On the Road
Part IV, Chapters 1-3
It's restless spring again. Sal has some money from selling his book to a publisher, and decides to go West again. For the first time, he will leave Dean in New York and go alone. Dean now is working hard in a parking lot to support both Inez and pay child support to Camille. He and Sal have been going to a lot of parties, but Dean has gotten quieter; he doesn't really fit in New York. One night they stand on the street in the rain at 3 am, talking, and Dean tells Sal that he got a letter from his father--who is in jail in Seattle--for the first time in years. He wants his father to come to New York. Another afternoon, they watch a baseball game on TV, then play basketball with some kids. They play hard but are easily beaten by the younger boys. Then they have dinner with Sal's aunt, and Dean surprises her by returning the fifteen dollars she paid for his speeding ticket. After, Dean shows Sal a picture of Camille and the new baby and some other pictures, and Sal is surprised by how orderly their lives look in the pictures; their children, looking at these pictures in the future, won't realize what a mess their parents' lives were. Dean and Sal say goodbye, each feeling lonely.
On the bus, going through the Midwest, Sal meets Henry Glass, a twenty-year-old who has just been released from jail. He reminds Sal of Dean, though without Dean's frenetic joy, and Sal watches out for him, making sure he doesn't get into more trouble, until he gets to his brother's in Denver. The old Denver crowd is around this time, and Sal has a good time talking, going to bars and sitting in Babe Rawlins' backyard with Tim Gray and Stan Shephard. Stan has heard Sal is going to Mexico, and wants to go with him. They are getting ready to go when Denver Doll calls to tell Sal that Dean has bought a car and is coming to join him. Sal knows that this means Dean has gone crazy again.
Dean arrives in Denver like a whirlwind. His official reason to go to Mexico is to get his divorce processed there; it's supposed to be faster. They have a great day and night drinking and partying with all of their friends. The next afternoon, Stan's grandfather pleads with them not to take Stan to Mexico, and asks Stan not to go, but Stan won't listen. They say goodbye to their friends and head south, Sal looking back to watch Tim Gray standing alone on the plain until he recedes into the distance.
Stylistically, the novel has changed. Instead of the long, rambling sentences of the earlier trips west, the descriptions of the landscape are now short, imagistic fragments. It is an "endless poem"; the feeling conjures more space to breathe and to think.
The style mirrors Sal's mindset: in Denver this time, he is happier and calmer than he has ever been. He says that the whole world has opened up because he has no dreams anymore. Looking back on his pattern of running from one fallacious dream to another ("running from one falling star to another" [Part II, Chapter 4]), being disappointed by the reality each time, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Naturally, Dean comes to disturb Sal's newfound balance. Sal's reaction now is closer to other people's; instead of his old excitement, he feels grim and a little apprehensive about what will happen when Dean comes. He is starting to feel that Dean takes up an undue amount of time and space in his life. Still, he is the one who understands Dean best, and he welcomes Dean's company on the trip to Mexico. Immediately, in Dean's presence, a new dream materializes: that of the "magic South." They have exhausted East to West, so the answers must lie in another direction, another country entirely.
The idea of family--or lack of it--has been looming. Dean is constantly looking for his father, but except for one letter in many years, has no idea where he is. In that letter, he finds out that he has a sister he didn't know about--but the father doesn't know where she is. Sal's father is dead; his only family is his aunt, who cares for him but cannot play the guiding role of a parent. Sal points out that Stan also has a father problem: his father seems to also be absent, and he is running from his controlling grandfather. Now these three are going to Mexico together. If these three are rootless, it is because they have literally lost their roots: their parents. They have had no choice but to make their own way.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!