Did the use of pseudonyms for Jack Kerouac's friends and censorship of the "unsavory" parts of On the Road speak volumes about American society?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the published version of his work titled On the Road, Jack Kerouac used pseudonyms instead of the names of many of the real persons he had mentioned when drafting the book. He also (it has been claimed) eliminated passages deemed too sexually provocative, particularly in their references to homosexuality. In an interview dealing with the recent publication of an earlier draft of the book, John Sampas, Kerouac's brother-in-law, answered several pertient questions:

How long are the excised sections?

“Between five and twenty pages. It’s difficult to estimate precisely, before going to press, because of the nature of the original. As you know, Jack typed out On the Road on sheets of paper 12 feet long, which he then stuck together with sticky tape to make a roll about 120 feet long. There are no margins, paragraph breaks, interruptions, and therefore it’s not possible to know just by looking the precise length of the cancellations.”

What did the cut parts deal with?

“Some drugs, but above all sex.”

Homosexual relations, unacceptable at the time?

“More than anything else the types of act were scandalous and it was certain that the censorship would have forbidden publication of the book. And, he feared legal action by real people mentioned in the book.”  [see link below for full interview.]

Such changes, particularly changes in dealing with sexual matters, would have reflected the state of American society at the time the novel was published.  The changes in names are not unusual: real persons are rarely mentioned, even today, in published works of "fiction." Indeed, novels often contain disclaimers asserting that any resemblances between the persons of the novel and any real person, living or dead, are purely coincidental. So the "censorship" involving name changes would not have been (and would still not be) unusual.

There is no doubt, however, that any toning down or censorship of sexual passages, especially passages dealing with homosexuality, would have been entirely typical of the era in which Kerouac lived. Homosexuality at that time (and previously) was often called "the love that dare not speak its name." Kerouac and his original publishers were responding to widespread views of the time, and so the book reflects, both in its contents and in any omissions, the evolving nature of the culture of the country and its culture.

It should be noted, however, that when the draft of the novel was published finally published in 2007, the publishers minimized the differences between this draft and the book as it had originally been printed.  Indeed, they claimed that

The scroll [that is, the draft] is in fact only slightly different and longer than the published novel.  [see link below]

Sampas's interview and the remarks of the publisher, then, seem to be at great variance.