Today we’re going to talk about an American legend: Jack Kerouac. Jack was a pretty amazing writer, not just in the work he created but also in his methodology for doing so. Like so many of us, he was not a big fan of the revision and re-write process. He was also invested in the New York Jazz scene, and at the time that was about as cool as having backstage passes to a Justin Bieber concert, amirite? (I don’t actually know what the cool kids listen to…I still like jazz.)
Read on to learn a bit about this literary icon, his books, and what makes him continue to be a big name on the list of American writers.
[OVERVIEW] Why is Jack Kerouac Still a Big Deal?
Jack Kerouac was one of the founding members of the Beat Generation of American literature. In fact, Jack Kerouac was the acknowledged leader and spokesman for the Beat Generation. Its underlying philosophy could loosely be described as visionary enlightenment, Zen Buddhism, and Amerindian culture. The Beat Generation as a whole adopted these ideals and served to influence American culture in the post–World War II era.
Jack Kerouac Did a Great Job with Vernacular
Part of Kerouac’s aesthetic was his love of jazz and how freely the music seemed to come to the musicians—they didn’t worry about whether it would make sense. Kerouac eventually developed the writing style (that still exists today, though it’s not often taught) known as “spontaneous prose.” Kerouac would observe and take notes on a subject for months or years at a time, and then put all of these thoughts down on paper at once; after years on the road with friend Neal Cassady, Kerouac eventually settled down to write On the Road in a period of about three weeks.
He Was a Master at Reflecting His Point in Time
The Beat Generation was extremely reflective of the Post–World War II era. At this time, there was a huge exploration into alternative ways of life (basically, a mini 60s- and 70s-style revolution). Kerouac’s work reflected these views—his tone and subjects often conveyed attitudes of excitement that were demonstrated in colloquial ways.
He Had Some Good Views on Freedom
Kerouac’s views on freedom may have come from his difficult childhood and the number of doors that slammed in his face (the football team and the Marines, for example). As a result, he rebelled. Kerouac and his character in On the Road made their way by doing the exact opposite of what society told them to do—and the results are entertaining and a bit inspirational.
In On the Road, Kerouac echoes ideas of American freedom and the boundless energy the country was experiencing in the aftermath of World War II. Sal and Dean jump into the car and drive…and drive…and drive…. There is little in terms of an exact destination because freedom and individuality are depicted as journeys in their own right, without a need for a defined end.
He Was a Buddhist
The West’s interest in Eastern religions has been around for, well, a long time. But Eastern religions weren’t commonly seen in practice until the later decades of the 20th century. It’s arguable that it was the Beat Movement that led to this alternative view of religion. In his book The Dharma Bums, Kerouac writes about the spiritual experiences of the character Ray and his friends. The book focuses in particular on the characters’ contact with Buddhism.
He Wasn’t into Censorship
Free speech has obviously been a thing in the United States since the whole drafting of the Constitution thing went down. We all know that there are some things that simply aren’t always appropriate for a wide audience (like if I suddenly started talking about how Kim K. got famous—not appropriate here). Well, back in the 50s, this idea of inappropriateness was even more widespread, and that didn’t really jive with Kerouac’s wild experiences on the road.
Kerouac also saw revisions on one’s work as a form of literary lying and all but refused to do it. With all that in mind, it makes sense that the original version of On the Road that he attempted to publish was full of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, and no one knows if Kerouac folded on his principles and edited the novel or if his editor went ahead and did it for him. …We’re thinking the latter, though.
P.S. He Was Kind of a Total Babe