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The Father of the Beat Generation - Jack Kerouac
Jack - In His Own Words
Jack Kerouac is best known for his work On The Road. Kerouac was one of the influential writers of the Beat Generation that ushered in an era of individualism and rebellion from conformity in the early 1960s. Strangely, in writing works that taught others to live life to the fullest, Kerouac was himself struggling with an identity crisis and trying to break away from the shadow of a saintly dead brother.
Named Jean Louis Kerouac, Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1922. When Kerouac was four years old, his older brother Gerard died of Rheumatic Fever. In one of his works, Kerouac details a story about this brother Gerard. A group of kids were throwing stones at birds sitting in trees. Gerard stopped the children and scolded them asking “Why is everyone so mean.”
After the death of his brother, Kerouac’s parents grieved terribly and tried to relive their dead son’s life through their youngest child. Kerouac spent his childhood living under the shadow of a dead brother and he turned to writing in an attempt to relieve his burden and figure out who he was. The death of Gerard haunted Kerouac throughout his life and his longing for his deceased brother shows in his works.
When Kerouac was twenty-one years old he decided to leave Lowell and began college at ColumbiaUniversity. While at Columbia, Kerouac met up with those who would play the biggest influence on his life. At Columbia, Kerouac met Allen Ginsberg and Neil Cassidy.
Not at all interested in academics, Kerouac wrote his first work shortly after arriving at Columbia and spending some time as a merchant marine. The Town and the City tells the story of two twin brothers growing up together in a small Massachusetts town. One of the brothers, much like Gerard, was the epitome of perfection. This would not be the first time Kerouac would write about Gerard.
In 1949, Neil Cassidy asked Kerouac if he wanted to travel across the country. Along the way, Kerouac kept a notebook with him and wrote down his thoughts about life and his place in the world. The two traveled for nearly a year and what came out of it is Kerouac’s work On The Road. Kerouac and Cassidy's friendship was probably the most important relationship Kerouac had in his life, save his mother. Cassidy was the long lost brother Kerouac had searched his life to find.
On The Road details Kerouac’s travels across the county in search of his own identity. It tells the story of Sal Paradise and his journey across the County. Throughout the book, the main character attempts to find a place to fit in and be comfortable. Like Kerouac himself, Sal Paradise was drawn to his close friend who seemed as if he were some long lost brother. In the end however, the travel never ends and the character never truly finds a place to call home.
Thus lies the story of Jack Kerouac. Kerouac was a man who spent his life attempting to find who he was outside the shadow of his dead saintly brother Gerard. Kerouac died in 1969 and is buried on a hill in Lowell.
For a great biography of Jack Kerouac, I recommend Desolate Angel by Dennis McNally.