On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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On the Road | Part 1, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

When Sal arrives at Remi's house, a note pinned to the front door instructs him to climb in through the window, which he does, waking a delighted Remi. His girlfriend Lee Ann is not as amused. Remi and Lee Ann live in a dilapidated neighborhood outside San Francisco called Mill City. Remi and Lee Ann's relationship is stormy—she had dreamed of marrying a rich man but ended up with a poor Frenchman—but the two always make up in time to party on Saturday night. Remi arranges a job for Sal as a security officer at the barracks where he works. Although Sal feels entirely unsuited for the job, he takes the job because it gives him a chance to spend more time with Remi. As the weeks pass, Sal and Remi lose their appreciation for the job and use it as an opportunity for drinking and stealing from soldiers before they ship out. Often Sal is called to investigate loud parties, but he ends up joining the drinking with the partygoers. His coworker, Sledge, exerts more power over the soldiers and makes frequent arrests, regardless of how this will tarnish the soldiers' reputations.

Remi and Sal pass a pleasant summer stealing food from the barracks cafeteria and pocket money from the unsuspecting soldiers. They drink, party, and get high. Sal, Remi, and Lee Ann visit an abandoned freighter in the bay, hoping to strip it of valuable copper, but find that "the ship's been stripped by a bunch of thieves." As time passes Sal becomes disillusioned and depressed. The itch to return to the road returns as he feels "everything collapsing" in Mill City. Even though the three of them have been fighting terribly, Remi asks Sal and Lee Ann to pretend everything is fine when his father visits the day. They agree, but at dinner Sal gets drunk and offends Remi's father, embarrassing Remi. The next morning Sal slinks away, knowing his friendship with Remi is over.

Analysis

The reader is likely struck by the relative safety of Mill City. Despite being a rundown part of town, Remi leaves his house unlocked for two weeks with a note pinned on the door inviting Sal to climb in through an open window. Remi represents the Beat Movement through his nontraditional, and seemingly toxic, relationship with Lee Ann, which only seems to function when the two are partying. Mill City is a mixed-race town, which was unusual in America during the 1950s, and his home is furnished entirely with stolen furniture from the nearby merchant marines barracks. Nevertheless, Remi still clings to societal tradition and "doing things properly" as he tries to do in the dinner with his father. Remi hopes to present a respectable appearance to his father, but Sal, rambunctious in his newfound freedom, ruins the evening. Like all the girlfriends and wives of his Beat friends, Sal dislikes Lee Ann immediately, highlighting only her negative characteristics in the text.

Although the work Sal and Remi do at the barracks seems traditional, they subvert their responsibilities by drinking with the sailors, failing to report crimes, and boldly stealing from their rooms. Remi and Sal rationalize their illegal behavior by arguing that everyone in America, especially the politicians in charge, are criminals, so why not follow their example of self-service?

Sal's job as a special policeman presents situational irony, where expectation contrasts with reality. He has no respect for social customs yet he has the job of upholding the law, which he obviously fails to do. In sharp contrast, the ex–prison guard who enjoys power and discipline and behaves as a traditional law officer is portrayed as the "bad guy" for abusing his power. Remi and Sal live like criminals and are portrayed as "good guys." This contrast is indicative of the counterculture movement that sought to dismantle traditional values and societal ideals.

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