Jack Kerouac Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How does Jack Kerouac’s evocation of “the road” differ from Whitman’s of “the open road”?

In what ways did On the Road anticipate the cultural preoccupations of the 1960’s?

Were the most important literary influences on Kerouac traditional ones or writers of his time?

What did Kerouac learn from the people he called “bums”?

How does Kerouac convey the character of Dean Moriarty in On the Road? What traits in this character, based on his friend Neal Cassady, did he most admire?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Jack Kerouac (KEHR-uh-wak) published Mexico City Blues (1959), a poetry collection intended to imitate the techniques of jazz soloists. Several poetry collections were published posthumously, including Scattered Poems (1971), Old Angel Midnight (1976), Book of Blues (1995), and Book of Haikus (2003). Book of Sketches, prose poems Kerouac wrote in 1952 and 1953, was published in 2006. His nonfiction prose includes The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1960), a homemade sutra written to Gary Snyder; Book of Dreams (1961, revised 2001), brief narratives recording his dreams; and travel sketches in Lonesome Traveler (1960) and the somewhat fictionalized Satori in Paris (1966). Good Blonde, and Others (1993) gathers a number of his previously uncollected writings. Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Writings (1999) includes more than sixty previously unpublished early works. Two volumes of Kerouac’s correspondence, Selected Letters, 1940-1956 and Selected Letters, 1957-1969, edited by Ann Charters, were published in 1995 and 1999, respectively, and Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954, edited by Douglas Brinkley, was published in 2004.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

When On the Road was published in 1957, many critics initially condemned Jack Kerouac as an incoherent, unstructured, and unsound writer and the prophet of a meaningless movement. Since then, Kerouac’s books and life have continued to draw interest, and in the twenty-first century his works have found a wide audience, especially among young readers. Some of the qualities for which he has been criticized—wildness, sensationalism, idiosyncratic form, unconventional enthusiasms—have been sources of charm for other commentators. Kerouac’s writings have been described on one hand as pessimistic and bizarre and on the other hand as optimistic and fresh.

Prior to Kerouac’s public emergence as the emblem of the Beat movement, however, Robert Giroux at Harcourt Brace accepted his first novel, The Town and the City, in 1949, and the eminent editor Malcolm Cowley introduced On the Road to the Viking Press in 1953 after it had been turned down by Ace, Harcourt Brace, and Little, Brown. The respectability that On the Road has gained is evidenced by the novel’s appearance in excerpt form in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, its publication as a casebook in the Viking Critical Library series, and its centrality to the five Road novels (with The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, and Lonesome Traveler) issued by the Library of America in 2008.


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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Amburn, Ellis. Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. A fascinating biography by one of Kerouac’s editors, showing how his ambivalent feelings about his sexuality influenced his work. Includes detailed notes and bibliography.

Amram, David. OffBeat: Collaborating with Kerouac. Thunder’s Mouth, 2002. This memoir by a member of the Beat circle sheds a friendly light on Kerouac. An engaging account of a fascinating generation.

Cassady, Carolyn. Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal. Berkeley, Calif.: Creative Arts, 1976. Chronicles Cassady’s relationship with Kerouac from 1952 through 1953 and the ménage à trois between the Cassadys and Kerouac. Reprinted here are letters of Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Carolyn Cassady.

Cassady, Carolyn. Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. New York: William Morrow, 1990. A personal account, with many anecdotes and recollections written from Carolyn Cassady’s perspective. Important for its inside view of the Beat movement.

Charters, Ann. Kerouac. 1974. Reprint. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. A sympathetic biographical interpretation of his life and work.

Clark, Tom. Kerouac’s Last Word: Jack...

(The entire section is 454 words.)