On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Sal’s Relationship with Dean
Sal clearly makes Dean out to be a hero. A hero of the West, to be more specific. And both his hero and the West turn out to be, well, not that great at the end of the day. More about the West later. As for Dean, Sal is amazingly not judgmental of the not-so-nice things Dean does. When Dean abandons him to starve in San Francisco, Sal agrees passively with Marylou that it was a rat thing to do, but doesn’t speculate too much on his own as to the rat-ness of his friend. It's the same deal when Dean abandons him in Mexico. It seems that because Sal idolizes Dean, he forgives Dean’s faults or overlooks them.
Sal and Madness
Then there’s the whole madness thing. Sal envies the madness in others, but is unable to replicate it in himself – unless he is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or near death due to starvation. Sal sees this enviable madness primarily in Dean. We also think Rickey, Terry’s brother (the mañana guy), is worth looking at. Sal loves him. He loves that Rickey lives in a perpetual state of tomorrow, that he feels no guilt at never working, and that he gets drunk all day. But Sal is only able to sustain Rickey's brand of madness in himself for two days before looking to the future and realizing that he simply can’t live like that.
Sal and Time and Geography
Speaking of tomorrow, we wanted to check out how Sal’s spatially defined notions seem to mirror Dean’s temporally defined ones. What could this possibly mean? Glad you asked. This is just an overblown way to say that Sal deals in space, or geography, the same way that Dean deals in time.
Dean rushes around, afraid of running out of time, needing to beat time, and most importantly, measuring everything in time. Sal does the same for space. He needs to visit all these cities, to get quickly from one place to another, and he measures everything in distance. For Dean, they may be ten hours from Chicago, but for Sal they are three hundred miles away. Sal also prioritizes spatial distance over time when he sells his watch for gas money.
Now, this all sounds pretty good. But there’s a catch. Dean calls Mexico heaven because it is the end of the road. He defines heaven spatially. And Sal remarks that mañana must mean "heaven" – he defines it with regards to time.
Yet another interesting tidbit is the following: time zones. Ever traveled west? You might have noticed that this whole time zone thing, where if you leave Massachusetts at noon and take a six hour flight to California, you get there at three in the afternoon. In other words, you’re picking up time as you go. You’re beating time. This might have something to do with Sal’s incessant need to move west all the time. Or it might be us spending way too much energy thinking about the relationship between time and geography. Take your pick.
Sal and Solitude, Sex, and Sadness (and alliteration!)
Sal always notices people. There’s the Spirit of the West, Mr. Snow’s laughter, the farmers daughter on the side of the road. Sal is a people person, and by that we mean he needs people all the time to avoid feeling lonely. The problem is, he forms these transient friendships (Eddie on the road) that end in abandonment (Eddie taking his shirt) and a return to solitude.
The same thing happens with girls. Sex is easy – but that’s not what Sal wants. He wants the pillow talk after, the connection of souls, essentially what Carlo and Dean try to do with each other. Sal finds most girls to be boring. He asks them again and again why they’re not excited about life, what they want, and who they are, only to be met with a yawn or a blank stare.
Sal's sadness comes from his overwhelming sense of being alone. He sees sadness everywhere: in people, in places, events, in America as a whole, in Mexico, too, as part of Victor’s baby’s soul, something that we are born with and die with, a solitude, an essential inability to connect.
Salvatore Paradise. Given that Kerouac was a Catholic, it’s hard to ignore the religious implications of such a name. Paradise makes sense, right? Paradise = Heaven. Heaven = religion. What’s so paradise-like about Sal? Not much, although he spends a good deal of time seeking paradise. Part of the problem is trying to figure out what that paradise might mean for Sal, although starting off with some soul connections to beautiful women, some "tea," and Dean might not be bad.
Then there’s his first name: Salvatore. But if you were feeling artsy, which we often do, you could say…Sal = Salvation. Then, you might look up salvation and see that it says "deliverance from sin and its consequences." And then you might wonder what this sin is, exactly, and if it has anything to do with Dean, or that funky scene with the cop and Sal’s aunt where Sal talks about being ashamed of something because of his association with Dean.