On the Road (First Edition) by Jack Kerouac



2015-06-26 10:42:50

On the Road is an autobiographical novel by Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). The first edition of this work was published in 1957 by Viking Press, New York.


The novel is largely autobiographical. It relates characters and events fictionalised from the true experience of Kerouac’s spontaneous journey through America with friends, an attempt to find personal meaning and a sense of belonging.

It was written at a particular time of post war conformity in America, and a Cold War and McCarthyist fear of both outsiders, and of being blacklisted for appearing to be outsiders or communists.

Against this background, the young generation of America were adrift. They became the Beat Generation. Unlike the post WW1 Lost Generation, the Beat Generation actively sought meaning and a place for themselves in society.

On the Road was critical of what American culture had become. It was not the first non-conformist narrative of its time, nor the last.

While the novel was planned and noted down as early as 1948, the first draft was famously written in a mere three weeks, typed straight onto a 120 foot roll of teletype paper. This draft contains the real names of Kerouac and his friends. This was in 1951, and Kerouac revised parts of it over the next few years, until it was finally published in 1957.

It has influenced numerous poets, writers, musicians, and people. It is considered by many to be a life changing read, and the definitive portrait of the Beat Generation.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The plot features Sal Paradise – Kerouac’s alias – and his new carefree and adventurous friend Dean Moriarty, the catalyst for the journey they embark upon. The five parts of the book describe road trips across America in the years 1947 to 1950. Images of jazz combine with images of Americana, the allure of beautiful women and domesticity are opposed to freedom and non-conformity, Catholic sentiment is contrasted with experiences of drugs and promiscuity, friendship and companionship are interweaved with internal philosophical contemplation.

On the Road is considered a definitive work of the Beat Generation, for its focus on jazz, poetry, drugs and restless youth, as well as its influence and effect on society after its release. Other themes include trying to find, in Kerouac’s words, ‘the inherent goodness in American man’, or rather, a search for God. It is both an external and internal search and adventure, and rebellion against conformity. The symbolic act of travel as a physical expression of growing up or coming of age links the nature of masculinity with the ability to move and travel.


Jack Kerouac is an American novelist and poet, a literary and cultural iconoclast of the Beat Generation.

See main article: Jack Kerouac rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions of On the Road (1957, Viking Press, New York) are worth much more when they retain their original dust jackets. They also shoot up in price if signed by Kerouac, especially if they are inscribed to a known friend or family member of the author.

Sothebys sold a first edition copy for $66,000 in April 2004.

Christie’s sold first edition copies that were also inscribed by Kerouac for $30,550 in October 2001, and for $185,500 in October 2002.


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