In the beginning Jack Kerouac lived a wild and exciting life outside the realm of
everyday "normal" American life. Though On the Road and The Dharma Bums were Kerouac's only commercial sucesses, he was a man who changed American literature and pop-culture. Kerouac virtually created a life-style devoted to life, art, literature, music, and poetry. When his movement grew out of his control, he came to despise it, and died lonely on the other side of what he once loved and cherished above all else. But, on the way he created a style of writing which combined elements of all the great writers, with speed, common language, real people, and the reality of his life.
In a public junior high school he began to read feverishly. In English classes he
flourished, but socially he did not. Impressed deeply by Mark Twain and Jack London,
Kerouac created his own imaginary world, which he recorded in hand-written "newspapers." These led to his first "novel" Jack Kerouac Explores the Merrimack,
which he wrote in a notebook at the age of twelve (Clark, 22).
Skipping classes at Lowell High School, in Lowell Massachusetts, Kerouac was
exposed to the work of Thomas Wolfe by a fellow student Sammy Sampas. They encouraged writing in each other, and Kerouac began writing seriously. Since the Kerouacs could not afford college, a local priest suggested he try for a football scholarship (Clark, 32). He was offered two; one from Colombia University and the other from Boston College.
Kerouac opted for Columbia and first spent one year, by the request of the university, at the Horace Mann School for Boys. Here he didn't fit in with the rich prep-
school crowd, but he was exposed to Hemmingway (Clark, 37). Here, also, in a school
publication his work was first printed (Clark, 39).
After two years of school at Columbia Kerouac made a decision that would change his life. He always believed he learned more outside of the classroom than in; and so after a series of arguments with his coach, he quit the team. Not long after he dropped out of school as well. He served briefly in the navy, and drinking heavily, was discharged on psychiatric grounds(Clark, 52). Upon his return home he got a job with as a Merchant Marine. When he wasn't working he spent his time with Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cass...
... middle of paper ...
...ectric...). Kerouac, though, was a conservative at heart and
avoided the psychedelic drug movement (Clark, 193). This eventually to Kerouac being
despised by even those who's careers he began, and lives he had changed. In one meeting
one of the Merry Pranksters had covered a couch with a flag. Ginsberg watched Kerouac
slowly fold it up and "marveled sadly... history was... out of Jack's hands now," (Clark,
Neal Cassady died of a drug overdose in Mexico in 1968. Not long after, Jack
Kerouac died of an abdominal hemorrhage and cirrhosis of the liver, he had literally
drunk himself to death. He was only 47. He died a lonely death. A sad ending to the sad
writer who gave so much of himself in his belief that "writing was his duty on earth."
Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac: A Biography. Paragon House.
"Jack Kerouac." 3 Oct.1998 <http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn/People/JackKerouac.
Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. New York: Viking Press, 1959.
--- The Dharma Bums. New York: Viking Press, 1958.
--- On the Road. New York: Viking Press, 1957.
Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. New York: Bantam Books, 1968.
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