8. Jack Kerouac

1. Biography

Jack Kerouac was born in Massachusetts in 1922. He received a stern Catholic upbringing and was educated at local schools and then at Columbia University. 

In New York he initiated friendships with Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassidy. This circle became known as the centre of the Beat Movement. 

His love of adventure made Kerouac idolize him and consider him the archetypal hero. The publication of ‘On the Road’ in 1957 marked the beginning of Kerouac’s success: the book became the ‘Bible’ of the Beat Generation

On the Road’ was followed by ‘The Dharma Bums’ and ‘The Subterraneans’ (1958), ‘Big Sur’ (1962) and ‘Desolation Angels’ (1965).

In 1968 Jack died from internal bleeding caused by cirrhosis of the liver. 

He was 47. 

A new language

Kerouac and Ginsberg wrote about what they felt and thought during a particular experience. They used the ‘hip-language’: vital, alive, authentic and individual opposed to conventional language. 

Beat Generation

The Beat writers were a small group of close friends and a movement.

The term ‘Beat Generation’ came to represent an entire period in time, was invented by Jack Kerouacin 1948 and introduced to the general public in 1952 inside an article ‘This is the Beat Generation’ for New York Times Magazine. 

The world ‘beat’ meant ‘bad, ruined, dissatisfied’

The Beats reacted against the spread of capitalism and the middle-class values of US society. 

2. Kerouac’s main work: ‘On the Road’ (1957)

The novel is the story of a friendship and a diary-like account of Kerouac’s wanderings across North America with Neal Cassidy. 

It lacks a central plot:

  • the theme of the journey;
  • the narrator Sal Paradise;
  • the character of Dean Moriarty who stands for Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassidy;
  • the same group of friends who reveal chronic restlessness. They don’t always have a destination in mind and find nothing at the end of their journey.

Dean Moriarty, the protagonist

The hero of the book is Dean Moriarty. He describes experiences, pleasure and social and economic restraints. It’s on the road wild and free. The music the two friends listen to and the people they meet during their journeys are described in a detailed and fascinating way. 


His style is spontaneous and episodic. Writing meant expressing a thought, an idea, a scene, an episode. The writer saw a significant break with the escape from emotion and the impersonality of the artist. This novel has been defined as ‘hip talk’ (street language) and it’s based on spontaneity and has monosyllabic words. 

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