Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Road: The Original Scroll


More than a year ago, I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll. This version is the one that existed before he made the editing changes demanded by his publisher, including altering the original names of his characters. The scroll of Kerouac’s novel contains no paragraph breaks. I initially thought that reading the equivalent of a freshman essay would be difficult, but this stylistic and organizational strategy employed by Kerouac was only a distraction initially. I actually prefer the scroll to the edited version of the novel. It’s more gritty and honest and more in keeping with an extended jazz solo. I found myself bookmarking a number of passages as I was reading. Because of copyright restrictions, I’m not at liberty to include all of the passages that struck me as noteworthy. I’m limiting myself to these two examples:

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad. All I wanted was to drown my soul in my wife’s soul and reach her through the tangle of shrouds which is flesh in bed. At the end of the American road is a man and a woman making love in a hotel room. That’s all I wanted” (278).

“They didn't know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and banks and reduce them to jumbles like the avalanche heap, and we would be as poor as them someday and stretching out our hands in the samesame way." (398).

After On the Road and The Dharma Bums were published, Kerouac was often consulted by the media when he was a private person, took no credit for what transpired in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and wanted the opportunity to write books for an appreciative and open-minded audience. I think it’s best to approach On the Road as a novel in reaction to the aftermath of the Second World War. Instead of embracing the militarism and jingoism present after the war, Kerouac wanted to escape into a life of sensation—jazz, women, marijuana, alcohol, and friendship, all of which is a reminder that one is a survivor and alive. The life itself may not be pleasant, but it still needs to be experienced on one's own terms.