Jack Kerouac's On the Road occupies an unusual status in American letters. It is an American classic but also a contested text. An early reviewer's assessment of On the Road as an American masterpiece has been consistently reiterated, but so have initial dismissals that the work is an incoherent, naïve, and narcissistic travel narrative. This ambivalence is heightened by Kerouac's own idiosyncratic political and social views. These confl icting assessments can be reconciled, however, if On the Road is evaluated as a work of political thought, especially as an iteration of the social contract tradition exploring relationships in a "state of nature."