Jack Kerouac Essay Research Paper Jack KerouacBorn

Jack Kerouac Essay, Research Paper Jack Kerouac Born: March 12, 1922 Place of Birth: Lowell, Massachusetts Died: October 21, 1969 Place of Death: St. Petersburg, Florida

Jack Kerouac Essay, Research Paper

Jack Kerouac

Born: March 12, 1922

Place of Birth: Lowell, Massachusetts

Died: October 21, 1969

Place of Death: St. Petersburg, Florida

Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Kerouac, a French-Canadian child in

working-class Lowell, Massachusetts. Ti Jean spoke a local dialect of

French called joual before he learned English. The youngest of three

children, he was heartbroken when his older brother Gerard died of

rheumatic fever at the age of nine.

Ti Jean was an intense and serious child, devoted to Memere (his mother)

and constantly forming important friendships with other boys, as he

would continue to do throughout his life. He was driven to create

stories from a young age, inspired first by the mysterious radio show

‘The Shadow,’ and later by the fervid novels of Thomas Wolfe, the writer

he would model himself after.

Lowell had once thrived as the center of New England’s textile industry,

but by the time of Kerouac’s birth it had begun to sink into poverty.

Kerouac’s father, a printer and well-known local businessman, began to

suffer financial difficulties, and started gambling in the hope of

restoring prosperity to the household. Young Jack hoped to save the

family himself by winning a football scholarship to college and entering

the insurance business. He was a star back on his high school team and

won some miraculous victories, securing himself a scholarship to

Columbia University in New York. His parents followed him there,

settling in Ozone Park, Queens.

Things went wrong at Columbia. Kerouac fought with the football coach,

who refused to let him play. His father lost his business and sank

rapidly into alcoholic helplessness, and young Jack, disillusioned and

confused, dropped out of Columbia, bitterly disappointing the father who

had so recently disappointed him. He tried and failed to fit in with the

military (World War II had begun) and ended up sailing with the Merchant

Marine. When he wasn’t sailing, he was hanging around New York with a

crowd his parents did not approve of: depraved young Columbia students

Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, a strange but brilliant older downtown

friend named William S. Burroughs, and a joyful street cowboy from

Denver named Neal Cassady.

Kerouac had already begun writing a novel, stylistically reminiscent of

Thomas Wolfe, about the torments he was suffering as he tried to balance

his wild city life with his old-world family values. His friends loved

the manuscript, and Ginsberg asked his Columbia professors to help find

a publisher for it. It would become Kerouac’s first and most

conventional novel, ‘The Town and the City,’ which earned him respect

and some recognition as a writer, although it did not make him famous.

It would be a long time before he would be published again. He had taken

some amazing cross-country trips with Neal Cassady while working on his

novel, and in his attempt to write about these trips he had begun

experimenting with freer forms of writing, partly inspired by the

unpretentious, spontaneous prose he found in Neal Cassady’s letters. He

decided to write about his cross-country trips exactly as they had

happened, without pausing to edit, fictionalize or even think. He

presented the resulting manuscript to his editor on a single long roll

of unbroken paper, but the editor did not share his enthusiasm and the

relationship was broken. Kerouac would suffer seven years of rejection

before ‘On The Road’ would be published.

He spent the early 1950’s writing one unpublished novel after another,

carrying them around in a rucksack as he roamed back and forth across

the country. He followed Ginsberg and Cassady to Berkeley and San

Francisco, where he became close friends with the young Zen poet Gary

Snyder. He found enlightenment through the Buddhist religion and tried

to follow Snyder’s lead in communing with nature. His excellent novel ‘

The Dharma Bums’ describes a joyous mountain climbing trip he and Snyder

went on in Yosemite in 1955, and captures the tentative, sometimes comic

steps he and his friends were taking towards spiritual realization.

His fellow starving writers were beginning to attract fame as the ‘Beat

Generation’ a label Kerouac had invented years earlier during a

conversation with fellow novelist John Clellon Holmes. Ginsberg and

Snyder became underground celebrities in 1955 after the Six Gallery

poetry reading in San Francisco. Since they and many of their friends

regularly referred to Kerouac as the most talented writer among them,

publishers began to express interest in the forlorn, unwanted

manuscripts he carried in his rucksack wherever he went. ‘On The Road’

was finally published in 1957, and when it became a tremendous popular

success Kerouac did not know how to react. Embittered by years of

rejection, he was suddenly expected to snap to and play the part of

Young Beat Icon for the public. He was older and sadder than everyone

expected him to be, and probably far more intelligent as well. Literary

critics, objecting to the Beat ‘fad,’ refused to take Kerouac seriously

as a writer and began to ridicule his work, hurting him tremendously.

Certainly the Beat Generation was a fad, Kerouac knew, but his own

writing was not.

His sudden celebrity was probably the worst thing that could have

happened to him, because his moral and spiritual decline in the next few

years was shocking. Trying to live up to the wild image he’d presented

in ‘On The Road,’ he developed a severe drinking habit that dimmed his

natural brightness and aged him prematurely. His Buddhism failed him, or

he failed it. He could not resist a drinking binge, and his friends

began viewing him as needy and unstable. He published many books during

these years, but most had been written earlier, during the early 50’s

when he could not find a publisher. He kept busy, appearing on TV shows,

writing magazine articles and recording three spoken-word albums, but

his momentum as a serious writer had been completely disrupted.

Like Kurt Cobain, another counter-culture celebrity who seemed to be

truly (as opposed to fashionably) miserable, Kerouac expressed his

unhappiness nakedly in his art and was not taken seriously. In 1961 he

tried to break his drinking habit and rediscover his writing talents

with a solitary nature retreat in Big Sur. Instead, the vast nature

around him creeped him out and he returned to San Francisco to drink

himself into oblivion. He was cracking up, and he laid out the entire

chilling experience in his last great novel, ‘Big Sur.’

Defeated and lonesome, he left California to live with his mother in

Long Island, and would not stray from his mother for the rest of his

life. He would continue to publish, and remained mentally alert and

aware (though always drunken). But his works after ‘Big Sur’ displayed a

disconnected soul, a human being sadly lost in his own curmudgeonly


Despite the ‘beatnik’ stereotype, Kerouac was a political conservative,

especially when under the influence of his Catholic mother. As the

beatniks of the 1950’s began to yield their spotlight to the hippies of

the 1960’s, Jack took pleasure in standing against everything the

hippies stood for. He supported the Vietnam War and became friendly with

William F. Buckley.

Living alone with his mother in Northport, Long Island, Kerouac

developed a fascinating set of habits. He stayed in his house most of

the time and carried on a lifelong game of ‘baseball’ with a deck of

playing cards. His drink of choice was a jug of the kind of cheap, sweet

wine, Tokay or Thunderbird, usually preferred by winos. He became

increasingly devoted to Catholicism, but his unusual Buddhist-tinged

brand of Catholicism would hardly have met with the approval of the


Through his first forty years Kerouac had failed to sustain a long-term

romantic relationship with a woman, though he often fell in love. He’d

married twice, to Edie Parker and Joan Haverty, but both marriages had

ended within months. In the mid-1960’s he married again, but this time

to a maternalistic and older childhood acquaintance from small-town

Lowell, Stella Sampas, who he hoped would help around the house as his

mother entered old age.

He moved back to Lowell with Stella and his mother, and then moved again

with them to St. Petersburg, Florida. His health destroyed by drinking,

he died at home in 1969. He was 47 years old.