On September 5, 1957, a story recorded on a 120-foot-long scroll of cut-and-taped typing paper was published as a 320-page book. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, was an autobiographically-based testament to the emerging Beat Generation, fueled by jazz, poetry, and notes taken during seven years of (probably) drug-laced road trips. Kerouac maintained that coffee was the only stimulant he used during the three weeks in New York City in April of 1951 that he spent typing the single-spaced, sans-paragraphs, sans-margins manuscript.
According to who you asked, On the Road was either “timeless,” “elusive and precious,” “a cultural event,” “the saga of a solitary seeker,” “a historic occasion,” “a major novel,” “passe and at times corny,” “an authentic work of art,” “life-changing,” or “not writing, that’s typing.” Thinly-veiled friends and acquaintances populated the novel as the narrator, Sal Paradise, traveled west across America and into a series of experiences he hoped would help him make sense of the world around him. He searched for life’s meaning in music, drugs, women, odd jobs, and fellow road-travelers high and low: “holy con-men” and “poetic con-men,” migrant workers, heroic ex-prisoners, prostitutes, down-and-outers, and failures. In the end, Sal returns to New York City believing that “nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old.”
In 2007, Viking Press released a less-edited version of Kerouac’s manuscript titled On the Road: The Original Scroll. The fiftieth-anniversary edition restored several deleted sections, including some sexual passages deemed pornographic in 1957, and substituted the real names of the people in Jack’s life for the fictional names of the novel’s characters.
Image Credit: Signet Books