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The Life and Tragedy of Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was a poet who focused on the forgotten people of the world. Wherever he traveled he found the places nobody wanted to find and turned the un-pretty into magnificent poetry. Kerouac used the people no one wanted to remember and turned them into poetic works of art.

Jack Kerouac?s life was filled with adventure and self-destruction. Born on March 12, 1922, Kerouac grew up in the poor city of Lowell, Massachusetts. His life was tormented with poverty and alcoholism, first by his father, then he himself was afflicted by the deadly disease. At the age of 8, Kerouac lost his brother, Gerard to typhoid fever. Kerouac traveled hitchhike style across the country. In 1943, Kerouac was a kitchen boy on a US Navy patrol boat. He enlisted in the Navy as a reaction to Pearl Harbor; he quickly got sick of the Army life and war, but was highly amused by the bottle, which was deemed the sailor?s eternal comfort. In 1957, Kerouac?s book, On the Road was published. ?It is disturbing and powerful, but not over done, bursting with juvenile grace, distraught depravity, serious questions and severe hangovers, cheap philosophy and smoking jalopies.? (Ann Charters.) Sadly after his bought with alcoholism he lost his life on October 21, 1969, in St. Petersburg Florida.

From the beginning of his life, Jack Kerouac was interested in writing. Kerouac?s first inspiration was the radio show, ?The Shadow.? Later in life he would model himself after Thomas Wolfe. In high school Kerouac was a star football player and got a scholarship to Columbia University to play on the football team. His family followed him to Queens New York and eventually Kerouac dropped out of college, shortly after his father had lost his business. After disappointing the father who has so recently disappointed him, his father sunk into an alcoholic depression. Kerouac then entered the military. When he wasn?t sailing he would hang out with people his parents did not like, ?outcast? Columbia students, Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, an older businessman, William S. Burroughs, and a street cowboy from Denver Colorado, Neal Cassidy.

Jack Kerouac started the Beat Generation, he penned the name, and he was one of the Beat poets/writers, along with Allen Ginsberg. When On the Road was published, Kerouac had found a new status as a celebrity. His sudden celebrity status was probably one of the worst things that could have happened to him, because his moral and spiritual decline in the next few years was shocking. To live up to the wild image he gave himself in On the Road, Kerouac developed a detrimental drinking habit that changed his natural brightness and aged him prematurely. Kerouac was incredibly unhappy with his new life as a celebrity. His life ended October 21, 1969 at the age of 47.

Jack Kerouac?s poems, Women, Hymn, and HitchHiker, are all represented by the theme that Kerouac wrote about the forgotten people. The poem Women, deals with Kerouac?s theme of writing about the unnoticed. This is a very simple example. Kerouac is acknowledging that women are great, but he is also observing how the woman walks, very motion filled movements. The last stanza, ?A handkerchief in the / Wind,? is describing how the women swings when she walks, very softly like a handkerchief being moved in the wind.

In the poem Hymn, Kerouac watches how the people of Brooklyn react to the ice that God created. He noticed how people were slipping on the ice, but not once, twice, probably in close proximity to each other. He also noticed in the line, ?two different people / came over, goin to work, / so earnest and tryful? that people were trying so hard to avoid slipping on ice, and when they did slip, they had trouble regaining their balance. The second part of the poem, Kerouac is speaking of what God taught him. God allowed Kerouac to cry. God taught him how to cry. Kerouac later goes on to say that no one would have cared if he cried, ?And me leaning on the lamppost wiping / eyes, / eyes, / nobody?s known I?d cried / or woulda cared anyway,? and he thanks God for letting him realize this inside of himself. Kerouac also makes a statement about his life,

I knew God You / had better plans than that / So whatever plan you have for me / Splitter of majesty / Make it short / Brief / Make it snappy / bring me home to the Eternal Mother / today

It is as if Kerouac is waiting for his death. He is foreshadowing on his future, the line ?Make is snappy,? shows that he is waiting for his death and wants to go home with the eternal mother. Most human beings are not deep enough to understand a poem like this, none-the-less write a poem on such a topic. The words that he uses are perfect, he describes what he is seeing, in very little words, but immense detail.

The poem Hitchhiker, is on a subject most people stray from, the art of hitchhiking. The first stanza makes reference to the flock to California during the 1930?s. Since Kerouac was born in 1922, he was a teenager during the Great Depression. This poem might be a reference to what he saw going on when the Oakies moved westward towards the Pacific. This poem also seems to dictate what Kerouac, himself, went through while he was hitchhiking across the country, headed for the west coast. The part of the poem, starting with the second stanza, ?Boom. It?s the awful raincoat / making me look like a self- / defeated imaginary gangster, / an idiot in a rueful coat, how can they understand / my damp packs,? speaks of how people rejected the idea of people hitchhiking. The men in the car, speaking to each other are talking of how the hitchhikers might be a danger to them, they say that, ?He looks like he?s got a gun / underneath that IRA coat.? The reference that Kerouac is making when the man mentioned the IRA coat, that he would take their money, like the IRA does, then murder them.

While I had trouble searching for critical reviews, I did find one woman, Ann Charters, who speaks of how Jack Kerouac?s poetry and books have changed her life for the better. Ann Charters made it part of her career to edit and put together Kerouac?s poetry for the world to enjoy. Kerouac is most famous for On the Road, which has been translated into several languages. One other critic that I found was Phoebe Lou Adams, a writer for ?The Atlantic Monthly? stated that

Mr. Kerouac has a distinctive style, part severe simplicity, part hep-cat jargon, part baroque fireworks. He uses each of these elements with a sure touch, works innumerable combinations and contrasts with them, and never slackens the speed of his narrative, which proceeds, like Dean at the wheel, at a steady hundred and ten miles an hour. (?Review.?)

Even though this review is for the book, On the Road, this quote applies to all of his works of art, both poetry and novels.

Kerouac died an unfortunate death. After he got his newly acclaimed fame, he didn?t know how to deal with the excitement of being loved by many people, and turned to drinking as an outlet for his emotions. After several years of this new lifestyle, Kerouac died, an unhappy man, happy with his accomplishments, but waiting for death.

Adams, Phoebe Lou. ??On The Road? a review.? The Atlantic

Monthly Oct. 1957; Ladder to Nirvana, Volume 200, No. 4;

pages 178-180.

Charters, Ann. A Bibliography of Works by Jack Kerouac. New

York: Phoenix Book Show, 1975.

- -. Kerouac: A Biography. Straight Arrow, 1973.

- – . The Portable Beat Reader. Viking, 1992.

- -. The Penguin Book of The Beaters. Penguin, 1992.

Gifford, Barry and Lee Lawrence. Jack?s Book: An oral

Biography of Jack Kerouac. St. Martin?s, 1978.

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