On the Road On the Road discussion

Jack Ass Kerouac

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Griffin Am I the only person who read this and found Jack and his buddy to be just two jerks bumming off friends or women and then just f@$%ing them over?

Cheryl S. Bravo!! I failed to find the charm.

message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Barnett It seems you failed to understand the book. Try rereading and maybe do some research in the writing style of Kerouac.

Cheryl S. Sorry Ben, my review stands. I personally don't consider his writing a "style". I re-read lots of books, but this won't be one of them. The world would be a boring place if we all agreed on everything and you have every right to defend your opinion. So do I. Let's just agree to disagree.

mehg-hen I loved this book, but it might be a time-in-your-life thing. I read it right after college when I was mmm pretty much constantly freaking out. like probably a version of a terrified jerk.

message 6: by Meels (new)

Meels I haven't read this book in particular, but from what I have read of and about Kerouac, he probably would have laughed. In truth he inspired an entire "style" of writing referred to as "Spontaneous Prose". I think I might have to read it now, just to see which side of the "discussion" I would land on!

message 7: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Barnett Cheryl,
It's ok I can always agree to disagree. Sometimes people just briefly read books and don't grasp concepts. But I can tell you read it well and not everyone enjoys every author. Well let me know some of your favorites.

Cheryl S. Hi Amy--

Thanks for the info on Kerouac's style. I have heard about this book my entire life, but had no preconceptions other than I knew he was given to road trips before I read it. Now I know Spontaneous Prose is not for me.

Cheryl S. Hi Ben--
Since I'm probably old enough to be your grandmother it doesn't surprise me we would have differing opinions on some of the things we read. At my age I read for information and entertainment and my interests probably won't do much for you and maybe vise versa. However, I do enjoy this opportunity to interact with people of all ages and learn what they think about what they're reading. To me the most important thing is that we can read and share our opinions and can do it freely.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't mind the butcher-paper-typing style of Kerouac at all. What fell flat for me and forced me to jump book 2/3 the way through was Kerouac's pathetic personality. He runs around talking about his independence and wild ways, then goes running home to relatives when he needs money.

Kerouac, You Sir Are a F***ing Moron.

I love it when people say you just don't "get" Kerouac. Yeah, I got it. I threw it back.

message 11: by Meels (new)

Meels Cheryl-
Spontaneous Prose probably isn't for a lot of people! :) A agree with your comment to Ben, it's nice to get other peoples perspectives, even if they rarely sway your own point of view.

Brendan -
The man was a raging alcoholic that died of Cirrhosis at age 47! That is a LOT of drinking! So, although he may not have always be an "independent" as he hoped, he was definitly a bit wild. And, that was only during a particular period in his life. By the time he died he had bought his mother a house etc... you can't hold his roaring 20's against him forever, or do you abhor Jim Caroll as well? I could complain about what an idiot he was to make the choices he did in his life, but then I would be missing the point to The Basketball Diaries.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Cheryl: The characters of Jack and his friends amuse me not with their twentysomething hypocrisy. Just taste!

Jeremy I read this book in 1998 after hearing about it for a long time, the I took an elective on the Beats. You don't have to "like" Kerouac but it seems a little bit ignorant to to call him names and, though this has already been posited, miss the point and the level of impact the Beats had. (Of which, Kerouac was the big cheese) If it hadn't been for On the Road a lot of cool stuff would not have came along, like Rock and Roll. From a historical perspective, Bob Dylan anyone? And he influenced everyone from the Beatles and Stones to Nirvana, Jawbreaker and Sonic Youth. The attitude was there, the feelings, the detachment and drug use. Listening to jazz at the wrong end of town was edgy and rebellious living for the 40's. These things, much to the dismay of conservatives, are what makes true art and moves things forward. I can think of numerous times which I have found a quote from "Howl" in a song or a thank you to Kerouac in liner notes. Read Ani DiFrancos poetry and you cannot miss the echoing rhythms of Kerouac reading over Steve Allen's piano. When I finished the book all I could think was, "I wish a person could still live a life like that, on the road with friends." And if we hated on all the writers that were drunks, honestly, where would that leave us????

Jesse While the argument for the cowardice of living off of other people is a valid one, that still doesn't discount the impact that Kerouac had on the literary scene. Even if something is complete dreck, if it effects the artform in a profound way then I believe it is a bit flippant, to just say I get it but I still think it sucks. Duchamp is a great example of this; the guy takes a urinal and signs it R Mutt and calls it a fountain. This, of course, seems ludicrous and would seem to take absolutely no talent, however, Duchamp is one of the most famous 20th century artist with "The Fountain" being arguably his most famous work. That being said, I personally liked "On The Road", but that doesn't mean that I personally like Jack Kerouac. And while the whole ethos that he employed in the novel can seem sophmoric and unrealistic, that same ethos can also be used to a great positive effect. When trying to achieve an artistic goal sometimes it is nessecary to give up on everything else, and constantly search and live life with an effervescence; sometimes it is clinging to this goal that takes a normal hobo and turns him into a literary icon. And like someone mentioned before, our greatest works of art almost always come from people who are brutally selfish and abuse those who love them and this certainly doesn't excuse the act, but it also puts Kerouac in some exclusive company. Even if you don't think the novel is very good, there is still something to be gleaned from not only the literary, but the social, impact that "On the Road" brought about. Kerouac was, so they say, the Godfather of the hippies.

message 15: by marshponds (last edited Feb 28, 2008 10:17PM) (new) - added it

marshponds If you think Kerouac (or Sal) is a jerk, you should read "Into the Wild." That guy was a real ass. Kerouac looks pretty good next to that guy. The big difference: McCandless was self-righteous and went around telling people how to live; Kerouac just wants to learn as much as he can about the world and other people. Yes, he's an asshole to girls, but you gotta think about the time period. You might want to try (if you'd even be interested) "Off the Road" by Carolyn Cassady for a female perspective on the bunch.

The strength of the book was the wide-eyed wonder with which Kerouac wants to experience the world. I know that sounds cliche today (e.g. Into the Wild, and about every other book written for teens), but Kerouac was the real deal.

Thanks for the thread.

Kirstin Agreed.

Kirstin No, actually, that's not what it was about.

Julianne I am reading it currently and finding it somewhat boring at times and certainly not a character I'd like to date; however, I agree with previous sentiments about the timing and impact of his writing (just like Monet's impact on what was considered art at the time). Both were bold. Also, I personally much more so enjoyed The Dharma Bums as a travel adventure and tale of a wandering soul. The pretty prose was still there, and the story, for me, was more engaging.

Lostinanovel I see what you mean and I personally can't stand these guys. They cover up irresponsibility and real hurt to people in the guise of being artists. However, I do think there is more to this story.

Sure, they are jerks and they are bums and they are full of a lot of BS but as the book progresses, it becomes clear that they know it. These guys are also WW2 vets, and very dissimilar to the hippies who follow them, they do not have any anti-American or anti-establishment feelings. Also, they show a deep remorse and guilt over their actions. There is a shame, because they recognize what jerks they are. After several weeks of living with the mexican girl and her son, the narrator deserts her and he knows that he'll never live up to his promise to come back. He hates himself for this but it doesn't stop him. While he so desperately seeks to squeeze the wonder out of life, he lets everything really beautiful-such as love with a woman or any real human relationships slip from his careless grasp. The narrator as more of a terribly sad man, not just a happy-go-lucky thrill seker.

I do wonder about the real life Dean Moriarty. Did you realize that he was the bus driver in Wolfe's Electric Kool-aid Acid Test as well as mentioned in several Grateful Dead songs? Something about that guy really insprired the artisits around him.

As for the writing, it is beautiful and I think some of the best writing ever done about America. You say you wont reread the book, but just Googgle "On the Road Quotes" and reread a few of those. Its beautiful stuff.

message 20: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg It's always fun to read opinions about Kerouac. A lot of people hate his stuff because they'll never know or understand the kind of freedom he was looking for. He never found it either, and that's part of the allure for his fans. He and his friends rejected the get-a-job, get-a-wife, get-a-house, settle down and be responsible America of the 1950s.

Some people are happy reading their murder mysteries and romance novels. Jack is for the rest of us.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I personally love Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and the beat generation. They were bucking the trend in the 50's and paving the way for much of the social freedom we enjoy today. If "On the Road" doesn't do it for you, try "Dharma Bums" as another reader suggested. It is my personal favorite by Kerouac.

Jennifer Agreed. Although I understand the freedom that he was looking for, you can't help but feel that he is quite mysogynistic and self centered on his journey to freedom. If you want to read something about someone really trying to find themselves, read Into the Wild - although I would never personally live out of a car or bus or hitch around for months on end (and yes, he was a bit self centered as well) I could at least relate to Into the Wild and the desire to be one with nature much more than these drug addicted jerks. It quite simply frustrated me to read it.

message 23: by Jennifer (last edited Aug 19, 2008 09:10PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jennifer marshponds, you are SO wrong... being a jerk to women is OK?? I am a woman and you are way off base on this... McCandless, yes, selfish but never mistreated women and really tried to figure out who he really was and where he fit into the world as opposed to covering it up with drugs.

Jesse I don't think marshponds meant that being a jerk to women is ok, but that the culture of America in the 40's and 50's was, sadly, much more tolerant of misogyny, and that Kerouac wasn't that much worse than other men from his era and that judging him by today's standards is unfair. And as far as "Into the Wild", it seems that McCandless didn't want to be at one with nature as much as he wanted to be divorced from humanity. He also went about this in a VERY reckless manner: he didn't bring maps, or sufficient provisions, he went at a very dangerous time of the year, and he refused to tell others where he would be camping in case he didn't come back. He also didn't tell his family where he was for two years, which seems particularly sadistic as he seemed to relish them not knowing where he was (as he rejecting their bourgeoisie lifestyle). I guess I just don't see much difference between the two. There is something to admire in both men, in that they both followed their passions and they did so with a fervor rarely seen in our modern society. But, Kerouac wasn't on the road just to drink and do drugs, just like McCandless wasn't in the wild, just to ride permanently high on an adrenaline fueled, death-defying, road trip. Both were complex men, who pushed the limits of what human beings can do if the set their sights on one all-pervasive goal; and with this, came the inevitable selfishness that accompanies any monomaniacal pursuit. But to write Kerouac off as just a drunk and a drug addict who hates woman, while excusing McCandless because his goal was "Nature" isn't an accurate or fair portrayal of both men.

Julianne Kudos to Jesse! I have to say, your points above are incredibly insightful and for me, spot on. Your point about viewing both Kerouac and McCandless as faulted human beings with real limitations, just like the rest of us, is an important point to remember when reading any "biographical" prose. And cultural relativism is always imperative to employ whenever we feel the need to assess or judge any other human beings, whether that be while reading literature or in our own daily social interactions. Thanks to everyone for helping me to appreciate this book a little more!

Jennifer True true - well said! Thanks for adding a little more insight to this discussion.

Jeremy Dean was Neal Cassiday. His... whatever, can be found in a book called "The First Third." He was a one of J.K's muses, and a longtime friend.

message 28: by Mel (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mel Jo I actually felt sick to my stomach reading this book. To me , he had an eerie romantic way of describing otherwise horrific living conditions. In my opinion, which of course is my perception of things... Sal and Dean (Jack and Nick) were like us all at some point, lost, searching for IT, searching for the Promise Land. Searching for something to complete them, something that answers the aching in their hearts, the doubt in our minds, the confusion and duality that makes us HUMAN. I do believe they were self-ish and had a lack of concern and feeling of responsibility for anyone but themselves, however I do believe many intellectuals find themselves in similiar situations...on a lonely and endless road that only ends in your own heart. Although Jack is eloquent with his words and speaks light heartedly and sugar coats SHIT, he was an empty man. Anyone who drinks themselves to death is numbing themselves from their meager existance. I do believe they used woman and people but not knowingly. I feel they were trying to help themselves, save themselves. I really found it quite sad and pitiful, although well written!

message 29: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd This is the best discussion I've found on Goodreads! Great job of putting literature into the perspective of it's time and writers into the correct era! Sorry to sound like a teacher, but guess what?
Thanks for a lovely read today.

Jesse Mel, I agree with most of what you say, except for your comment about alcoholism. He may have began drinking to escape a "meager existence", but any one who drinks himself to death has a substance abuse problem. But that, of course, is a whole other discussion.

message 31: by Emre (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emre Poyraz I read somewhere about the beat generation: "five people do not make a generation"


message 32: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh It's probably complete folly to jump into the middle of a thread that sounds more like a conversation of teenagers in a back booth at McDonald's -- "God, that Kerouac guy is SUCH a jerk!" (or as "deleted member" (how funny is that?!) put it: "Kerouac's pathetic personality") but I can't stand to see a writer's entire work dismissed because people don't LIKE him personally. Is that how we're going to judge novels? By whether we want to hang out with the author? (Mel: if you have a problem with writer's who were alcoholics, you're probably not going to like too many from the 20th century. For those who cried "misogyny", you're missing the crippling insecurity of an ex-Catholic altar boy who was a poster child for Freud's Madonna/Whore complex; he doesn't hate women; he adores them and hates the pedestal on which he's placed them.)

I think Kerouac is not just an important writer, but still -- 50 years after the fact -- relevant: He never claimed he had found THE solution, or YOUR solution. His books are honest explorations of an attempt to live outside day-to-day, 9-to-5 conventions... honest enough to show you just how "beat" that kind of living can make you. "Big Sur" may be one of the saddest books I've read, next to "Infinite Jest"; he blames no one else. He knows damn well maybe he should probably take a shower and stop writing, writing, writing so ferociously, but I love that ferocity. For those of you who hated "On the Road" try, "Dharma Bums" and you'll get a better sense of what he's trying to do. (And no, he's not always successful at it, which is the point.)

For every prissy Capote-like dismissal of Kerouac ("That's not writing, that's TYPING!"), there are a dozen others, far better than me at celebrating his work as in this film: http://www.onefastmove.com/trailer/

If you're looking for squeaky clean characters who act out of some amped-up medieval code of imaginary honor, you can always pick up the Twilight series or Ayn Rand. If you're looking for something that celebrates how amazingly beautiful and amazingly f***ed up human beings are, pick up any book by Kerouac.

message 33: by uh8myzen (last edited Apr 18, 2011 02:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

uh8myzen I can't stand to see a writer's entire work dismissed because people don't LIKE him personally

Thank you for saying it... I enjoy reading many threads here, but I cannot stand it when people attack authors from a place of ignorance, especially ones who are as talented, intelligent and important as Kerouac.

I don't think that everyone has to like Kerouac or every other canonical piece of literature, heaven knows my issues with Finnegans Wake, but not liking a novel because its not your thing or you don't get it does not mean that the author is not a good writer and the text is not important. As much as I personally dislike Finnegans Wake, I have to acknowledge the fact that many do and that it is an important work of literature by a gifted author whose influence on English and world culture is profound.

I am an easy going person, but reading a thread calling Kerouac a moron is infuriating, when it is so obviously stated from a person without any biographical, sociological or historical context. Someone who thinks that their dislike of a book equates to a negation of its literary or cultural merits and trumps the thousands or millions who feel otherwise.

Anyway, now that I got that out of my system, I agree and enjoyed your thread. I also have to admit that I am a huge fan of Kerouac, Desolation Angels,On the Road and Mexico City Blues(I may be one of the few who really enjoy his poetry) are my favourite works of his.

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac On the Road by Jack Kerouac Mexico City Blues by Jack Kerouac

message 34: by Jamie (new) - added it

Jamie Great thread.

My introduction to Kerouac was his Spoken Word Poetry set to music. I loved his voice, cadence and original idioms, so naturally the next step was On The Road.

I didn't love it as much as I thought I would, mostly because Sal Paradise was a jerk and a drunk. I forgave Sal a bit because he was an artist on a journey, but I was disgusted by Dean Moriarty because of the way he used his wives and girlfriends, stealing their cars, draining their bank accounts. Somehow I thought their journeys would be more hopping freight than using people. That, to me, seemed to limit their freedom; how can one be truly free if they are dependent? The whole experience reeks of delusion.

Still, I liked On The Road for its significance. It's also highly identifiable, I love road trips and seeing America. I liked seeing The Greatest Generation's dark side, soldiers who return disillusioned and restless. Men who cope with the horrors of war in their own way. Also, flawed characters, fictional or not, are usually my favorite for whatever reason. Perfect people bother me.

Really, it's been years since I read On The Road. Now that I've read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid test, it's probably time for a re-read.

The point of all this: Good book. Still wouldn't let Neal Cassidy drive my car. (unless it's for insurance fraud reasons, then I can't imagine anything better)

Lostinanovel While there is a cult around kerouac, he hated that cult. He doesn't proclaim himself a hero. He proclaims himself a jerk. A "beatnik" is beaten. It's not a good thing to be. When he lives with the Mexican woman and her son for a few months and then abandons them, he knows he is a first class jerk and that he is too much of a SOB to go back to them. He is is horribly unhappy and depressed and he knows it. I think that's a big part of whatbthis book is about. Remember that he isn't a hippie, this is the 1950's and he served in WW2.

message 36: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh Lostinanovel wrote: "While there is a cult around kerouac, he hated that cult. He doesn't proclaim himself a hero. He proclaims himself a jerk. A "beatnik" is beaten. It's not a good thing to be. When he lives wi..."

Carl Jung once said he didn't consider himself a Jungian. I agree about the cults that grow up around folks like Karouac. While he is often (understandably) depressed, his ultimate message was about finding your own joy not following his... nor, perhaps more important for him, any of the packaged consumer commodities we're being sold as joy-ful (and that the joy comes with a lot of other stuff as well.)

message 37: by Aubrey (last edited Apr 19, 2011 11:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aubrey I did not find Sal Paradise to be an unappealing protagonist. He was a product of the 1950s. Sal isn't the nicest guy; he's desperate, lonely and searching for inspiration. He unwittingly drags the women around him into his own unrest but doesn't seem particularly proud of it. Sal just accepts it as the situation.

If you want a jerk, the protagonist Gnossos Pappadopoulis from the book "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me", written in the 1960s, fits the bill. He makes Sal Paradise look like a real gentleman.

Tyler Hugh wrote: "Lostinanovel wrote: "While there is a cult around kerouac, he hated that cult. He doesn't proclaim himself a hero. He proclaims himself a jerk. A "beatnik" is beaten. It's not a good thing to ..."

Excellent point, Hugh! I didn't walk away from this book wanting to do the things Kerouac did. Instead, I longed for the chance to define life from my own perspective, and get everything out of it that I possibly could. One of my favorite recurring themes in this book was the concept of "knowing time". I have spent many hours pondering the many levels of meaning of these seemingly simple words. Since reading On the Road, I have grown a lot and traveled far on my journey to understanding life, and I am ever closer to "knowing time" for myself.

Geoffrey Interesting how a conversation about a major literary figure has consisted predominantly about ethics, not literature.

Bryon Carter I think, and I'm probably iterating what others have already stated here, but two points;
1) Kerouac seemed to be describing his sense of uncertainty of the future/life with the looming cold war/post war america, the future being represented by the road, the cold war by the trials of life, the many various personalities a juxtaposition of post-war nazism, etc, et cetera.
2) the style used seemed to me to be an homage to jazz, the liberating muse of WWII.
Lastly, wether he was a womanizer and a drunk is, in my opinion, not relevant to his contribution to literature and culture. To think otherwise is puritan and puerile, in my opinion.

Ernest Yeah, Kerouac was such a loser for re-invigorating story telling and bringing it into modern parlance.
Why, forsooth, the blighter never even belonged to a gentlemans club or round to hounds.

message 42: by Ash (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ash That, to me, seemed to limit their freedom; how can one be truly free if they are dependent? The whole experience reeks of delusion.

That's the point I got out of it. The characters in this book aren't meant to be the pinnacles of human existence; On the Road isn't a moral compass.

Interesting how a conversation about a major literary figure has consisted predominantly about ethics, not literature.

Heh no doubt! This seems to happen a lot.

message 43: by Marvin Lee (last edited Jun 02, 2011 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marvin Lee I love this thread. Whether people like the book or not, there are a lot of opinions on it which means it IS a meaningful additive to the meaningfulness of the Beats and who they have influenced ever since their coming of age.

This book reeks of freedom even if the way Sal and Dean go about achieving this is thought to be mischievous.

I also think Jack Kerouac's writing style, besides being spontaneous prose, reads with a angelic flow.

Jeremy Again, I'll say, this book was written in a specific time & place. I know many people, myself included, that have spent time mooching and couch surfing. I think the context of this book is lost on a people that have no point of reference for the behaviors present. If you are "normal", which means boring in my book, then these behaviors seem chauvinist, opportunistic and subterranean. You can't hitch hike anymore. You can go town to town and seek odd jobs for cash anymore. But you can survive considerably below subsistence levels and still be happy and find love in the moment.

message 45: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate They just lived at hyperspeed, doing whatever they could to have fun. They hurt people along the way and that's not something to be praised but I think that the people around them understood because they were exactly the same way. If you think about it in a rational mind then you do see jerks screwing people over, but in an intoxicated mind as they were in, you can kind of relate to their actions.

message 46: by Bryon (last edited Jun 06, 2011 11:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryon Carter Marvin wrote: "I love this thread. Whether people like the book or not, there are a lot of opinions on it which means it IS a meaningful additive to the meaningfulness of the Beats and who they have influenced e..."

Nicely put Marvin.

Marvin Lee Thank you Bryon.

message 48: by Ken (last edited Jul 20, 2011 05:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ken "On the Road" was nothing more than a harebrained attempt to circumvent artificiality. Kerouac presumed that if you write what comes to mind *as* it comes to mind, then there wouldn't be any chance for self-consciousness to take hold. This worked about as well as Freudian free-association did as a therapeutic tool--in other words, not at all. I love it when these authors' lofty ideas crash and burn and end up in the shithouse.

message 49: by William2 (last edited Jul 20, 2011 08:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

William2 Griffin wrote: "Am I the only person who read this and found Jack and his buddy to be just two jerks bumming off friends or women and then just f@$%ing them over?"

For the freeloading angle you have to remember that Kerouac and clan were highly enamored of Buddhist teachings and that the call of the mendicant for alms is not disdained in numerous non - western countries. And while asceticism will not quite do as a label for the characters here, they are nonetheless on a journey of self-discovery. To discount this aspect of the novel is to miss its point.

message 50: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Man, the comments here are great. Yeah, those characters were jerks, drunks and ultimately losers, and you wouldn't let them near your sister or your car. On the other hand "On the Road" is an incredible read and it does describe the beatnik royals with what must be more beauty than you'd guess the average beats found in their life's journey. I wonder if something similar will come out of the meth head crowd?

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