The Dharma Bums Critical Context
by Jack Kerouac

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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Jack Kerouac was the primary spokesman for the Beat writers—a romantic group of poets and novelists who in the 1950’s rebelled against the conformist, consumer orientation of American society. In this role, Kerouac endured the brunt of the cultural abuse that was heaped on the Beats, and in the years since he wrote his books, his work has not received the serious critical attention from the literary establishment that it deserves. Though On the Road remains his most famous book, The Dharma Bums is perhaps his most enduringly significant one. While On the Road presages the immense cultural changes, involving automobiles, drugs, sex, and uninhibited music, that reached a peak in the 1960’s, the “rucksack revolution” prophesied by The Dharma Bums led to the environmental movement, which may help ensure the very survival of the planet. Thus, the spontaneous energies which remain chaotic in On the Road find a direction in The Dharma Bums; the latter book has led the way in providing youthful rebels with a compelling cause.