Loving to hate Kerouac's characters is what makes On the Road so enticing
To me, On the Road
took off to a slow start, picking up when Sal got to California and met Terry. After that point, I couldn’t put the book down, which I found kind of interesting given that On the Road
is not a book with a nail-biting plot. You know from the beginning that the characters are the way that they are, especially Dean. I half anticipated Sal to have an epiphany about Dean’s character by the end of the novel, but even that doesn’t happen. “When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes” (302). Still, there is something gripping about On the Road
that kept my attention, even when I grew frustrated with the characters.
I believe that part of what makes the characters so enticing is the fact that they never change throughout the entire novel. Dean, Sal, Ed, Marylou, Camille (the list goes on) never learn from their mistakes, they just keep embarking on the same adventures and engaging in the same relationships even when they know it is bad for them. They love to make the mistakes then dissect them later, detail by detail. Despite that fact that the book consists of these flat characters, there is something about On the Road
that has made it so inspirational and so loved by much of America’s youth. I believe that is because we as readers almost love when characters frustrate us; we love to hate them. My favorite sitcom of all time is “Seinfeld” for exactly that reason. The main characters are incredibly selfish and oblivious, but that is what makes them so hilarious and endearing.
The novel was so interesting to me because it contained two levels of character hatred. On the one hand there is Sal, who loves to hate most of the people he travels with; he knows Dean is conning him but puts up with him anyway, and he lusts after Marylou but then looks for every opportunity to call her a whore. On the other hand, I as the reader loved to hate Sal; if he disliked his friends so much, why did he continue traveling with them? Yet, I was always rooting for him – everywhere he went I hoped he would find a steady job or return home safely. Travel narratives can be frustrating because traveling is such an individual experience. We can read On the Road
but we may never really understand what it was like being on the road. However, that is what also makes travel narratives so exhilarating.