Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 3 Chapters 9 11 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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On the Road | Part 3, Chapters 9–11 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

Dean continues to drive across Nebraska and Iowa at a steady 110 mph. As he drives he tells more stories from his childhood, and stories of his early-day arrests. Both Dean and Sal are excited to get to New York, which will be Dean's permanent home for the first time. They engage in a dangerous road race with a Buick for 80 miles, weaving in and out of traffic. Sal warns Dean not to drive so dangerously in the daytime, but Dean doesn't listen. Dean drives like "the Angel of Terror" and Sal resigns himself to the fact that he might die: "There was no escaping it. I resigned myself to all." During the wild drive through Iowa, Dean accidentally rams the waterbag on the bumper of another man's car. All is well at the moment, but the man later calls the police with suspicions that the car is stolen. The police pull them over and phone Chicago to confirm they are hired drivers. Continuing to weave dangerously through traffic, Dean pulls the car into Chicago exactly 17 hours after leaving Denver. Sal figures he drove the 1,180 miles at an average of 70 mph, "Which is a kind of crazy record."

Chapter 10

Sal and Dean clean up in a YMCA room before seeking out whatever wild nightlife Chicago has to offer. They listen to jazz again. In the first bar, a young white kid tries to play alongside the black band, but they basically ignore him. Between sets Sal and Dean prowl the streets in the Cadillac, which steadily becomes bashed and scraped as the night progresses. At the next bar, Dean thinks he sees God in the eyes of jazz musician George Shearing. They party until 9 o'clock in the morning before staggering back to the Cadillac and driving it to the owner's apartment. The parking attendant doesn't recognize the car, it is so beat up. Surprisingly, the owner never contacts Sal and Dean to complain about the damages even though he has their addresses.

Chapter 11

With money running low, Sal and Dean take a bus to Detroit. On the bus Sal talks with a boring girl from Michigan who recalls popping popcorn with her mother. Sal is torn between wanting to shake sense into the girl and wanting to sleep with her anyway. Exhausted and filthy they reach Detroit, where they sleep in an all-night movie theater, watching the same films over and over. The attendants come by to sweep away garbage, and Sal later imagines being swept away with it. The next day they get a ride in another travel bureau car, this time with a respectable family. Dean drives wildly while the father sleeps. In a few short hours they are in New York. Sal's aunt is not crazy about Dean staying with them but allows it for a few nights. For the next five nights Sal and Dean party wildly in the city. Dean falls in love with a woman named Inez and vows to marry her. Several months later, Camille gives birth to Dean's second child. A few months later, Inez gives birth to another of Dean's children. The men never make it to Italy.

Analysis

Many of the novel's themes are repeated again and again in this section: the objectification of women, the strength of Sal and Dean's friendship, and Dean's reckless decisions are at the forefront. The reader also learns more about Dean's background in his continued search for his father. Dean has no idea where his father might be. Perhaps to mask his disappointment at his father's abandonment, Dean romanticizes every bum and hitchhiker they pass, dreaming he might hold the key information to solving his father's disappearance. Dean also fantasizes about driving the car all the way to the tip of South America. Dean has spent much of his life behind bars, dreaming about freedom. This is reflected in his giddy desire to explore the vast world. For the first time, Dean escapes consequences for his poor decisions, first with the police officer who responds after the traffic accident, and then with the Cadillac owner who never follows up about the damages to his car. Interestingly, Sal resigns himself to death when Dean is behind the wheel, which shows how dedicated Sal is to Dean's journey.

Once again, Sal and Dean romanticize black culture and jazz. For the first time, the novel suggests segregation when the black band refuses to play with the white musician, although the causes of the incident aren't fully explored in the text. They also continue to objectify women, as seen in Sal's bizarre discussion with the boring girl on the bus and Dean's temporary infatuation with Inez, which leads him to divorce Camille.

After Sal and Dean arrive in Detroit, they spend the night in a 24-hour movie theater. By forcing the characters to watch the same film over and over, the novel gently critiques the idea of living life for entertainment alone. By pursuing entertainment alone the travelers risk a superficial, boring existence. The scene in which Sal imagines being swept up with the garbage provides a twofold analogy. The line "embryonically convoluted among the rubbishes of my life, his life, and the life of everybody" suggests regret over his past behaviors—he belongs with the garbage—while also suggesting rebirth. Sal seems ready to sweep away his past behaviors and start afresh.

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