Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 3 Chapters 1 2 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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Course Hero, "On the Road Study Guide," September 23, 2016, accessed July 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/.

On the Road | Part 3, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

When the money from his GI check arrives in the spring of 1949, Sal decides to move to Denver and become "a patriarch." When he arrives, however, none of his friends are there, and he's lonely. He takes a terrible job at a fruit market and feels disillusionment creeping in. He thinks about the different cultures in his neighborhood—"Negro," "overworked Jap," and "Denver Mexican"—and wishes he were part of them. He watches kids playing a baseball game and remarks that he wishes he had more joy in his life, but "that it was too late." In the morning, he visits a rich girl he has been sleeping with and she gives him $100 to travel back to San Francisco. He hitches a ride with some pimps, and as soon as he's in San Francisco he rushes to find Dean.

Chapter 2

Sal knocks on Dean's door at 2 o'clock in the morning. Dean answers the door naked, happy, but not surprised to find Sal waiting there. As soon as Camille sees Sal she starts crying, knowing Dean will leave her soon. Camille screams, "You're a liar!" to Dean, sobbing on the bed. Sal feels awkward in their beautiful home but doesn't really care that Camille is upset.

When Sal left San Francisco the last time, Dean had obsessed over Marylou, stalking her at her apartment. He saw her in bed with different men, and it nearly drove him mad. He smoked some "bad green" and had hallucinations in which his entire existence became clear to him. He knew he loved Marylou and Sal and that during his next trip across the country he had to find his long-lost father. Feeling terrifyingly enlightened, Dean ran to Marylou and asked her to smoke the same grass. She smoked it and had the same visions. In that moment Dean says, "I knew I loved her so much I wanted to kill her." They attempt a suicide pact, but Dean botches it and hits Marylou in the face, injuring his hand. Now his broken thumb is wrapped in a cast he must keep elevated at all times. He also lost the tip of the finger due to an infection. He claims to love his life with Camille but is eager to leave. When Roy Johnson arrives, Camille knows there's no hope. She throws everyone, including Dean, out on the street with their bags. Sal and Dean decide to travel to New York, and from there, Italy.

Analysis

Sal, much like Dean, romanticizes the life of America's minorities without fully understanding their social struggles. When making an honest living at the fruit market proves too boring for Sal, he wishes he belonged to more exciting cultures, then lists slightly racist terms for the various ethnic groups that populate Denver. Sal never considers what belonging to these ethnic groups might mean, given the effects of segregation, struggles for civil rights, and racist attacks. At the same time, when he feels depressed Sal visits a rich friend who gives him $100 to travel with. He doesn't understand the situational irony of wishing to be part of a marginalized community while embracing the freedoms associated with being a middle-class white man. It's unlikely a man of color would know anyone with such disposable income, or that he would could travel the country with such freedom.

When he arrives in San Francisco, Sal continues to behave as a self-centered, arrogant friend. He doesn't care that his presence in Dean's home upsets Camille, only describing his encounter with his friend's sobbing wife as awkward. He later suggests that Camille is mad to be upset about Dean's continued mistreatment. Dean is equally unmoved by Camille's pleas, and while this may not surprise readers, it is somewhat shocking to hear about his violent fight with Marylou. After threatening to shoot her, he hits her hard enough to break his finger. Just like the emotional injuries Dean has caused, he slaps a bandage over the wound and doesn't treat the cause or effect. Because he hasn't cared for his hand the wound has worsened. Dean is completely unwilling to deal with the consequences of his reckless behavior and continues to roll through life with his eyes fixed forward.

Despite their inability to consider others' emotions, Sal and Dean forge a deep and long-lasting friendship. Their relationship becomes even more intimate when Sal admits to being unable to live without Dean's wild energy in his life. He pleads with Dean with eyes "watering with embarrassment and tears" to move to New York. He promises to pay for everything. Dean seems truly touched by the gesture and agrees. With their once rocky relationship now solidified, the pair feels invincible. Now America is no longer exciting enough. They boldly agree to head for Italy.

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