On the Road
Part IV, Chapters 4-5
Only a few hours out of Denver, a flying bug bites Stan, and his arm swells horribly. Sal thinks it's a bad omen. They continue south, through Colorado, New Mexico, and to big, sinister Texas, stopping in San Antonio to take Stan to a clinic (he gets a shot of penicillin). The Mexican girls there remind Sal of Terry, and he wonders what she's doing now. They then go shoot some pool, and watch a deformed midget who is the butt of everyone's jokes, but seems to be loved by them nonetheless. Finally, feeling ill from so much driving, they cross the seedy border town of Laredo and the bridge over the Rio Grande River into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Immediately, their spirits lift; it looks exactly like what they imagined. Dean is delighted by the Mexican border officials, who are grinning, relaxed and careless. They change most of their money into pesos.
They pass through the town of Sabinas Hidalgo, the Monterrey mountains, and then down to hotter Montemorelos, and then into a swamp area, staring at the people they see from the road. Dean is moved by them; Sal thinks it's because they are like him, moved by simpler, more "primitive" instincts. Sal takes over driving, through "hot flat swamp country" to Gregoria, where he stops to talk to a man by the side of the road. Victor is selling windshield screens, but Sal jokingly asks if they can buy some girls. Victor says yes. Dean wakes up, excited, and asks if Victor can also get them marijuana. Victor takes them to the adobe shack where his large family lives, and his mother picks some marijuana from the garden for them. They smoke it, with Victor and his many brothers, and get extremely stoned. They all talk about each other, neither side understanding anything, but everyone is in a good mood.
In the car again, Sal has a moment in which he thinks that Dean looks exactly like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then like God. Victor takes them to meet his wife and baby--who, in their high state, looks to them like the most beautiful baby ever. They then proceed to the whorehouse, a dance hall with a jukebox blaring mambo music louder than anything they have ever heard. They start dancing and drinking and going to bed with the girls, who are mostly teenagers. There is a drunk eighteen-year-old Venezuelan and a beautiful sixteen-year-old black girl that Sal wants, but he sees her mother come down to talk to her and then is too ashamed to approach her.
Sal goes to bed with an older prostitute, and then continues dancing and drinking. Dean is so out of it that he can't even recognize Sal. Sal is still high too, and feels for those few hours totally in love with the sixteen-year-old. She has a dignity that makes everyone keep a distance from her. Finally, everyone giddy and drunk, the girls bid them goodbye. Victor takes them to a bathhouse next to a playground on the highway, and they bathe and feel much refreshed. Dean likes Victor and tries to convince him to return to the States with them. Victor is sad to see them leave but refuses politely; he has a wife and child, he says. They leave Victor standing in front of the playground in the red dusk.
In Mexico, Sal and Dean find a place that looks exactly like what they imagined; finally, the reality matches their dream. It is to them the "magic land" at the end of all the roads they have been on, and they refuse to see it as anything but that. It is especially clear, now in a foreign land, how thoroughly fixed in Sal's perspective we are. He even records the speech of the Mexican officials phonetically ("Mehico"-the Spanish pronunciation of "Mexico") so we hear them speak with Sal's firmly American, English ear. Dean calls the people they see by the side of the road "straight and good," and Sal describes their "pure activities." Sal thinks these people are like Dean--but actually, neither Sal nor Dean really know anything about them.
Sal completely idealizes "the other," lumping all non-white peoples into the same idea: in Mexico, they see: "Hongkong humanity," "Algerian streets," and "Arabian paradise." He feels that finally, they can learn something basic about life from the true "Indian" people. Yet, all they do in Mexico are the same things they do in the United States: get high, drink, and chase after girls.
Sal is constantly attracted to the same type of woman: aloof, beautiful, and ultimately untouchable, and in Gregoria, she is the sixteen-year-old black prostitute. Even in the most debaucherous circumstances, Sal always hangs onto a thread of conscience and compassion, often signified by the presence of the beautiful, untouchable woman. Even though he lusts after the teenage girls, he only goes to bed with a thirty-year-old prostitute. He is too ashamed to even approach the sixteen-year-old.
Victor is the first man to refuse Dean's attempt to lure him onto the road. His moral obligations to his wife and child are clear to him. Perhaps it is Victor, not the people by the side of the road, who represents the morality Sal is in search of, a morality foreign to Dean's world.
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!