Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 2 Chapters 4 5 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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On the Road | Part 2, Chapters 4–5 | Summary



Chapter 4

It's New Year's Eve in New York and Sal, Dean, and Ed Dunkel attend a huge party before heading to New Orleans. As they plan for the party, Sal has a nagging feeling that he's forgotten something or left something behind, but he can't pinpoint it. He thinks of the Shrouded Traveler, a figure that occasionally appears in his dreams. The party quickly gets out of hand, with Lucille saying she dislikes Sal's behavior around his old friends and Marylou flirting with Sal in the hope of making Dean jealous. The party descends into a romp of drinking, drugs, and wild behavior, with Sal musing, "Everything happened."

Chapter 5

The New York friends spend a few "funny" days together in Carlo's apartment before setting out. Carlo continues to question their motives, and they all continue to discuss their strange dreams, which almost always suggest death. Ed, in particular, has a reoccurring dream (and sometimes daydream) in which he is a ghost.

At a bar one afternoon, Dean sheepishly asks Sal if he will sleep with Marylou. Dean claims that he wanted to see "what Marylou was like with another man." Because they are friends, Sal agrees. For her part, Marylou says she's pleased and eager to start right away. In the hotel room, however, Sal can't go through with it, much to Dean's disappointment. Sal claims that when it comes to Dean and love, "I didn't want to interfere, I just wanted to follow."


The Shrouded Traveler is described as a "strange Arabic figure" that haunts Sal's dreams. It appears a few times in the novel, always before or during Sal's journeys cross-country. He believes the figure represents death chasing him, ready to steal his "bliss." To Sal the death is physical, but thematically, it could be argued the death is also social. Sal, Dean, and his friends rebel against the social expectations that men their age should settle into a job, marry, buy a house, and have children. Rebelling against these expectations is one of the leading elements of the "Beat movement" counterculture. Another key aspect of the "Beat" movement is the use of drugs and alcohol to elevate one's reality. The reader sees this clearly through Ed Dunkel, who regularly hallucinates. Ed's selfish desire to inhabit a heightened reality has impacted his ability to maintain meaningful relationships, particularly with his wife, Galatea. Ed's marital struggles parallel Dean's romantic struggles as both men fail to commit to their wives, suggesting a sad side effect of the "Beat" movement.

While listening to the jazz music during the New Year's Eve party, Dean likens the musicians to God. Jazz creates a religious atmosphere for Dean, filling him with reverence. Jazz, which celebrates ad-libbing, momentary inspiration, and thinking "outside the box," is the perfect music to score Dean's life. Dean is as dedicated to the experimental style as he is to his equally random life on the road. As with jazz, Dean's life choices draw in inspired audiences, like Sal and Marylou, but can alienate those who don't understand it.

After the party, Sal and Dean begin to realize that their lifestyle has consequences. Carlo is annoyed by the mess in his home and draws further away from his friends. Dean and Marylou get into a terrible fight that leaves Marylou "black and blue." Although Dean seems to have lost self-control in beating Marylou, Sal remains composed enough to resist complicating his friendship with Dean by sleeping with Marylou.

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