Jack Kerouac's inarguably most famous novel is sometimes regarded as not only the prototype "Beat Movement" novel but the most inspirational novel written in the 20th century. The largely autobiographical novel takes place during 1947 when Kerouac, under disguise as Sal Paradise, is getting tired and fed up with the yadda yadda life of the highly commericial New York. Like many of the new generation of writers in the 20th century, Kerouac does not focus on plot and symbolism to engage the reader, but moreso his philosophy on what the real American Dream should be.
Sal talks with his close friend Dean Moriarty (real-life Neal Cassady) about the possibilities of getting away from the constant drone that plagues the city they're living in, and more than that Dean has heard of Sal's writings and wants to learn from him. Sal, being only a college student, thinks he can teach Dean how to write but really isn't sure how he's supposed to embrace freedom when he's still in school and wants to remain in school. The solution: travel on the road during school breaks. Done and done, Sal waits for his GI checks to come in and takes some extra cash while Dean steals cars at random to travel America coast to coast and start their philosophical searches into their selves and their ideal futures.
Sal stars his trip on foot but aimlessly, constantly forgetting which way goes north, west, etc., and ends up hitching rides to the locations he's supposed to meet people. Eventually he meets up with some mutual friends with Dean like Carlo Marx (believed to be Allen Ginsberg), Ed Dunkel, and Chad Smith. The meat and bones of the story is Sal's tolerance with Dean, a man who teaches Sal how polygamy is the true form of happiness with relationships and how moral rules need to be dropped if you are truly going to fight America's society. Naturally Sal has a problem with this, being a somewhat naive college kid, but eventually he understands the purpose of the trip was to make themselves independent individuals separated from society on purpose to get the true feeling of independence. Though Dean never wears off on Sal, Sal can somewhat get used to the fact that Dean's lie, cheat, and steal philosophy of life is who he is and the only one who can change that is Dean himself.
At the time of publication, the hippie movement of America was in swing and quite strongly. This book was more or less the Bible to these people, and they saw only rational logic in it. Kerouac is sometimes blamed for the increase of vagrants during this time, and it's hard to defend that, but nevertheless it's hard to deny how inspirational this novel could have been if a cult of people are preaching the word of it. Though sometimes misunderstood, On the Road doesn't have to be solely for liberal hippies looking for means of peaceful rebellion (hate to use the oxymoron). It encourages people to travel and see the outside world, and more importantly to freely think about their personal goal in life and to seek the true form of happiness, whatever it may be for the individual.
A fair warning, On the Road is not for the impatient reader. It has several dizzying dialouges and ramblings, but hopefully not too many to frustrate someone or to ruin the flow to the novel. Sometimes it's ok to skip these parts, but if it's done too much the meaning of the book can be missed.
Overall I'd rate On the Road an: A-