Biography and Life lessons of Jack Kerouac

It was considered sinful and morally wrong to do anything in the 50’s that didn’t fit into the mold of a typical American family. The media condemned people who spoke up against the government, the people who didn’t have typical jobs, the people who experimented with drugs, the people who had different sexual orientation, the people who questioned social standards, and the people who lived day by day without any long term plan. Throughout this decade, there was much conformity and social stability in America.

However, author Jack Kerouac inspired many to stand up for themselves, as he wrote about his rebellious adventures across the US in his controversial book “On The Road.” Jack Kerouac, the acclaimed father of the Beat Movement, is probably the most predominant figure in beat literature. Born in 1922, in Massachusetts, Kerouac grew up in a middle class, FrenchCanadian environment. While his parents were struggling financially to make ends-meat, Jack was struggling to learn english and make friends at an early age.

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When he became fluent in english, he quickly became fascinated with the literary world and would read anything he could get his hands on. In high school, Kerouac became a high school football star, and eventually it got him a scholarship to Columbia University. After the constant disagreements with his coach and a broken leg, Kerouac quit football as well as Columbia University, and moved back to Lowell. Drifting from occupation to occupation, Jack traveled around Boston and Washington DC, ignoring the face of consistency and stability.

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He eventually found his way back to Columbia where he would befriend a few people whom he would later meet up with again. He dropped out of Columbia again and enlisted in the Navy where he was eventually honorably discharged on psychological grounds. He re-joined the Navy some time later and sailed to England. When he returned, he met back up with Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. These people would be very influential in his future writings, and Kerouac would often mimic their personalities in his writings, disguised as fictional characters. For instance, in “On the Road”, he based Dean Moriarty off of another beat friend, Neal Cassidy. This circle of friends, who were highly influenced by popular jazz and bop music, became the core authors of the beat movement. When fellow friend Lucien Carr had been charged with manslaughter in 1944, Kerouac had some involvement as an accessory. After the issue had cleared, he married long-time girlfriend Edie Parker in a marriage that would only last a few months. Jack’s father Leo died later that same year of stomach cancer from excessive drinking, while Jack began writing his most conventional novel, The Town and the City, which eventually was published in 1950. For the next couple of years, Kerouac would often take trips across the United States mostly with Neal Cassady.

Sometimes he would ride in the car with Cassady, and sometimes he would travel by means of hitchhiking. Either way, his famed novel On the Road captured his travels and thoughts of the time, thoroughly describing his spur-of-the-moment lifestyle. While he wrote several other novels during his time, none of his other books had been as impacting as “On the Road”. Even though his style of writing was not widely accepted at the time of its publication, it would only be after his death that he got credited with the fame he deserved. Inevitable, however, he eventually shared the same misfortunate fate as his father, and passed away in 1969, at only forty-seven years old. His death was caused by internal bleeding due to his bad alcoholic tendencies. Despite his bad habits and alcoholism, Kerouac was most renown as the talented and honest spokesman for the 1950’s beat generation. The 1950’s was around the time when the beat generation started to flourish. While people were at home eating their TV dinners, women were still generally in the kitchen, and families were gathered around their small, black and white televisions, Jack and his friends were journeying across America, encompasses in sex, drugs, and alcohol. Rock & Roll was also hitting the airwaves, and parents were prohibiting their innocent children from being corrupted from such profane material. When On the Road was published in 1957, many bookstores banned it from their shelves. Eventually, the beat fever caught on, and the book went from being banned to staying on the best seller list for five straight weeks.

The beats had risen above conservative media, and spread like wildfire across America, enlightening millions with their intellectual philosophies and political writings. Though they are pretty well known today, not many know the actual origins of the beats. The beat generation was characterized by nonpartisan beliefs denouncing the culture valued by the majority of society. The origin of the word ‘beat’ derived from the notion that they were ‘beaten’, meaning that the world was against them. The movement started when Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs befriended one another through Lucien Carr. Curious to discover more about life and the world in general, they began traveling and used each other as sources of inspiration. This generation was raised during the depression era right before WWII, so the young authors knew nothing but desperation and conformity as they were expected to fit the all-to-typical mold. Not being able to fulfill these expectations, they sought relief in one another and soon realized that they were had no business in social convention. Often influenced by drugs, alcohol, and other mind-altering substances, the authors that were associated with the beat movement mostly wrote in free-verse incoherence. This style of writing, often referred to as “Spontaneous Prose”, was done in a style of typing as fast as one can along a line of thought, with “no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement”. The topics that the beats chose to write about were not considered of normalcy during their time period.

The difference between beats and other authors is that the beats chose to experience life, and then wrote about it, while other authors either wrote about fictitious happenings, or wrote about mundane things. The beats spontaneous lifestyle often led to much misfortune. Between murders and death credited to alcoholism, it’s not wonder this lifestyle did not last too long. They embraced a life of corruption, and self-destruction. Not eluding themselves to sex, drugs, and crime, they soon indulged in all of them, which led to many of their deaths. By the end of the 1950’s, the beat generation had reached it’s peak and through the sixties and seventies, the lifestyle slowly digressed. By the 1970’s it had completely dissolved, and became another piece of literary history. In 1951, Jack Kerouac joined Neal Cassady on a road trip across the country. Cassady was a major role model to the beat generation, and the bridge between the Beat Movement of the 1950’s and the Psychedelic Movement of the 1960’s. Starting in New York, they hitchhiked through Ohio, Denver, all the way to San Francisco by any means they could. Sometimes they would be stranded at a train station for days, or stuck in a town for a couple weeks. Sometimes they would be lucky enough to afford a bus ticket half way across the country.

For three years they went back and forth, exploring their homeland and all it had to offer. As pretty handsome men, they attracted many ladies and had various flings on their wild excursions. The use of drugs such as Benzedrine and Marijuana was a common leisure. After returning from his journey, Kerouac spent three straight weeks writing of his adventures on the road. In more than 180,000 words, he wrote the entire novel on a scroll, which was originally too chaotic to be published. Finally, Viking Press published it in 1957, and thus put out one of the most influential, and controversial books of it’s time. While there is no clean-cut message of the novel, it touches base on many different meanings. First, the main character, Sal, is supposed to represent Kerouac himself. Through out the novel, he praises Dean Moriarity, a Neal Cassady character, even though the rest of society finds Moriarty to be flighty and unreliable. Sal respects that kind of person, as his only friends are ‘ mad ones.'”…and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars….” (Kerouac 9). Another message that can be extracted from the book is how he didn’t quite fit into society.

Living what was considered a ‘normal life’ in New York, Kerouac’s character Sal was often bored, depressed, and apathetic towards things. After his adventures with Dean, his life gained a new spark to it. He became more confident and happy to live, thanking Dean, while others in his life shunned Moriarty. The impact that “On the Road” had on society can never be mimicked in the culture of today. The shock value of literature is losing it’s meaning as the range of topics being written about broadens. The media also exposes more shocking and appalling news. In fact, the media now plays a different role on society. Instead of censoring news and using television and journalism to create a sort of ‘ideal society, modern news uses fear as a social tool. They scare America by telling them gruesome stories about war, drugs, rebellious teens, and any other subject that they feel needs to be eliminated out of society. I respect what the beat generation has done to society, even today.

They started a movement that passed on from generation to generation, sparking a nonconformist rally. They lived how they wanted to live, and as a result, they inspired many to do the same. The novel was key in influencing many across the nation. It held a candle to the life that they could be living, instead of feeling trapped by conformity. The book On the Road paved the ‘road’ that many choose to tread on in todays society. It’s a ‘road less traveled’ as Robert Frost would put it. In other words, it’s a way of life that can be adopted by those who feel they don’t belong in the majority of America. However, it doesn’t just stop in the United States. It applies to everyone, of every culture. On the Road marked a point in literary history, where the silent generation no longer remained silent, but a small part spoke up against what was sociably acceptable in the 1950’s. They stood up for what they believed in, regardless of who agreed with them or what people were saying. The new wave of authors, referred to as beatniks, may have faded from the main stream, but their literary contributions still remain relevant today.

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Biography and Life lessons of Jack Kerouac. (2022, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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