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What is Beat Generation? Or what is a Beat writer? When did this movement emerge in the American literature? Who is Jack Kerouac? When read for the first time, On the Road could not be distinguished as a beat novel. But even so, it did appeal to the reading audience. The novel represented people's excitement and eagerness â€¦â€¦to travel, to discover, to meet, to feel free, to dream...
Edmund White said that "Beginning in the late 1940s, American literature discovered a four-letter word, and the word was "beat". Beat as in poverty and beatitude, ecstasy and exile. Beat was Jack Kerouac touring the American prose as fast and reckless as a V-8 Chevy."
Looking back at the late 1930s, Fitzgerald said that "by a generation I mean that reaction against the fathers which seems to occur about three times in a century. It is distinguished by a set of ideas inherited in modified form from the madmen and the outlaws of generation before; if it is a real generation it has its own leaders and spokesmen, and it draws into its orbit those born just before it and just after, whose ideas are clear-cut and defiant. "
Despite Fitzgerald's words, there is no disagreement that there has been a phenomenon known as the Beat Generation writers.
This is one of the most influential movements in American literature, which became known as the Beat movement. There were certain historic events that contributed to its emergence: World War II and America having dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; political ramifications of the ensuing Cold War; the wave of anti-communist hysteria in the United States.
By the strictest definition Danova affirms that The Beat movement consists of writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Neal Cassady only, with the later addition of Gregory Gorso and Peter Orlovsky. However, the term also includes most of the innovative poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michel McClure, Gary Snyder and others.(2002, p. 149)
Jack Kerouac explained the reason for these writers' union (Beat writers) with their ability to confess to each other their deepest feelings in a letter to Allen Ginsberg. It was a group mainly bound by the shared mythical outlook they took on their own lives and interactions.
The word "beat" originally derived from circus - the carnival reflected the strained circumstances of the lives of the circus artists. In the drug world it meant "robbed" or "cheated".
The word was primarily in use after World War II by jazz musicians and hustlers as a slang term meaning down and out, or poor and exhausted. According to Danova Kerouac himself, one could feel the beatitude in "jazz, in real cool jazz" (2002, p. 151).
It was Herbert Huncke who introduced the word "beat" to Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac. Later, in one conversation with his friend John Clellon Holmes, Kerouac said "It`s a kind of furtivenessâ€¦Like we were a generation of furtive. You know, with an inner knowledgeâ€¦a kind of beatnessâ€¦So I guess you might say we`re a beat generation". Four years later, in 1952, Holmes introduced the word in his article "This is the Beat Generation" for the New York Times Magazine in 1952.
When the term "Beat Generation" began to be used as a label for young people, whom Kerouac called "hipsters" or "beatsters" in the late 1950s, the word "beat" lost its specific reference to a particular subculture and became a synonym for anyone living as a bohemian, acting rebelliously or appearing to advocate a revolution in manners.
Some critics viewed Kerouac's name as related to what was going on in American life in the 50s and 60s. With his fourth novel Kerouac captivated and intrigued many people. They explained and discussed in a sufficient number of books life on the road. Writers and critics commented on Dean`s words "I dig life". To the beat generation, Kerouac is well known as a speaker and broadcaster. He is "the King of the Beats".
Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on 12th March 1922 and died on 21st October 1969. His French-Canadian parents were from the province Quebec in Canada. He was a serious child, devoted to his mother who played an important role in his life. She was deeply religious, instilling her views into her younger son; her influence can be seen throughout his works. The young Kerouac was not raised in an environment of racial hatred, as many were at the time. Kerouac's skills as a running back in American football earned him a scholarship offer from Columbia University, where he afterwards enrolled. While at Columbia University, Kerouac wrote several sports articles for the student newspaper. When Kerouac dropped out of university, he continued for a period of time to live in New York with his girlfriend, Edie Parker. It was during this time that he met the people, whom he would always be associated with, the subjects injected into many of his novels including Ginsberg and Cassady. At a later stage, he lived with his parents in the Ozone Park neighbourhood of Queens. He wrote his first novel The Town and the City and began writing the famous On the Road around 1949 while living there. His friends jokingly called him "The Wizard of Ozone Park".
Kerouac tended to write constantly, carrying a notebook with him everywhere. Letters to friends and family members tended to be long and rambling, including a great amount of details about his daily life and thoughts. Prior to becoming a writer, he had tried a varied list of careers. He was a sports reporter and a temporary construction and food service worker. Additionally, he joined the United States Navy twice.
Some of his novels include The Town and the City (1950), On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), The Subterraneans (1958), Doctor Sax (1959), Maggie Cassidy (1959), Tristessa (1960), Vision of Cody (1960), Big Star (1962), Vision of Gerald (1963), Desolation Angels (1965), Vanity Duluoz (1968), and PIC (1970).
On the Road is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. The book spelled most clearly all the governing beliefs of the Beat generation: distrust of authority and social convention viewed as obstacles to self-knowledge and honest, meaningful communication; sexual liberation and experience, including drug experimentation for its own sake.
When the book was originally released, The New York Times hailed it as "the most beautifully executed the clearest and most important utterance" of Kerouac's generation.
The book begins by introducing the catalyst for most of the adventures of within the story: Dean Moriarty - Neal Cassady. The narrator, Salvatore "Sal" Paradise - Kerouac, is fascinated with the idea of humanity, and particularly his eclectic group of friends, jazz, the landscapes of the United State, and women. The opening paragraph states that "with the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road."
Kerouac is concerned with exposing the process, whereby the myth of the Western Frontier has become essentially bankrupted and ideologically deformed. Sal has mentioned a "miserably weary split up" with his wife, and a "serious illness". The text makes available a symbolic reading that invests Sal and his guest with mythical significance.
Danova views the whole novel as an experimentation with his own style - began the book as a conscious imitation of Thomas Wolfe; then added more joyous style, adopted from other beat writers and a new method similar to the jazz improvisations, which critics call "bebop prose". This style of his best suits the search for truth and identity of the main character, Sal Paradise (2002, p. 154-155).
Freeman Champney noted that in the novel there was plenty of speed, alcohol, sex and marijuana. Young characters were children who were spoiled and rejected the consumer society and hated everything. Champney remarks that Kerouac argues with American culture. The middle - class life is pointless and stupid. People should live more spontaneous and free lives (1959, p. 114 - 121).
The story is about two young men, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, who travel frantically back and forth across the American continent seeking thrills. These two characters circle the streets and they are on a mad trip, driving around the country. They do not depend on places and relatives. Danova explained that the main theme themes of the book became Moriarty`s search for his father related along with the search for God. It has been claimed (Danova, 2002, p. 155) that thus characters become part of a pilgrim tradition "which starts with Chaucer and is transformed into a post-war Huck Finn". The novel is in fact a thinly veiled account of Kerouac's own life in the late 1940s, when he fell under the spell of the charismatic Neal Cassady. Every episode in the novel was inspired by real-life events.
Jack Kerouac said "I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of My Youth and the West of my futureâ€¦.LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there`s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle". Sal communicates with many people in the West but he dislikes these places. Sal Paradise understands that probably the East is "a better place for him and that is why he returns" (Danova, 2002, p. 155).
The book, which would probably be considered rather tame today, shocked readers in 1957 with its depiction of drug use and sex. Many critics condemned the work as evidence of the increasing immorality of the American youth. Other critics saw it as a groundbreaking work of originality. American readers, fascinated with the bohemian lifestyle of the characters, turned the novel into a bestseller.
On the Road is considered the book of the Beat generation the better Jack Kerouac`s novel. This beat generation novel is about lost souls who dared to feel and to be free.