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On the Road

Ann Charters - Introduction by
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Book: Paperback | 129 x 198mm | 320 pages | ISBN 9780141182674 | 13 Aug 2007 | Penguin Classics
On the Road

On the Road swings to the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, generosity, chill dawns and drugs, with Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty, traveller and mystic, the living epitome of Beat. Now recognized as a modern classic, its American Dream is nearer that of Walt Whitman than Scott Fitzgerald, and it goes racing towards the sunset with unforgettable exuberance, poignancy and autobiographical passion.

» Visit Penguin's Jack Kerouac website

Below is an extract from On the Road: The Original Scroll. The paragraph below was omitted from the original publication of the novel:

In the middle of the Pecos country we all began talking about what we would be if we were Old West characters. “Neal, you’d be an outlaw for sure” I said “but one of those crazy-kickoutlaws galloping across the plains and shooting up saloons.” “Louanne would be the dancing hall beauty. Bill Burroughs would live at the end of town, a retired Confederate colonel, in a big house with all the shutters drawn and come out only once a year with his shotgun to meet his connection in a Chinese Alley. Al Hinkle would play cards all day and tell stories in a chair. Hunkey would live with the Chinamen; you’d see him cut under a streetlamp with an opium pipe and a queue.” “What about me?” I said. “You’d be the son of the local newspaper publisher. Every now and then you’d go mad and ride with the wildbuck gang for kicks. Allen Ginsberg --- he’d be a scissors sharpener coming down from the mountain once a year with his wagon and he’d be predicting fires and fellows in from the border would make him dance with hotfoot bullets. Joan Adams… she’d live in the shuttered house, she’d be the only real lady in town but nobody’d ever see her.” We went on and on, scouring our rogues’ gallery. In later years Allen would come down from the mountain bearded and wouldn’t have scissors any more, just songs of catastrophe; and Burroughs would no longer come out of his house once a year; and Louanne would shoot old Neal as he staggered drunk from his shack; and Al Hinkle would outlive us all telling stories to youngsters in front of the Silver Dollar. Hunkey would be found dead one cold winter morning in an alley. Louanne would inherit the dance hall and become a madame and a power in the town. I would disappear to Montana never to be heard from again. At the last minute we threw in Lucien Carr --- he would disappear from Pecos City and come back years later darkened by African suns with an African Queen for a wife and ten black children and a fortune in gold. Bill Burroughs would go mad one day and start shooting at the whole town from his window; they’d set the torch to his old house and everything would burn and Pecos City would be a charred ruins and ghost town in the orange rocks.

Read more about On the Road: The Original Scroll here.


Extract from On the Road by Jack Kerouac

That night in Harrisburg I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out. Isn’t it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father’s roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. I stumbled haggardly out of the station; I had no more control. All I could see of the morning was a whiteness like the whiteness of the tomb. I was starving to death. All I had left in the form of calories were the last of the cough drops I’d bought in Shelton, Nebraska, months ago; these I sucked for their sugar. I didn’t know how to panhandle. I stumbled out of town with barely enough strength to reach the city limits. I knew I’d be arrested if I spend another night in Harrisburg. Cursed city! The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny, haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, ‘Fine, fine, there’s nothing better for you. I myself haven’t eaten for three days. I’m going to live to be a hundred and fifty years old.’ He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac. I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who’d say, ‘Let’s stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.’ No, I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. After a hundred miles he grew lenient and took out bread-and-butter sandwiches from the back of the car. They were hidden among his salesman samples. He was selling plumbing fixtures around Pennsylvania. I devoured the bread and butter. Suddenly I began to laugh. I was all alone in the car, waiting for him as he made business calls in Allentown, and I laughed and laughed. Gad, I was sick and tired of life. But the madman drove me home to New York.

Suddenly I found myself on Times Square. I had travelled eight thousand miles around the American continent and I was back on Times Square; and right in the middle of rush hour, too, seeing with my innocent road-eyes the absolute madness and fantastic hoorair among themselves, the mad dream – grabbing, taking, giving, sighing, dying, just so they could be buried in those awful cemetery cities beyond Long Island City. The high towers of the land – the other end of the land, the place where Paper America is born. I stood in a subway doorway, trying to get enough nerve to pick up a beautiful long butt, and every time I stooped great crowds rushed by and obliterated it from my sight, and finally it was crushed. I had no money to go home in the bus. Paterson is quite a few miles from Times Square. Can you picture me walking those last miles through the Lincoln Tunnel or over the Washington Bridge and into New Jersey? It was dusk. Where was Hassel? I dug the square for Hassel; he wasn’t there, he was in Riker’s Island, behind bars. Where Dean? Where everybody? Where life? I had my home to go to, my place to lay my head down and figure the losses and figure the gain that I knew was in there somewhere too. I had to panhandle two bits for the bus. I finally hit a Greek minister who was standing around the corner. He gave me the quarter with a nervous lookaway. I rushed immediately to the bus.

When I got home I ate everything in the icebox. My aunt got up and looked at me. ‘Poor little Salvatore,’ she said in Italian. ‘You’re thin, you’re thin. Where have you been all this time?’ I had on two shirts and two sweaters; my canvas bag had torn cottonfield pants and the tattered remnants of my huarache shoes in it. My aunt and I decided to buy a new electric refrigerator with the money I had sent her from California; it was to be the first one in the family. She went to bed, and late at night I couldn’t sleep and just smoked in bed. My half-finished manuscript was on the desk. It was October, home, and work again. The first cold winds rattled the windowpane, and I had made it just in time. Dean had come to my house, slept several nights there, waiting for me; spent afternoons talking to my aunt as she worked on a great rag rug woven of all the clothes in my family for years, which was now finished and spread on my bedroom floor, as complex and rich as the passage of time itself; and then he had left, two days before I arrived, crossing my path probably somewhere in Pennsylvania or Ohio, to go to San Francisco. He had his own life there; Camille had just gotten an apartment. It had never occurred to me to look her up while I was in Mill City. Now it was too late and I had also missed Dean.


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