As much as Kerouac admired Neal Cassady, the “greater driver” (in Allen Ginsberg’s description) living in a “pious frenzy,” he knew that Cassady’s high-intensity existence carried the potential for destruction and despair for himself and his friends. While not dismissing Cassady’s danger-ridden enthusiasms or condemning his impulsiveness, Kerouac had begun to wonder if a life “on the road” in perpetual search for ecstasy was the only route to be followed. His interest in Buddhism, combined with his previous background in Christianity, suggested that a kind of serenity beyond sensation was possible.
In The Dharma Bums, he examined an alternative approach to his previous quest for enlightenment. Concentrating on a man who seemed to have a vital, productive, and deeply satisfying manner of living, and who was also an active artist, a master climber, a political radical, a loyal friend, and a powerful thinker, Kerouac created a comic (but serious) balance to the tragic (but often hilarious) vision of On the Road in his portrait of the poet Gary Snyder in The Dharma Bums.
Snyder had just begun to publish his poetry in 1955 when Kerouac met him in San Francisco, days before the famous reading at the Six Gallery. Kerouac was impressed by Snyder’s good sense, and he was as rapturous about the natural world in Snyder’s company as he had been about anything he had previously experienced. The two of them shared an enthusiasm for literature, language, Eastern philosophy, and many basic social values, and although their essential natures differed tremendously, the points of correspondence plus the respect they had for each...
(The entire section is 688 words.)