Places: On the Road

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1957

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Autobiographical

Time of work: 1947-1950

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Denver

*Denver. On the RoadColorado’s capital and largest city. In Denver, Sal ventures to the apartment of Carlo Marx, which is in a brick boardinghouse near a church. To get to Carlo’s door, he must walk down an alley, descend stairs, open an old door, and pass through a cellar. Within the apartment, the walls are damp, and the scant furnishings include a candle, a bed, and a homemade icon. A meeting between Carlo and Dean Moriarity sets off the events in Colorado, and Sal soon finds himself embarked on a trip to Central City, where a performance of an opera is staged in a renovated opera house. The day starts well when an empty miner’s shack becomes available, and Sal and his friends dress formally for the performance. Later, back at the shack, they throw a party. When troublesome young visitors ruin the party, Sal and his friends go to the local bars, where they get drunk and begin shouting. Unfortunately, drunkenness leads to fights in the bars, but Sal and his friends escape before the violence escalates. At the shack, the friends cannot sleep well on the dusty bed. Breakfast is stale beer. In the car, the descent to Denver is depressing.

*Southern California

*Southern California. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Sal declares that Los Angeles is the loneliest city in America. Traveling with Terry, his Mexican lover, Sal walks down a main street, where there is a carnival atmosphere. Short of funds and finding no employment, Sal and Terry journey to Bakersfield to earn money by picking grapes. Finally, near Sabinal, they find work as cotton pickers. They rent a tent for a dollar, and though Sal’s wages provide only for day-to-day subsistence, Sal is wonderfully in love and feels happy that he is living off the earth, as he always dreamed he would be. Nevertheless, the chill of October arrives, and Sal has the restless desire to leave. Sal and Terry promise to meet in New York, but each knows the meeting will never come to pass. Getting a ride to Los Angeles, Sal stops at Columbia Pictures, where his rejected manuscript awaits him. Instead of embarking on a Hollywood career, Sal finds himself making baloney sandwiches in a parking lot, waiting for the departure of his bus.

*New Orleans

*New Orleans. Louisiana’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. As Dean, Sal, and others drive along, they are thrilled to hear jazz playing on the radio. New Orleans appears ahead of them, and they anticipate the excitement of the city. The women on the streets are stunningly beautiful. On the ferry across the Mississippi River, Sal appreciates the great American river.


*Algiers. District of New Orleans. Arriving in Algiers, the traveling band finds the dilapidated house of Old Bull Lee. Sal and Dean hope to visit exciting bars in New Orleans, but Bull insists that the bars are all dreary and takes his friends to the dullest places. Later, when Sal wants to look at the Mississippi, he finds that a fence blocks his view. As days go by, Bull reveals his eccentricities and distrust of bureaucracy, and they begin to weary of one another’s company. Finally, in the dusky light, Dean, Marylou, and Sal get in their car and head to California.


*Mexico. Sal, Dean, and Stan drive into Mexico, and Sal takes the wheel. He notices the surrounding jungle and the road that rises into the mountains. In Gregoria, a young Mexican named Victor approaches and provides marijuana and prostitutes. A wild night of intoxication, sex, music, and dancing ensues, making Sal feel that he is experiencing the end of the world. Nevertheless, as soon as Sal and Dean leave Gregoria, the road slopes downward.

The night is dark and steamy hot, with bugs swarming and biting. On the map, the men see that they have crossed the Tropic of Cancer. Caked with dead bugs and stinking in their sweaty shirts, they proceed to Ciudad Mante. After refueling there, Sal, Dean, and Stan begin another ascent. At an elevation of more than one mile, they discover a tiny thatched hut. They meet some native children, whose eyes are like those of the Virgin Mary. Sal is especially impressed that these native people are oblivious to atomic weaponry and its power to destroy everything. Their old Ford rolls on, and soon the men are immersed in the frantic pace of Mexico City. Sal becomes delirious after contracting dysentery, and Dean, having secured his Mexican divorce papers, abandons Sal to make his return trip.

BibliographyCassady, Carolyn. Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. New York: William Morrow, 1990. Background and chronology of On the Road from a woman’s point of view. See also her 1978 memoir Heartbeat: My Life with Jack and Neal.Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973. First book by Charters, a tireless Kerouac scholar. Discusses On the Road’s biographical underpinnings and connections.French, Warren. Jack Kerouac. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Two chapters analyzing On the Road from biographical and critical approaches.Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Contains notes, early drafts, and passages expurgated from On the Road.Milewski, Robert J. Jack Kerouac: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Sources, 1944-1979. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1981. Exhaustive bibliography covering primary and secondary works, reviews, theses, dissertations, and related works. Includes a long discussion of On the Road with extensive citations and annotations.
Categories: Places