turn the world into chaos. They thought he was giving them carte blanche to be selfish. That’s why he vowed to drink himself to death.

    another interesting thing that she said which I think explains a lot of the relationship between Sal and Dean (but she is talking about Kerouac and Cassidy):

    He was so self-conscious, and terribly shy. That was of course one thing he admired about Neal—Neal was so swift and graceful. Opposites attract. Jack was the observer, Neal the actor. Of course, it all comes out very energetically when he wrote, because that was how he felt; in person he couldn’t behave that way. But you felt his compassion and his kindness.

    Favorite passage this week? Can’t help but quote in its entirety:

    The boys were sleeping, and I was alone in my eternity at the wheel, and the road ran straight as an arrow. Not like driving across Carolina, or Texas, or Arizona, or Illinois; but like driving across the world and into the places where we would finally learn ourselves among the fellaheen Indians of the world, the essential strain of the basic primitive, wailing humanity that stretches in a belt around the equatorial belly of the world from Malaya (the long fingernail of China) to India the great subcontinent to Arabia to Morocco to the selfsame deserts and jungles of Mexico and over the waves to Polynesia to mystic Siam of the Yellow Robe and on around, on around, so that you hear the same mournful wail by the rotted walls of Cadiz, Spain, that you hear 12,000 miles around in the depth of Benares the Capital of the World. These people were unmistakably Indians and were not at all like the Pedros and Panchos of silly civilized American lore – they had high cheekbones, and slanted eyes, and soft ways; they were not fools, they were not clowns; they were great, grave Indians and they were the source of mankind and the fathers of it. The waves are Chinese, but the earth is an Indian thing. As essential as rocks in the desert are they in the desert of ‘history.’ And they knew this when we passed, ostensibly self-important moneybag Americans on a lark in their land; they knew who was the father and who was the son of antique life on earth, and made no comment.

    Kerouac noticed all this right off the bat. America was taking over the world post WWII, and the worker, farmer, everyday person was looked down upon. Labor saving devices, plastics, upward mobility, yadda yadda yadda were the buzzwords of the 50s.

    I also loved. of course, the end. My question to all of you? Why do you think Kerouac wrote that God was Pooh Bear? :)

    • Why, Wallace! I felt certain the smelly jungle night bugs would be your FAVORITE part, hurling themselves in black masses on their clothes and falling fluttering in huge wriggly groups at their feet…. :)

      Kidding aside, I found myself touched again for this final stretch by Dean’s many genuine and seemingly sincere concerns and observations about others; like the little Indian girl. “Gee, I wish there was something I could give her!” “…she knows nothing of non-sweat, she was born with sweat and dies with sweat.” “What that must do to their souls! How different they must be in their private concerns and evaluations and wishes!” And nowhere was the post-war vibe more apparent than here, with Sal: “They didn’t know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and roads and reduce them to jumbles, and we would be as poor as they someday, and stretching out our hands in the same, same way.” For all their differences, Sal and Dean shared the same eyes. This, I think, was their bond.

      Jackie, coffee mixed with rum and nutmeg–we’re doing this, right?

      I must confess, it didn’t hurt my image of Dean that JAMES DEAN played him in my head for the entire book. Hmmm, now am I ready for THIS Dean?-> http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1330560/ Not to mention Kirsten Dunst as Camille, K-Stew as Marylou, Amy Adams as Jane and Mad Men’s Peggy Olsen as Galatea Dunkel! And Steve Buscemi?? The movie may just be the wildest ride of all!!

      VERY anxious now to read (OWN!) Jack Kerouac’s letters, Vols 1 & 2. His words burn such beautiful paths from head and heart to pen and page.

      • Coffee mixed with rum & nutmeg, curled up with Jack’s letters (and cat. Jack loved cats and so do we!). How’s that? :) This read a long totally reawakened my Beat Fever. Just read a Joyce Johnson novel, found the Carolyn Cassady and a Hettie Jones book on paperback Swap, dug out my book of Diane Di Prima poems, added loads of books to my wishlist –

        I have to admit I feel a little anxious about the movie. I hope that they do not glorify the excesses and miss the true heart of the book. (P.S. I totally imagine Dean as James Dean too HOW WEIRD).

      • Hahaha, I LOVE smelly jungle bugs.

        What I did like were the points he observed (which you mentioned). I think there were a lot of Americans during his time that were not noticing what was going on around them, were not able or willing to have the experiences we are able to have today. After talking to my mom and uncle – it’s clear to me that a lot of them lived in bubbles (particularly if you lived in certain areas of the country). I actually really thought Kerouac was wise in these areas.

        The filler of the road trips is what bogged me down – I wish there wasn’t so much of it – but I know he needed a way to get the message across, and that was as good as any (since it actually happened). It would be interesting to see what he would say about or do with this material today if given the chance.

        I have NO idea what to make of this film, but I will no doubt be seeing it. I’m very, very curious.

        And hey… I might just let you ladies tell me your favorite parts of the letters, but can I still come for the rum, nutmeg, and cats????

    • I FORGOT about Pooh bear!!! (How is that possible to forget about possible? I don’t know.)

      Is this one of those things where you’re asking us to see what you think because you’ll tell us the answer after we give it a try? I’m really hoping so – because I’m kind of dying to know.

      Was it that he looked at God as sort of a silly thing – who, if He is there (assuming Kerouac may have doubted this), is just a really friendly dude without much of an ability to make things better on Earth?

  3. I think I mentioned this before but this was a re-read for me. As with the last time I read this book, I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters. I just don’t get Dean. Maybe if I were a little younger (or perhaps a male), I would have liked it better. I just hated how irresponsible he was. In my own opinion, he’s too old to be acting like this. At some point perhaps I would have thought his sort of free-spirit was cool but it really just seemed like he was super immature.

    This wasn’t my favorite but I’m glad that I re-read it along with the group!

  4. I actually really enjoyed this book as a whole, and I think for the same reason that Jackie cites–the writing, the unique imagery, and the heart that Kerouac put into it. Despite everything he did, I simply cannot dislike Dean. I was actually really surprised when he left Sal in Mexico and further surprised myself by misting up at the end. Although he wasn’t the best friend to Sal, he was someone who had shared a large part of his life with him. That’s not something you just throw away, and I think that both Dean and Sal know that (which is why it was so sad).

    I think another reason I liked this book is because of its message. As Carolyn Cassidy says in the quotes Jackie provides above (Thanks for those, by the way! So interesting!), they are looking for meaning in their lives. I don’t think that they found it. If they had, how could they part ways after so much time together? Even with how Dean acted, that’s not something to walk away from. I think Dean is trying to find purpose in his relationships, but he comes up empty each time. This may be why he bounces from one woman to the next. He hopes that through his experiences–his travel, his marriages, drugs, etc.–he will figure out what “it” is. But he doesn’t. Perhaps he realizes that it is simply not there. I don’t know, but I do feel bad for him.

  5. After I finished the book, I went back to the beginning, trying to understand. Sal paints such a clear picture of Dean I think I would know him anywhere, “Yass” and “Ah, but you see what I wanted to REALLY tell you”. The charm Dean seemed to have for Sal, Carlo and others wasn’t coming through for me any more…all I could see was the tangle of relationships and irresponsibility. The beginning reminded me:

    “He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him”.

    “And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and visions, which he described so torrentially that people on buses looked around to see the “overexcited nut”.

    “…they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me….”

    Thanks for having this read along, Wallace. I’ve enjoyed reading On the Road in a group and seeing Dean as the Fool/Aquarian :) and encountering Kerouac’s wonderful writing and openness to experience. And what a great finish as ” 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…”. I’m looking forward to reading the Dharma Bums sometime and continuing the

    After I finished the book, I went back to the beginning, trying to understand. Sal paints such a clear picture of Dean I think I would know him anywhere, “Yass” and “Ah, but you see what I wanted to REALLY tell you”. The charm Dean seemed to have for Sal, Carlo and others wasn’t coming through for me any more…all I could see was the tangle of relationships and irresponsibility. The beginning reminded me:

    “He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him”.

    “And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and visions, which he described so torrentially that people on buses looked around to see the “overexcited nut”.

    “…they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me….”

    Thanks for having this read along, Wallace. I’ve enjoyed reading On the Road in a group and seeing Dean as the Fool/Aquarian :) and encountering Kerouac’s wonderful writing and openness to experience. And what a great finish as ” 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…”. I’m looking forward to reading the Dharma Bums sometime and continuing the journey.
    After I finished the book, I went back to the beginning, trying to understand. Sal paints such a clear picture of Dean I think I would know him anywhere, “Yass” and “Ah, but you see what I wanted to REALLY tell you”. The charm Dean seemed to have for Sal, Carlo and others wasn’t coming through for me any more…all I could see was the tangle of relationships and irresponsibility. The beginning reminded me:

    “He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him”.

    “And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and visions, which he described so torrentially that people on buses looked around to see the “overexcited nut”.

    “…they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me….”

    Thanks for having this read along, Wallace. I’ve enjoyed reading On the Road in a group and seeing Dean as the Fool/Aquarian :) and encountering Kerouac’s wonderful writing and openness to experience. And what a great finish as ” 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…”. I’m looking forward to reading the Dharma Bums sometime and continuing the journey.

    • Thanks for bringing us full circle. It was really good to hear those lines to put it all in perspective. I wonder if it might be ideal to read this book like it was written: sit down and have someone bring you coffee and pea soup and don’t move until it’s finished!

  6. So, the last 2 weeks have been the craziest “relaxing vacation” weeks I’ve ever had, (That’s my excuse for posting late!) and part of me wonders if the rush I was in is partly to blame for really not enjoying the ending. Apart from the peek into Mexico at the time (overall, this glimpse of ‘real history’ was one of my favorite things about the book) I really did not enjoy the end. I didn’t want Sal to have that experience with Dean–didn’t think he got the wonderful adventure he could have–and when Dean ditched him? Gah! I can’t see how any amount of fun matters much when stacked against such selfishness.

    In addition to the social/historical aspect, I also really did like Sal/Jack. I can totally see how he would be reserved in person, because how else would he be able to accumulate so many wonderful observations? My favorite parts of the book were the beginning, on his way to Denver, and his time with Terry (for some reason that part felt like one of those moments when you picture yourself fitting into a different style of life and you have to make a decision whether you’ll give it a shot – I like contemplating those situations.)

    I’m glad I read the book – thanks for hosting, Wallace! It was nowhere near as difficult as I was afraid it might be.

  7. I still love this book, even after I read it in high school. Wee Ashley was so taken by the thought of travel and road trips and really finding yourself and that hasn’t really changed. Every time I read this novel, it awakens something dormant inside of me that claws to the surface, makes me want to pack my bags, and live on the road.

    Besides all of the usual famous quotes from this novel – the final paragraph never fails to get me right in the gut.

    “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 in 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 leaks 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.”

    Pure love.

    Thank you so much for hosting Wallace! I can’t wait for the next one!

  8. Pingback: Beats of Summer Reading Event! | jackiemania

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