Lonesome Traveler

5 September, marks the date that the book, ‘On the Road’ was published in 1957. The book was the result of numerous cross country travels by Kerouac, who kept notebooks in which he recorded the anecdotes of people he met hitch-hiking, freight cars he hopped, and dinners where he stopped for chili, pie and ice cream. Kerouac would produce the book in a frenzied three-week marathon session of typing, in which he banged out what he termed, “spontaneous bop prose” onto a roll of teletype paper, normally used by wire services.

The book has been widely translated and appears in print all over the world (a photo of the Swedish book cover appears above).

Kerouac’s seven years of road trips took him back and forth across America and Mexico, with NY, Denver, and San Francisco being key destinations, but also includes stops in New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, DC at various times. Upon the advice of the publishers and lawyers, Kerouac changed the names of the participants. His traveling partner Neal Cassidy, became ‘Dean Moriarty’ and Kerouac himself became ‘Sal Paradise’.

Along the way, Kerouac took such jobs as night watchman, unloading boxcars, and picking cotton in California while living in a tent with Mexican migrant workers. Upon publication, Kerouac became known as the “father of the ‘Beat Generation’” Kerouac described himself as a “crazy Catholic mystic”. One of the central themes of the book is the father as a missing person and the attempts by the duo to locate Moriatry’s dad among the bums of Denver’s skid row. The book also documents the house parties they attend, festivals they witness in various locales, and trips to jazz clubs where they meet such notables of the era as Slim Gaillard. The character of Sal Paradise, standing in for Kerouac, is often as much observer as participant, and much of the book documents the frantic pace of friend Dean Moriarty, whose penchant for stealing cars, chasing multiple women simultaneously, and near brushes with the law, occupy a good deal of the book.

The Modern Library ranked ‘On the Road’ 55th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It was also chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.