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On the Road

inter alia, On the Road, The Town and the City, Howl

Jack Kerouac's best-known novel, published in 1957. The original draft was written with great rapidity in 1951, following the development of the improvisatory style Kerouac described as ‘spontaneous prose’; accordingly, it was typed onto a continuous roll of paper to avoid the interruptions necessary for the changing of separate sheets. The often head-long narrative, which is structured around the successive journeys made by ‘Sal Paradise’, Kerouac's autobiographical persona, enacts the novel's existential creed of the pursuit of fulfilment through indiscriminate immersion in experience; this affirmative and quasi-religious philosophy is most fully realized in the person of ‘Dean Moriarty’, the pseudonym for Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady, with whom he under-went the events informing the book. An ungovernable appetite for physical and mental stimulation drives Moriarty to the transcendent extreme of ‘Beat—the root, the soul of beatific’; this usage and the values and attitudes thus comprehended resulted in the adoption of the term ‘Beat Generation’ to describe Kerouac and, inter alia, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, both of whom appear in the work under the respective names ‘Carlo Marx’ and ‘Bull Lee’. The radically anti-authoritarian tone and enthusiastic accounts of cannabis smoking and other modes of intoxication were among the reasons for the rejection of On the Road by the publishers of Kerouac's comparatively conventional first novel, The Town and the City (1950); during the years that elapsed before its publication the original text was abridged and emended, a process in which Malcolm Cowley was instrumental in his capacity as a reader for the Viking Press, who issued the book in 1957. In the previous year the controversy surrounding the appearance of Ginsberg's Howl (1956) had prepared the way for On the Road, which gained a wide popular readership among those disaffected with the socio-cultural climate of post-war conformity.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography