Big Sur is the fictional rendering of true events in the life of author Jack Kerouac. In 1960 Kerouac was a serious alcoholic suffering from cyclical bouts of delirium tremens. The novel deals with this disease explicitly and directly; the free-form style allows for a realistic rendering of Kerouac's delirious nightmares. Big Sur explores the illness of alcoholism as main character Jack Duluoz (Kerouac's alter-ego) oscillates between happy, drunken states and miserable mornings (or weeks) after.
Much of the sickness Jack feels after drinking has to do with identity, with reconciling the morning-after alcoholic with the way he sees himself.