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On the Road
On the Road
ON THE ROAD, by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac proudly declared that the original manuscript of ON THE ROAD (1957) was written at white heat in a span of only three weeks, but the defining novel of the Beat Generation was almost a decade in the making. From its conception in the late '40s through that compositional spree in 1951 -- Kerouac typed it on one enormous roll, without paragraph breaks or margins -- through multiple rejections (and revisions) to final publication, the book was virtually a legend before its own time. The largely autobiographical tale centers on Dean Moriarty, a new, rebellious model of the "archetypal American man," whose real-life counterpart was Kerouac's close friend Neal Cassady. Dean and Sal Paradise (Kerouac's fictional version of himself) hit the highway in search of both a real America and a transcendental "point of ecstasy." What they summon forth is a 20th-century bacchanalia with an ideological edge -- a rejection of bourgeois roles and attitudes via sex, drugs, booze, and the liberational beat of jazz. New music is found even in Dean's criminal inclinations, conceived of as "a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy." Jazz is also the touchstone for Kerouac's prose style, with its ferocious spontaneity and improvisational creativity -- equally impressive whether it took three weeks or 10 years to craft.

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The American Novel