Jack Kerouac: short biography
Jack Kerouac was born on Catholic French-Canadian family in Massachusetts in 1922.
He went to Columbia University, New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg.
After dropping out of college, he took odd jobs but continued to hang around with Ginsberg and other friends with drug-taking habits.
The publication of his first novel "The town and the city" earned him some recognition as a writer but did not make him famous.
He spent the early 1950s writing other novels which were rejected by publishers.
He carried them around in a rucksack as he roamed back and forth across the country.
These trips became the core of "On the road", published to great acclaim in 1957 after Kerouac had joined Ginsberg in San Francisco, where they had become part of a group of intellectuals who attracted fame as the "Beat Generation".
Kerouac was unable to cope with sudden celebrity and was also deeply hurt by literary critics who objected to the Beat "fad" and ridiculed his work.
His mental and physical health declined in the next few years.
He became a heavy drinker and aged prematurely.
Eventually he moved back to the East to live with his mother and died in 1969 at the age of 47.
"On the road": review
Kerouac wrote "On the road" non-stop in three weeks in 1951.
The novel remained unpublished for six years.
When it eventually appeared, it was an instantaneous success. In fact it dealt with the typical young people's search for freedom and assumed a cult status for young American, dissatisfied with the materialistic culture of the 1950s.
It is a semi-autobiographical novel based fairly closely on the lives of Kerouac and his friends.
At its centre there are:
- the image of the roads crossing the great American continent
- the sens of America's vastness as a dimension of existence that needs to be explored and offers freedom
- a way to escape from the cities and one's own past.
The novel was written in a new form that the author called "spontaneous writing" which consisted in describing events exactly as they had happended, without pausing to edit, fictionalise or even think.
He uses a very loose structure and a great deal of slang to convey the rush of excitement of the protagonist's freewheeling life.