On the Road | Study Guide

Jack Kerouac

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Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." Course Hero. 23 Sep. 2016. Web. 22 Sep. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, September 23). On the Road Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/

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(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "On the Road Study Guide." September 23, 2016. Accessed September 22, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/.


Course Hero, "On the Road Study Guide," September 23, 2016, accessed September 22, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/On-the-Road/.

On the Road | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


On the Road begins in the winter of 1947 when the young writer Sal Paradise is introduced to young rebel Dean Moriarty. Dean has just moved to New York City in the hope of learning how to write. Sal and Dean instantly hit it off, with Sal enamored with Dean's wild energy and passion. Over the next few years, the pair crisscrosses America searching for adventure and, ultimately, the meaning of life.

In the summer of 1947 after Dean has left for Denver, Sal hitchhikes for the first time from New York to Denver to meet up with friends, including Dean. The trip starts out poorly, as Sal travels in the wrong direction and along nearly deserted roads. Disappointed and disillusioned, he spends nearly all his savings on bus fare to Chicago. From there he has better luck catching rides, and he meets his first roadside friends. Eager to engage with the hitchhiking community, naive Sal spends generously on his fellow travelers, buying meals, alcohol, and cigarettes in exchange for companionship. He meets Eddie, who steals his wool shirt; Montana Slim, a shady character who takes everything Sal offers but never reciprocates; and Mississippi Gene, a kindly older hitchhiker who has taken a troubled young boy under his wing. Sal enjoys the expansive freedom of the road but is eager to meet his friends in Denver.

Once Sal arrives in Denver, however, he learns that his friends have splintered into two groups, seemingly along economic lines: those who come from well-off homes and those from troubled backgrounds (a group that includes Dean and Carlo Marx). Although Sal is lumped with the "well-off" friends and enjoys a trip with them in the mountains, he is eager to reunite with Dean and embrace the "Beat" lifestyle. After a short stint of hard partying in Denver, Sal continues west to San Francisco to visit Remi Boncoeur, a friend from prep school. There, he works temporarily as a security guard, monitoring soldiers as they ship in and out. He and Remi live as petty thieves, stealing and drinking heavily on the job. Before long, Sal once again feels the itch to return to the road. He meets Terry, a Mexican migrant worker, and falls in love with her. They "play house" for a while and plan a quiet life together, but when the weather turns cold Sal heads home to New York on his own.

A year later at Christmas, Sal and Dean reunite when Dean unexpectedly arrives on Sal's family's doorstep in Virginia with Marylou and Ed Dunkel. Dunkel has abandoned his wife, Galatea, in a hotel along the way. They convince Sal to join them on another journey west, this time to visit a friend and mentor named Old Bull Lee. The group speeds across the country, heedless of driving laws or speed limits. A speeding ticket costs them half their travel fund, but they steal whatever they need to fund the trip when their cash runs out. At Old Bull Lee's house, they descend into a stupor (fueled by booze and drugs) and explore Bull Lee's "Beat" lifestyle of concocting bizarre inventions and spouting conspiracy theories about the government. Later, Ed reunites with Galatea, while Dean, Marylou, and Sal continue to San Francisco. There, Sal and Marylou shack up together in the hope of making Dean jealous, but Dean abandons them and returns to his new girlfriend, Camille, to no one's great surprise.

A few months later, Sal travels back to Denver and picks up a job in a fruit market. When his quiet, "square" life becomes boring, he meets up with Dean in San Francisco and they travel back to New York. Camille is devastated to see Dean leave, but neither he nor Sal cares. After staying in a house belonging to Sal's friend Frankie and partying some more, the pair pick up a job transporting a man's brand new Cadillac to Chicago. They nearly destroy the car along the way. Dean has become more reckless and dangerous, caring less and less about the consequences of his actions. He makes this journey with a bandaged hand, which he injured during a fight with Marylou. A few months after arriving in New York, Camille gives birth to Dean's baby.

The following spring, Sal makes one final cross-country trip with Dean, this time to Mexico. Stan Shephard, a friend escaping the clutches of an overprotective grandfather, joins them. They make great time to Mexico, which they enter as if it were the Promised Land. Mexico embodies the freedom and cultural excitement they had searched for their entire lives. The three have an epic blowout with a local named Victor who gives them marijuana and takes them to a brothel where they party. The next day, they continue their journey to Mexico City, passing through a remote mountain village and feeling at one with wild nature. Soon after, Sal falls ill with dysentery and is surprised when Dean abandons him. He finally realizes that Dean is a "rat" who only cares about himself. In the months that follow, Sal returns to New York City and settles once again into a quiet life with his fiancée, Laura. When Dean shows up a few months later, Sal realizes he has matured while Dean has remained the same. There is no longer room for Dean's wild energy in Sal's life.

On the Road Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Sal prepares for his first cross-country journey.

Rising Action

2 Sal hitchhikes across America to meet friends in Denver.

3 Sal falls in love with Terry and "plays house" with her.

4 Dean and Sal travel from NY to LA to stay with Old Bull Lee.

5 Dean settles with Camille; Sal unsuccessfully woos Marylou.

6 Sal and Dean reunite during a drive from Denver to Chicago.


7 Sal, Dean, and Stan have a wild blowout in Mexico.

Falling Action

8 Dean returns to New York without Sal; the two grow apart.


9 Sal drives to the opera with a friend, says goodbye to Dean.

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