On the Road

We lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

On The Road, written in 1951 and published in 1957, is an autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac.

Part oneEdit

...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
  • They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
    • Sal, Ch. 1
  • Besides, all my New York friends were in the negative, nightmare position of putting down society and giving their tired bookish or political or psychoanalytical reasons, but Dean just raced in society, eager for bread and love.
    • Sal, Ch. 1
  • Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.
    • Sal, Ch. 1
  • And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has come to represent for all of us, I thought of my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same vast backyard doing something so frantic and rushing-about.
    • Sal, Ch. 3
  • There were the most beautiful bevies of girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon — they were coming home from high school — but I had no time now for thoughts like that and promised myself a ball in Denver. Carlo Marx was already in Denver; Dean was there; Chad King and Tim Gray were there, it was their hometown; Marylou was there; and there was mention of a mighty gang including Ray Rawlins and his beautiful blond sister Babe Rawlins; two waitresses Dean knew, the Bettencourt sisters; and even Roland Major, my old college writing buddy, was there. I looked forward to all of them with joy and anticipation. So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.
    • Sal, Ch. 3
The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.
  • I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.
    • Sal, Ch. 3
  • Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was "Wow!"
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.
    • Sal, Ch. 7
  • They were like the man with the dungeon stone and gloom, rising from the underground, the sordid hipsters of America, a new beat generation that I was slowly joining.
    • Sal, Ch. 9
  • We fumed and screamed in our mountain nook, mad drunken Americans in the mighty land. We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell, I guess — across the night, eastward over the Plains, where somewhere an old man with white hair was probably walking toward us with the Word, and would arrive any minute and make us silent.
    • Sal, Ch. 9
  • We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
  • Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk — real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
  • A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.
    • Sal, Ch. 12
  • I loved the way she said "LA"; I love the way everybody says "LA" on the Coast; it's their one and only golden town when all is said and done.
    • Sal, Ch. 12
  • LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there's a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets.
    • Sal, Ch. 13
  • The stars bent over the little roof; smoke poked from the stovepipe chimney. I smelled mashed beans and chili. The old man growled. The brothers kept right on yodeling. The mother was silent. Johnny and the kids were giggling in the bedroom. A California home; I hid in the grapevines, digging it all. I felt like a million dollars; I was adventuring in the crazy American night.
    • Sal, Ch. 13
  • We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.
    • Sal, Ch. 13
  • Isn't it true that you start your life a sweet child, believing in everything under your father's roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome, grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life.
    • Sal, Ch. 14

Part twoEdit

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
I wanted to know what "IT" meant.
All the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?
  • Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
    • Carlo, Ch. 3
  • Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven. Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven. The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.
    • Sal, Ch. 4
  • I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.
    • Sal, Ch. 4
  • I want to be like him. He's never hung-up, he goes every direction, he lets it all out, he knows time, he has nothing to do but rock back and forth. Man, he's the end! You see, if you go like him all the time you'll finally get it.
    • Dean, Ch. 4
  • Life is life, and kind is kind.
    • Sal, Ch.5
  • We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one noble function of the time, move.
    • Sal, Ch. 6
  • Why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?
    • Sal, Ch. 6
  • What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.
    • Sal, Ch. 8
  • It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness of the late afternoon of time.
    • Sal, Ch. 9
  • And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn't in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn't remember because the transitions from life to death and back are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
  • And oh, that pan-fried chow mein flavored air that blew into my room from Chinatown, vying with the spaghetti sauces of North Beach, the soft-shell crab of Fisherman's Wharf - nay, the ribs of Fillmore turning on spits! Throw in the Market Street chili beans, redhot, and french-fried potatoes of the Embarcadero wino night, and steamed clams from Sausalito across the bay, and that's my dream of San Francisco.
    • Sal, Ch. 10

Part threeEdit

Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.
  • At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ectasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.
    • Sal, Ch. 1
  • As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, "Pass here and go on, you're on the road to heaven." Ah well, alackaday, I was more interested in some old covered wagons and pool tables sitting in the Nevada desert near a Coca-Cola stand and where there were huts with the weatherbeaten signs still flapping in the haunted shrouded desert wind, saying, "Rattlesnake Bill lived here" or "Broken-mouth Annie holed up here for years."
    • Sal, Ch. 1
  • Then a complete silence fell over everybody; where once Dean would have talked his way out, he now fell silent himself, but standing in front of everybody, ragged and broken and idiotic, right under the lightbulbs, his bony mad face covered with sweat and throbbing veins, saying, "Yes, yes, yes," as though tremendous revelations were pouring into him all the time now, and I am convinced they were, and the others suspected as much and were frightened. He was BEAT — the root, the soul of Beatific. What was he knowing?
    • Sal, Ch. 3
  • Holy flowers floating in the air, were all these tired faces in the dawn of Jazz America.
    • Sal, Ch. 4
  • I wanted to know what "IT" meant.

    "Ah well" — Dean laughed — "now you're asking imponderables — ahem! Here's a guy and everybody's there, right? Up to him to put down what's on everybody's mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of a chorus he gets it — everybody looks up and knows, and they listen; he picks up and carries. Time stops. He's filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his belly button strain, remembrances of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it's not the tune that counts but IT —" Dean could go no further; he was sweating telling about it.

    • Sal, Ch.5
  • At one point the driver said, "For God's sakes, you're rocking the boat back there." Actually we were; the car was swaying as Dean and I both swayed to the rhythm and the IT of our final excited joy in talking and living to the blank tranced end of all innumerable riotous angelic particulars that had been lurking in our souls all our lives.
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there — and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won't be at peace until they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flits by them and they know it and that too worries them no end.
    • Dean, Ch. 5
  • Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.
    • Dean, Ch. 5
  • Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • You don't die enough to cry.
    • Sal to Dean, Ch. 5
  • "Ah, man, Dean, I'm sorry, I never acted this way before with you. Well, now you know me. You know I don't have close relationships with anybody any more — I don't know what to do with these things. I hold things in my hand like pieces of crap and don't know where to put it down. Let's forget it." The holy con-man began to eat. "It's not my fault! It's not my fault!" I told him. "Nothing in this world is my fault, don't you see that? I don't want it to be and it can't be and it won't be."
    • Sal, Ch. 6
  • "Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there."
    "Where we going, man?"
    "I don't know but we gotta go."
    • Dean and Sal, Ch. 10
Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise men's souls to joy.
  • Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety — leaning into it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother's woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest — Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonius Monk and madder Gillespie — Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
What's heaven? what's earth? All in the mind.
  • Here were the children of the American bop night.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
  • Every now and then a clear harmonic cry gave new suggestions of a tune that would someday be the only tune in the world and would raise men's souls to joy.
    • Sal, Ch. 10
  • Her great dark eyes surveyed me with emptiness and a kind of chagrin that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done — whatever it was, and everybody knows what it was.
    • Sal, Ch. 11


  • In 1942 I was the star in one of the filthiest dramas of all time. I was a seaman, and went to the Imperial Café on Scollay Square in Boston to drink; I drank sixty glasses of beer and retired to the toilet, where I wrapped myself around the toilet bowl and went to sleep. During the night at least a hundred seamen and assorted civilians came in and cast their sentient debouchements on me till I was unrecognizably caked. What difference does it make after all? — anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what's heaven? what's earth? All in the mind.
    • Sal, Ch. 11

Part fourEdit

What's your road, man? — holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.
  • What's your road, man? — holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.
    • Dean, Ch. 1
  • Here was a young kid like Dean had been; his blood boiled too much for him to bear; his nose opened up; no native strange saintliness to save him from the iron fate.
    • Sal, Ch. 2
  • Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparkling flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again.
    • Sal, Ch. 2
  • We were already almost out of America and yet definitely in it and in the middle of where it's maddest. Hotrods blew by. San Antonio, ah-haa!
    • Sal, Ch. 4
  • Behind us lay the whole of America and everything Dean and I had previously known about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic.
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • They were great, grave Indians and they were the source of mankind and the fathers of it... 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.
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • In myriad pricklings of heavenly radiation I had to struggle to see Dean's figure, and he looked like God.
    • Sal, Ch. 5
  • 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 Fellahin 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 Cádiz, Spain, that you hear 12,000 miles around in the depths 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... For when destruction comes to the world of "history" and the Apocalypse of the Fellahin returns once more as so many times before, people will still stare with the same eyes from the caves of Mexico as well as from the caves of Bali, where it all began and where Adam was suckled and taught to know.
    • Part Four, Ch. 5
    • Variant: from the original scroll, p. 381: 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 into places where we would finally learn ourselves among the worldwide fellaheen people of the world, the Indians that stretch around the world from Malaya to India to Arabia to Morocco to Mexico and over to Polynesia. For these people were unmistakably Indians and were not at all like the Pedros and Panchos of silly 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... For when destruction comes people will still stare with the same eyes from the caves of Mexico as well as from the caves of Bali, where it all began and where Adam was suckled and taught to know.

Part fiveEdit

  • I was standing on the hot road underneath an arc-lamp with the summer moths smashing into it when I heard the sound of footsteps from the darkness beyond, and lo, a tall old man with flowing white hair came clomping by with a pack on his back, and when he saw me as he passed, he said, "Go moan for man," and clomped on back to his dark. Did this mean that I should at last go on my pilgrimmage on foot on the dark roads around America?
    • Sal
  • 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, and 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 the rivers, cups the peaks 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.
    • Sal

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Last modified on 20 July 2013, at 10:22