Sal’s chooses Dean as his hero because of Dean’s madness, holiness, and vitality. In his hero, Sal recognizes the ability to act in a way he admires but knows he cannot imitate. Because of this, Sal prefers to follow and to watch. Sal’s heroes stem from his childhood visions of the West and of cowboys. On the Road examines what happens when our heroes fail to live up to our grand expectations and instead become merely human.
Dean functions as Sal’s hero at the beginning of On the Road, but their roles slowly switch over the course of the novel.