Literature Study GuidesOn The RoadPart 4 Chapters 2 4 Summary

On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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

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Summary

Chapter 2

Sal takes the bus and quickly crosses the country, though pausing long enough to revisit the great countryside and cities he passes through. He sits next to Henry, an ex-felon just released from prison who is also headed to Denver. Henry is worried he'll lose his temper before arriving at his brother's house and get sent back to prison, so he asks Sal to help keep him calm. He's wearing a "penitentiary suit," which he is eager to pawn. The owner of a Denver pawnshop, however, refuses to buy it, so Henry throws it in the trashcan. While Henry is in the pawnshop, Sal calls old friends Tim Gray and Stan Shephard. Stan and Sal agree to travel to Mexico together, although Stan's overprotective grandfather doesn't want him to leave. Sal spends a week with Tim, Stan, and the Rawlins before he learns that Dean has pulled his savings from the bank, jumped in a car, and is driving to Denver to meet him. Sal envisions Dean as "a burning shuddering frightful Angel" coming toward him, "like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain." He knows "Dean had gone mad again."

Chapter 3

Everyone has been staying at Babe's house while her parents are in Europe. Babe's Aunt Charity, a 75-year-old woman, stays in the house as a chaperone. Charity is a nosy, somewhat meddling woman, but that doesn't stop the friends from enjoying themselves, especially after Dean arrives. Roy Johnson, his wife, Dorothy, Ed and Galatea, Babe, Tim, Stan, Sal, and Dean are all together again. Dean announces that he's coming with Sal and Stan to Mexico to get a cheap divorce from Camille so he can marry Inez. The friends all joke that "Dean gets crazier every year," but Sal notices other changes. Dean zones out unexpectedly, disappearing as if to "gather up more energy." He is frantic and random in words and action, and he drinks until "demoniacally and seraphically drunk." That night, visiting a bar, Dean drinks "like the ghost of his father," and they get steaming drunk before setting off for Mexico the next morning. Before they leave, Stan's grandfather pleads emotionally for him to stay. As they start the journey, Sal realizes they are all without their fathers: Dean's father is missing, Sal's is dead, and Stan is fleeing his grandfather. With this thought they "pointed our rattle snout south" and drive.

Chapter 4

A few miles outside of Denver a "strange, feverish, exotic bug" stings Stan's arm, which swells up terribly. From that moment, the trip feels doomed. Nervous and feverish, Stan starts talking, telling stories about his childhood to pass the time. Later, Sal and Dean try to recount the plot of every book they've ever read. They drive in this way all the way down through Texas, where huge bugs begin splattering against the windshield and all over their clothes. The heat is overwhelming. In San Antonio they take Stan to a hospital for a penicillin shot and quickly return to the busy San Antonio streets. They visit a few pool halls before returning to the road, driving through "sinister" Laredo and into Mexico. All three are bubbling with excitement as they cross the border. Stan has been to foreign countries before, but to Sal and Dean, the border into Mexico feels like they're crossing into another world.

Analysis

Henry Glass, who has just been released from prison, reminds readers of Dean's character at the beginning of the novel when Dean was fresh out of reform school. The difference is he lacks Dean's charisma and the "native strange saintliness to save him from the iron fate." Henry is more vulnerable and needs companionship, someone to keep him from getting into trouble and being sent back to prison. Sal readily offers his help, which reveals a change in Sal's character. Sal has become a seasoned traveler and an experienced mentor. During his first cross-country trip, Sal searched for companionship from every hitchhiker and bum he encountered. Now he offers his companionship to others.

As soon as he arrives in Denver, Sal arranges to travel to Mexico with Stan, which is particularly exciting because Sal has never been out of the country. Although his other friends are happy to see him, Tim, Roy, Ed, Galatea, and Babe have put their wild travel days behind them, having settled into quiet, stable lives. One by one, all of Sal's "Beat" friends mature and transition into traditional, socially acceptable lives. Doing so begs the question: Is the Beat movement a phase for disillusioned youths, or is it a sustainable lifestyle? Surprisingly, Dean makes a last-minute decision to join Sal on his Mexican adventure. With the gang back together again, the toll of Dean's wild days is undeniable. Dean no longer commands the attention of the room and is no longer the life of the party. Forced to muster up energy to entertain, Dean is truly a shell of the man he once was. Although the friends all plan on a wild night out to say goodbye, the party becomes a "mournful party."

In preparation for the trip, old habits reappear. The travelers drink heavily and prepare to leave emotional loved ones behind—this time Stan's grandfather. Sal again sees the Shrouded Traveler but this time suggests the figure might actually be Dean. Dean has long been the motivating force behind Sal's adventures, and without Dean's friendship it's unlikely Sal would have explored the open road so fully. When Dean suddenly appears before the Mexico trip, however, Sal feels apprehensive, unsure whether he actually wants Dean to join them. Perhaps for old time's sake and perhaps because he understands Dean's isolation, Sal welcomes his friend on the journey.

Filled with excitement and anticipation, Sal, Dean, and Stan hit the road, eager to relive the wild days of their youths. Sal no longer seems able to live life by ignoring the consequences. In the hospital with Stan, Sal thinks about Terry for the first time since he left her, wondering how she's doing and feeling terrible about abandoning her. Again, this highlights how his character has matured since his first trip.

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