World Hum: What do most people think are the lessons of “On the Road”?
John Leland: Well, I think that Dean Moriarty is one of the most captivating and compelling characters in American literature. Most of us read the book when we’re young — I read it at 18 or 19, and I suspect that you did as well.
And we’re just captivated by that character. We want to follow him out on the road, and throw down what we’re doing and go out in search of kicks and chicks and bombing around the country because he does. And I think that is a huge, huge part of “On the Road.”
But within the book are other stories. Any good book contains a number of narratives, and there’s Sal’s story. He really outgrows Dean and puts some distance between the two of them. He starts off just as we do, utterly captivated by this Moriarty character. And then over the course of the book Sal goes from being an apprentice to really being the older character. And I think a more in charge figure. So there are lessons about growing up and making your way in the world, lessons about work and money and love and sex and family.
Read the entire interview.
The Page 69 Test: Why Kerouac Matters.