Jack Kerouac And The Beat Movement
Essay, Research Paper
?World War II
marked a wide dividing line between the old and the new in American
society and the nation?s literature?(The World Book Encyclopedia 427)
. When world War II ended there was a pent up desire that had been
postponed due to the war. Post war America brought about a time when
it seemed that every young man was doing the same thing, getting a
job, settling down and starting a family. America was becoming a
nation of consumers. One group that was against conforming to this
dull American lifestyle was referred to as ?Beatniks?. ?The Beats or
Beatniks condemned middle class American life as morally bankrupt.
They praised individualism as the highest human goal?(The World Book
Encyclopedia 428). This perspective was present in poetry and
literature through out the beat movement.
One of the most
important works produced during the beat movement was Jack Kerouac?s
On The Road. In the novel Jack Kerouac?s alter ego Sal Paradise
represents the American man who realizes he doesn?t want to conform
to societies pressures but still hasn?t realized what it is exactly
he wants to do. He is a man who has very little direction and is very
much lost in the world as he knows it. Kerouac seems to be constantly
trying to escape. In examining the novel one might wonder what is
Kerouac escaping and by what means does he do so? Kerouac used two
means of escape through out the novel and through out his life.
His first means
of escape was his constant travel. He traveled from east to west, New
York to San Francisco and stopped everywhere in between. He made this
trip over and over, constantly on the road. The simple title of the
novel exemplifies Kerouac?s ongoing need to travel. When he and his
friends got tried of traveling east to west they traveled north to
south, driving all the way down to Mexico City. His travels gave him
the opportunity to be an outsider with no worries. He was able to
witness and observe all that there was to offer throughout the
country. While journeying across the states, staying in small towns
for no more than a few nights, Kerouac was able to obtain a life with
no commitment or responsibility. Even if he was to make some sort of
commitment to one of his many girls along the way, it wasn?t unlike
him to just pick up and leave. After all the only thing people around
seemed to know about him was that he liked to drink.
This leads to
the other form of escape Kerouac used, the alteration of reality.
Kerouac would mentally alter his perception of reality through the
use of drugs and alcohol. ?I was getting drunk and didn?t care;
everything was fine?(Kerouac 35). To him everything in life was fine
as long as he was drunk. ?He was beginning to drink heavily, and to
drink whiskey and gin instead of just beer ?(Nicosia 96). ?That was
only the beginning of his disillusionment. Jack began taking
benzedrine and smoking marijuana?(Nicosia 102). Having the means by
which he escapes, the question still remains what is Kerouac trying
to escape? In order to understand this we must explore some of Jack?s
concerning Kerouac that is very often eluded to but never really
spoken about in On The Road is his possible homosexuality. While Jack
never actually ?came out? about his sexuality, his close friends
would often witness ?Jack?s participation in endless rounds of sex
with both men and women?(Nicosia 102). Kerouac?s homosexual
tendencies caused an overriding psychological conflict: Kerouac was
gay but despised homosexuals. ?Jack talked incessantly about all the
?big old fags? he knew?(Nicosia 493). Even though Kerouac would have
homosexual encounters, he felt a private guilt over his homosexual
feelings. In an attempt to ease his guilt Jack would denounce
homosexuality, saying that ?gay sex is not in my line?(Nicosia 142).
Jack was obviously ashamed of his homosexual experiences and ?fought
all his life against the label queer?(Nicosia 154). In 1945, he wrote
a letter to Allen Ginsberg trying to resolve the issue of his
possible homosexuality. He stated that ?the physical aspects of gay
sex were disgusting; and though the desire for it might exist in his
subconscious, there was no way of determining that for sure?(Nicosia
142). His apologetic tone in the letter showed that even though
Kerouac wasn?t entirely sure of his sexual identity, he still felt
guilty that the mere thought of homosexuality had entered his
feelings. This persistent guilt for his constant homosexual needs
ultimately affected his ability to sustain close relationships.
ability to maintain relationships is evident through out his life as
well as in On The Road. All through the novel, Kerouac along with
Cassady, would always be chasing down one girl or trying to ?make?
another. This very much mirrored his real life where Kerouac married
three times. Jack?s first wife, Frankie Edith Parker, ended the
marriage because of jack?s relentless adultery. Kerouac?s next
marriage was to Joan Haverty Kerouac, who eventually ended the
marriage saying they ?had made a commitment to the marriage but not
to each other?(Charters 357). His third and final wife was Stella
Sampas Kerouac, who was told by Jack on his death bed, ?Stella, I
love you? for only the second time since they had been married. The
fact that Jack couldn?t commit himself to one woman at a time shows
his insecurity and uncertainty towards his sexuality.
shows that Jack is obviously unsure about himself. It may just be
that all of Kerouac?s running and bingeing throughout the country was
actually an expedition to find himself. All his life he may not have
been escaping but rather discovering. Kerouac needed to see the way
the rest of America was in an effort to find what he was.The human
experience is about self-discovery. It is a universal theme which
Kerouac draws upon in his classic beat work On the Road , Kerouac
simply recorded this journey at a turning point in America.
Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: Grove
Press Inc., 1983.
Kerouac: A Biography. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
Carolyn. Off The Road: My Years With Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg.
New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990.
O. The World Book Encyclopedia:Volume A. Chicago: World Book, Inc.,
On The Road. New York: Viking Press, 1958.
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