Monday, February 29, 2016

On the Road is a holy book

(c) 2014 Cat de Leon, Used with Permission
From her show, Up You Go, Little Smoke -- The Holy Hipness of Jack Kerouac
View her other pieces at

On the Road is a holy book. Why do I say that? Simply put, the book is replete with spirituality (a theme that director Walter Salles largely ignored in the movie version). As Jack himself said, it's really "a story of two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him" (from a May 1961 letter to Carroll Brown; also see this Newsweek piece). In addition to its obvious spiritual quest (for IT, I would say), in On the Road we find multiple references to visions (see P.S. below), mystical figures like the Shrouded Traveler, specific references to God ("...and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear?"),  a search for one's biological father (symbol for God?), and, not the least important in making this argument, a number of usages of the word "holy."  

How many times do you think the word "holy" appears in On the Road (the classic edition)? I have a number in mind from my own research, but I thought I'd make this a scavenger hunt. Leave a comment with your answer. If we come to some agreement I will take the time to cut-and-paste all of the relevant passages into this blog post.

If "holy" means "dedicated to a religious purpose," as the dictionary tells us, then On the Road is certainly a holy book, both by design and in effect. It's about the main character's search for meaning, which, after all, is a search we all undertake -- in our own ways -- to find the God that's in each of us.

Next time you re-read On the Road, be attuned to its holy essence. Look for passages like this: "... in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word...." Jack would dig that.

As faithful readers will know, last March we identified all of the passages in On the Road that had the word "vision" or "visions" in them (click here). I quoted a total of 14 passages that contained either or both of those words.

Taken at the Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Lowell, MA, Kerouac's hometown
(c) 2015 by Rick Dale


Tom Pescatore said...

indeed, that's why the film fell so flat for me. It was missing the very heart of the novel, what made everything go. Interestingly I'm not sure if you saw the French cut of the film it starts with a view of Jack's feet walking on a dirt road and is overlayed with a reading of "Home I'll never be" which gave me hope (it was the first version I saw) but the next scene instantly dashed it. Good article man! love the blog.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Tom, Thanks. The first version of the film I saw was the one they showed at Cannes, which I think must be the version you are referencing.