Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 1 Chapter 1 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." September 23, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2023.


Course Hero, "On the Road Study Guide," September 23, 2016, accessed September 29, 2023,

On the Road | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



The narrator, a young writer named Sal Paradise, meets Dean Moriarty in the winter of 1947. Sal and his wife have just split up, and he is depressed. Sal had learned of Dean through a college friend, Chad, whom Dean used to write letters to from reform school. Dean arrives in New York with a woman named Marylou, eager to enmesh himself in the intellectual life of Sal, Chad, and their friends. Sal is taken with Dean's wild energy and off-beat charisma. At Dean's request, Sal agrees to teach him how to write.

Sal and Dean write together during the day and party together at night. Dean quickly befriends the equally energized poet Carlo, and his friendship with Sal takes a back seat while Carlo educates Dean on intellectual "terms and jargon." In the spring, Dean, Carlo, and Chad decide to travel west. Sal agrees to join them soon after, taking some time to attend to his responsibilities first.


Chapter 1 introduces the novel's main characters, Sal and Dean, along with another key character, Carlo Marx, whose character is based on the eccentric gay poet Allen Ginsberg. Sal and Carlo are "intellectuals," and Dean is eager to join their ranks. Immediately, Sal's and Dean's characters are contrasted: Sal is conventional, quiet, and reflective; Dean is wild, rough around the edges, and charismatic. Dean bursts onto the scene, ignoring all social conventions and expectations. He wants to become an intellectual, but rather than following a traditional academic route, he tries a shortcut—copying and modeling himself after traditional students like Sal and Carlo. He shows up on Sal's doorstep at midnight and boldly asks Sal to teach him to write. Dean's off-beat manners charm Sal. To him, Dean represents the Wild West, a land he has always dreamed of visiting.

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