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Kerourack sat down to write On the Road, and did so in one sitting.

In fact, that wasn’t enough for him.

Using a typewriter meant he had to stop at the end of each page to put another one in. This stopped the flow of his writing, so he taped together rolls of architect paper into a continuous roll which meant he never had to pause to change a page.

The Scroll of Kerouac's On the Road

The Scroll of Kerouac’s On the Road

This, on its own, is an interesting fact you can use if the conversation ever runs dry at a dinner party.

Viewed in context of the book however…

On the Road is an intense block of emotions. It follows Sal Paradise across America, with his friend Dean Moriarty. The atmosphere of the book seems to be crying out the the reader: “This life isn’t enough. More emotion, more action, more thoughts, more movement. Never stop. Never pause the journey of life”.

Written shortly after World War Two, it’s one of many texts which throw everything people knew, or thought they knew, out the window.

People were shocked when they learned the truth about the war. The numbers of people who died, who were systematically culled from the human race. The fact that people were turned to dust at the push of a button – and the subsequent threat of the same thing happening in America with the Cold War.

A lot of texts written just after the war seem to be saying, what’s the point?

Mortality was impossible to escape from, and there was a sense of hopelessness, which people interpreted into something they could handle. Living life to the full – because you don’t know when you might die – was one way. This, at least, is what Sal and Dean do. They drink and take drugs and go out every night and can’t hold down and job or a relationship, because they can’t stop and let their own mortality catch up with them.

This is interpreted to us not just through the content of On the Road, but also the form.

The 1920s Modernist movement filled books with meaning and symbols and everything was a means of telling us something else. Gatsby’s green light representing The American Dream… Italics in The Sound and the Fury representing time.

Post-WWII literature was saying ‘there’s no point’; is was very existentialist. This was also true for the form of their books: no hidden meaning; indeed, little meaning at all. Just being, or doing, or seeing, or feeling anything.