Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 1 Chapters 4 5 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." September 23, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2023.


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On the Road | Part 1, Chapters 4–5 | Summary



Chapter 4

Two farmers from Minnesota pick Sal up in Nebraska. Sal calls it "the greatest ride in my life," perhaps because the happy-spirited farmers have picked up every hitchhiker they've come across, loading them all onto their flatbed. By the time Sal climbs aboard, the truck is already filled with riders, including a "tall slim fellow who had a sneaky look" called Montana Slim. Another rider is Mississippi Gene and his 16-year-old charge, a depressed-looking boy who appears to be running away from something. After stopping for a quick meal, Sal and the rest of the hitchhikers pitch in to buy a bottle of whiskey. The more he drinks, the more Sal is filled with joy about his accomplishments on the road and his future in Denver. Happy, Sal squanders the rest of his cigarettes on his fellow riders, offering them everything he can because "I loved them so." The truck stops in Ogallala, Nebraska, and all the hitchhikers hit the street. Sal buys everyone cigarettes and continues to share his whiskey. They spend the evening together sleeping on the street under a large tarp to stay warm.

Chapter 5

Unable to sleep, Sal and Montana Slim hit the bars, with Sal buying all the drinks. The two eat in a restaurant where Sal unsuccessfully flirts with the waitress. Montana Slim asks Sal to mail a postcard for him, which Sal secretly reads and finds touching. Later, the pair meet two girls they hope to sleep with. Sal's girl, a "little blonde," is in a foul mood, but he pretends she likes him and he buys everyone's drinks. That night Sal falls asleep at the bus station, and when he wakes, Montana Slim and the girls are gone. He realizes he needs to change his ways and stop spending money if he wants to get to Denver. With new determination, Sal hitchhikes swiftly to Denver.


Sal's journey finally begins to embody the freedom he had envisioned. He catches rides with interesting people and meets new friends along the way. Overly excited, Sal continues to spend recklessly on his new "friends," many of which, like Montana Slim, don't repay the favor. He meets a variety of people, which reminds the reader that at the time of publication hitchhiking was still a relatively safe way to travel and mode of transport that attracted people from all walks of life.

The journey on the road is still a means to an end for Sal—all he wants is to rejoin his friends—and he doesn't fully embrace the wildness of the process. In later travels, the emphasis is on the journey itself rather than the destination, and Sal opens himself fully to the experiences freedom offers him. Nevertheless, the journey fills Sal with excitement, and in his naivety every ride that picks him up is "the best ride he ever had."

One of the main reasons for On the Road's success is its portrayal of secondary characters. Sal and Dean meet a variety of colorful characters on their various journeys, and even though they are part of the story for only a chapter or two, Kerouac includes such fanciful details that the characters feel real. Perhaps this is because Kerouac bases every character in the novel on real people he met on the road. The novel serves almost as a memoir of his experiences traveling across America with Neal Cassady.

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