Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 Sep. 2016. Web. 3 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/>.
Course Hero. (2016, September 23). On the Road Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 3, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." September 23, 2016. Accessed August 3, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/.
Course Hero, "On the Road Study Guide," September 23, 2016, accessed August 3, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/.
Sal, Dean, Marylou, and Ed drive to New Orleans. Along the way, Sal drives for the first time to get "traffic experience" before applying for his license. Dean and Marylou kiss and fool around in the car, much to Sal's annoyance. The lovebirds plan to move in together despite Dean's promise to return to Camille and his daughter. This also annoys Sal because the agreement had been that once in San Francisco, Marylou would "switch" to him. With Ed behind the wheel, the gang is again pulled over for speeding. This time the cops question why Marylou is traveling alone with three men. Dean is rambunctious, and they "smell jail" all over him. They charge Dean $25—more than half the group's money—to let Dean get back on the road. This sours everyone's mood. With little money left, they start picking up hitchhikers in exchange for gas money. Most of the hitchhikers can't pay, but Dean insists on picking them up anyway "for kicks." They pick up Hyman Solomon, who claims to have walked "all over the USA ... kicking at Jewish doors and demanding money," as well as a series of sad young men with no family or friends to lend them money. Desperate, they are all forced to steal where they can: gas, food, and cigarettes. In this way, they make it to Old Bull Lee's.
Old Bull Lee and his wife, Jane, live in a dilapidated house with their two children, Dodie and little Ray. Bull Lee and Jane are drug addicts who cannot function without multiple "fixes" a day. Their children run amok, completely unsupervised. Nevertheless, Sal views Bull Lee as a teacher full of things he "learned not only out of necessity but because he wanted to." He has been all over the world, met interesting people, and lived through wild adventures—often involving drugs and alcohol—and regales the young travelers with stories. He is also a raving conspiracy theorist. Drugs are readily accessible in the house, and on the first night Marylou drinks a martini mixed with "tea, goofballs, benny, [and] liquor."
The next morning, Bull Lee is in his backyard pulling hundreds of tiny nails out of a rotten log, determined to turn it into a shelf that will "last a thousand years." He feels certain that the government hides superior products from consumers, forcing them to buy ineffective products that will break in a few years. When they get bored with the wood, they begin throwing knives at targets while Bull tells wild stories from his past. Later Bull, Dean, and Sal try out Bull's "orgone accumulator," which he claims can prevent cancer. After lunch, Bull and Sal drive down to the bookie's to bet on horses. Sal has a good feeling about a horse named Big Pop, but Bull ignores him. Big Pop wins, with 50–1 odds. Dumbfounded, Bull feels sure Sal has a connection to the netherworld and that he can converse with his dead father. Back home the men return to throwing knives. Eight-year-old Dodie hangs around and Sal notes that Dean "couldn't take his eyes off her." Ed and Galatea decide to move into a motel and repair their marriage. Sal writes to his aunt and asks her to wire him money from his GI checks. When the money arrives, Sal, Dean, and Marylou get back on the road.
Headed toward San Francisco, they drive through the Louisiana swamps. They're scared but no one wants to admit it, and they are relieved to cross into Texas. On the road they swap stories about old friends and old adventures. While Dean and Marylou sleep in the back seat, Sal loses control of the car and skids off the road. Miserably, the three pull it from the mud. The trio continues to steal food, gas, and cigarettes where they can, and Sal notices that Dean is becoming less coherent the longer they're on the road. While searching for hitchhikers in El Paso, Marylou confides that she knows Dean will leave her as soon as they get to San Francisco and that she'd like to move in with Sal. Sal, who feels bad for Marylou and is still attracted to her, agrees. To fund the rest of the trip, Sal pawns his watch. They also stop at Sal's old friend Hingham's house for food and a loan. Hingham, who leads a quiet, married life, expresses regret that he can't join their trip.
Continuing to pick up hitchhikers, the trio finally arrives in California. They've picked up a young man, Arthur, who promises that his aunt, who owns a grocery store, will pay them gas money. As soon as they cross the border Dean becomes animated, pointing out places he had visited before and sharing stories. Sal tries to interject a few stories of his own—stories about Terry, for example—but Dean is so excited he barely listens. Dropping Arthur off, they learn that his aunt has been arrested for shooting her husband, a story eerily similar to a story another hitchhiker told them. Bursting with energy, Dean runs to Camille's apartment and promises to meet back up with Marylou and Sal later.
On the road, Dean, Sal, Ed, and Marylou continue to embrace a subversive lifestyle, failing to adhere to societal norms, restrictions, and laws. All the drivers regularly speed, weaving through traffic, driving as if they are the only car on the road. When they can't afford gas, food, and cigarettes, they steal them. In doing so, they enter into direct conflict with police officers, whose job it is to regulate social expectations and law. Throughout the novel, police and law enforcement agents are always represented as the enemy—stealing the travelers' freedom, "corruptly" doling out fines, and accusing the youths of crimes they haven't even committed. They do their jobs under the thinly veiled suspicion that the travelers are up to no good. While Sal and Dean are outraged by the accusations of the officer in this section, he is correct in assuming the travelers are troublemakers. When forced to adhere to social norms by paying a speeding ticket, everyone's mood sours. Try as they might, the travelers cannot avoid the social expectations of their time.
Sal and Dean continue to objectify women, viewing them more as property than people, as seen in Sal's annoyance that Marylou doesn't want to "switch" to him once they reach San Francisco. During their initial discussions about living arrangements, Marylou isn't consulted and neither man seems to care about her opinion. Dean, who has never cared about the emotions of his women, expects Marylou and Camille to live alongside each other while he flits between them. Dean's selfishness grows as he expects everyone to make sacrifices for his happiness.
At Old Bull Lee's house, the characters come face to face with the consequences of living a "Beat" life, but none seems affected by it. First, Galatea confronts Ed for abandoning her. Her arguments against him could have easily come from any of the novel's other women left behind by their free-spirited men. Modern readers may question why women like Galatea, Camille, and Marylou stick with their flighty men despite abandonment and infidelity. The novel never addresses these questions, and the women remain largely one-dimensional.
The friends also come face to face with Bull and Jane Lee's two children. The kids have basically raised themselves amid their parents' crippling drug addictions, and look dirty and underfed. None of the travelers seem bothered by this, and no one steps in to help care for them. Likewise, no one shields the children from the chronic drug abuse in the house; everyone drinks and does drugs without a second thought. The children are viewed as entertainment, with Dean even predatorily eyeing nine-year-old Dodie. The scenes involving children are some of the most difficult for modern readers to forgive. Kerouac creates harrowing scenes of Dean's attraction to children but doesn't address them as anything more than one of Dean's many peculiarities. In his pursuit of doing "whatever feels good" in the moment, Dean teeters on the line of becoming a villain. Old Bull Lee, despite his many flaws, is viewed as a hero to the Beat Generation, and the travelers feel blessed to partake in his subversive lifestyle.
After leaving Bull Lee's house, Sal notices that Dean is becoming less coherent. There should be no question drug abuse and binge drinking have addled his mind. It is only a matter of time before he ends up like Old Bull Lee, regaling visitors with tales of his past adventures while spending his days trying to make sense of himself and of society. Old Bull Lee, who barely scrapes by, forages for furniture and builds eccentric machines. He is surviving, but just barely. His children, much like Dean's, pay the price for their father's madness.