Book Review – On the Road by Jack Kerouac

on the road cover

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is an iconic novel produced during the Beat Generation in 1950s America. According to many people it is one of the books that you need to read before you die. I don’t agree. On the Road is a roman à clef, a romanticised version of Kerouac’s own road trips across America. On the Road is full of misogyny, homophobia, racism, drinking, drugs, fighting, and pointless trips across America and it is an awkward read for the 21st century reader at best.

People who are disillusioned with life will love this book because it offers freedom from capitalism and the government and everything that is considered ‘normal’. However, it is also littered with problems, such as Dean and Sal’s hypocrisy concerning American consumerism. It is often difficult to distinguish between characters and events in the novel and it is easy for a reader to get lost in this book. I had to read several of the chapters a few times before I understood where Sal was at that point in the book.

The characters Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) are difficult to relate to due to their complete disregard for everything conventional. I found them absolutely horrible due to their treatment of women, and their racist and homophobic language. Most of the other characters are one-dimensional, especially the women featured in the book, and they are utterly forgettable. Maybe someone with a better knowledge of the Beats movement will understand this book and the characters better than I do.

One thing that I can praise though is Kerouac’s writing style. The prose, at times, is amazing. While he did not write it as spontaneously as he claimed Kerouac’s writing certainly feels spontaneous and free when you’re reading it. The writing style is also heavily influenced by jazz music and that leads the prose to have a rhythm of it’s own. I really admired Kerouac’s writing style in On the Road even if I didn’t like the novel itself.

All in all I found the book difficult to get through and I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t have to read it for university. While it is undoubtedly an iconic piece of literature and a great insight into the Beat Generation it is not a book I enjoyed reading.

Fun fact to end with: Dean and Sam from Supernatural are based on Dean and Sal from On the Road. 


Started: 10th February 2015
Completed: 18th February 2015

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