Book Review: “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

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Scott Drotar On the Road
This Jack Kerouac classic changed my life.

It is Scott Drotar Literary Review Day, and for the first time I will actually be reviewing a novel with a story. I will call it a piece of pseudo fiction, since it is autobiographical at its core, but many dramatizations were made. It has been around for over 50 years, and the lessons it teaches and message it contains are just as relevant today as at its original publication. This classic from the Beat movement has had a profound impact on many lives, including mine. This week I will discuss Jack Kerouac’s novel, “On the Road.”

I was first exposed to this masterpiece when I was in my last semester at Notre Dame. I needed to fulfill my fine arts course requirement and wanted it to be as painless as possible. I found a class on the Beat writers and Bob Dylan. I was already a Dylan fan, and I figured that any class where the homework one week is to listen to “Blonde on Blonde” could not be too bad. The first novel we read from the Beat writers was “On the Road,” and I was blown away. I had never read anything that spoke to me the way it did, and it caused me to really think about how I see the world, people, and life. It was the catalyst for numerous positive life changes I have made in the past 5 years, and most importantly it helped me to slow down and enjoy the little things in life. I have since read it several more times, along with most everything else Kerouac wrote, and every time it teaches me something new.

This coming of age story depicts the adventures of Kerouac, Sal in the novel, and his good friend Neal Cassady, who is renamed Dean, from 1947 to 1950. Its deep and powerful messages about life are set against a backdrop of cross-country road trips, drugs, jazz, and poetry. Major life areas like religion, how to grow up, and finding balance in your life are brought up in its pages, and it is done in such a way that you start to really think about how you are living your life. This was a big part of the Beat movement, getting people to think about, value, and find meaning in their life. This novel does such a good job of achieving this goal that it has become the face of the entire movement. The content and message of “On the Road” was seen as profane and pornographic at its initial release, but in today’s society it leaves little to criticize or improve upon.

The writing style, as well as the way it was written, are very unconventional and turn off some readers. Kerouac wrote this entire book over a single 3 week binge of writing, drugs, and drinking in 1951. He did this on a single sheet of paper that was 120 feet long that he called “the scroll.” His writing style is equally as unique. He writes in “spontaneous prose,” which is a stream of consciousness type style that uses minimal punctuation. It is something that takes some getting used to, and many readers stop reading it because of this style. Once you get into it though, the tempo becomes second nature and the prose flows very nicely. I really struggled with it for the first 50 pages, but I eventually grew accustomed to it, and this book became a huge influence on my life. Even this spontaneous, free writing style works to illustrate the lessons to be learned from this novel and the Beat movement.

I really think this should be read by every senior in high school in order to graduate. It presents abstract, complex themes about life in such an accessible way, that you can not help but think about how to create and live a happy, successful life. There is so much to be learned from its pages, and every time I reread it, I find something new to think about and apply to my life. If you can get over the fast paced, flowing writing style, I am certain you will finish this book a better person than when you started it. This entry gets a full 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.

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