Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 1 Chapters 12 14 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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On the Road | Part 1, Chapters 12–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 12

Back on the road, Sal first hitches a ride with a driver who has recently had his toe amputated, and then with a variety of other nameless, faceless drivers. After one ride, the rain starts beating down and Sal can't find a ride, so he buys a bus ticket to Los Angeles. In the station he sees "the cutest little Mexican girl" he's ever seen. His heart leaps when he sees her sitting alone on his bus, and he slowly builds up the courage to talk to her. By the end of the bus journey, they're holding hands and searching for a hotel. As soon as they get to the hotel, however, Sal begins to think Terry is a hustler. Likewise, Terry thinks Sal may be a pimp. They fight and Sal kicks her out. Terry, realizing that a pimp would never kick out a beautiful girl, takes off her clothes and climbs into bed with Sal.

Chapter 13

For the next two weeks, Sal and Terry are inseparable. They plan to move to New York together, even though Terry has a husband and young son. They spend their days relaxing in Los Angeles, spending money on entertainment while they halfheartedly look for jobs to fund their trip east. When they can't find work, they decide to hitchhike to New York. Terry returns home to gather her clothes. They don't get very far before Sal realizes that people are less inclined to pick up a Mexican hitchhiker. They come up with a plan to pick grapes in Bakersfield until they save enough money for bus tickets to New York. Instead, they only make it as far as Terry's hometown, Sanibel, with the plan of living in her brother's garage. They join up with Terry's brother Rickey and his friend, Ponzo, searching for work. They move into migrant tents and take jobs picking cotton. Sal thinks it's going to be an easy, relaxing job in which he'll make a quick buck, but he's not cut out for the work. He enjoys being close to the earth but hates the heat and backbreaking labor. Each day he makes just enough money to buy groceries. He, Terry, and her seven-year-old son Johnny eat a meager meal and collapse in their beds, exhausted from the day's work. Sal enjoys playing "family" with Terry, even calling Johnny his "baby boy."

The weather turns cold and it's no longer safe for the "little family" to live in the migrant tent. Terry takes Johnny back to her family's home, but because her family won't accept him, Sal hides out in a neighboring farmer's barn. Terry brings him food each night and tries to keep him comfortable, but before long Sal feels the itch to return to the road. Terry halfheartedly plans to meet him in New York after the harvest season, but "we both knew she wouldn't make it." As soon as Terry turns to walk home, Sal feels a sense of relief, quickly buying a bus ticket as far as he can afford: Pittsburgh.

Chapter 14

On the bus to Pittsburgh Sal meets a boring, nearsighted girl from Washington, and they "necked all the way to Indianapolis." Because Sal is completely out of money, the girl buys his meals. In Pittsburgh Sal begins hitchhiking. He meets a man he calls the "Ghost of Susquehanna." The Ghost is trying to hitchhike to Canada but insists on traveling the wrong way. In Harrisburg, Sal can't find any more rides and tries to sleep on the train station floor until the stationmaster throws him out. Starving, Sal finally catches a ride with a man who believes in "controlled starvation for the sake of health." It's a miserable ride, and the man drops Sal off in the middle of Times Square. He panhandles for a quarter and jumps on the bus home, gobbling up the entire contents of the refrigerator as soon as he's through the door.

Analysis

In this section, Sal comes close to settling down with Terry, appreciating traditional work and family dynamics. When he first meets Terry, however, he objectifies her, as he does all women, as a sexual object to be obtained. He describes her physically, and he spends the entire time she talks concocting a way to get her in bed. He claims to love her, repeatedly, before even asking her name. Their stories contrast different styles of freedom. Sal enjoys the freedom of the open road because it's an adventure. Terry enjoys her freedom because she has recently escaped from an abusive husband and is traveling to meet her sister in Los Angeles. While Sal ignores the consequences of his actions, Terry's presence reminds the reader that life is not always easy and beautiful. Terry has experienced agony and loss, including having to leave her young son behind before her journey. While Sal and Dean's adventures sound youthfully exciting, Terry's story reminds readers that it is often the women who are left picking up the pieces of their men's thirst for adventure. This will certainly be true of Dean's women—Marylou, Camille, and Inez—who are left with broken hearts and fatherless children.

When they reach the hotel room, Terry and Sal have a fight in which they question each other's motives. Sal calls Terry a "dumb little Mexican wench," an insult that gives readers insight into Sal's attitude toward women. Even though he claims to "love" Terry, he doesn't actually value or respect her. Even after "playing house" with Terry and bonding with her young son, Sal doesn't think twice about abandoning them when he gets bored, moving on from her without qualm.

Sal's experiences with Terry and her family highlight his position of privilege. For a short time Sal enjoys living the impoverished life of a migrant worker. He thinks working with his hands and living close to the earth is beautiful and that he would be happy to carry on with this work for the rest of his life. He enjoys making just enough money to buy groceries and the beauty of having a traditional nuclear family. When the weather turns cold and the reality of this life sets in, Sal realizes he would rather return to the freedom of the road. Having a family is too much responsibility, and Sal isn't interested in a lasting relationship with Terry or Little Johnny. Unlike the migrants he has lived with, Sal is able to pick up and return to a comfortable life whenever it suits him. Migrant workers like Terry, however, are enslaved to their fate, which is reflected in the admission that even though Terry promises to visit Sal in New York, they both know she'll never make it.

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