Now that we've looked at plot in Jack Kerouac's On the Road, we can turn to the people of this groundbreaking novel.
Even before we meet our narrator, Sal Paradise, we meet Dean Moriarty. This character drives so much of On the Road at times it's hard to get away from him.
Dean is reckless with energy and ideas, a guy who pushes everyone out of their comfortable decisions and takes them into events and actions they'd never agree to otherwise.
We know Deans in our own life ... and Thank God for them! I've had Deans sprinkled throughout my life; in college they gave me political petitions to take door-to-door and weren't afraid to loudly criticize capitalism and its greedy fallout. They drank too much, danced too wildly, spoke truth to power. They showed me that the borders of the world are not firm. We set them, ourselves, by our own daring.
Sal Paradise is our narrator. He is immensely likable as he plods through his life, looking for hope and good times, always lonely, never connecting fully with others.
Kerouac's Sal helped to establish the idea of a dispassionate narrator. We see this kind of narrator in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. These narrators are never really involved in the action around them, nor do they judge or comment. They simply see what's happening and tell us.
At the same time, Sal in this novel develops his own verve for the road and after meeting Dean, sets out to hitchhike across the country.
At one point, he spends several months with a Mexican woman who's a migrant worker; he falls in love with her on a bus when she looks at him. This are some of the most meaningful moments in the novel, because they illustrate the great longing inside the book's bravado.
There are so many others ... Carlo Marx, Old Bull Lee, Marylou and the girlfriends.
We can't forget, either, that Kerouac based these folks on his own experiences with Allen Ginsberg (Carlo), William Burroughs (Old Bull) and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty).
For me, that's less important than the quality and achievement of the book.
AHEAD: Why the "Road" prose moves