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Big Sur

Big Sur

by Jack Kerouac

Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.

"My work comprises one vast book like Proust's except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed. Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work. On the Road, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Tristessa, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, and the other including this book Big Sur are just chapters in the whole work which I call The Duluoz Legend. In my old age I intend to collect all my work and re-insert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy. The whole thing forms one enormous comedy, seen through the eyes of poor Ti Jean (me), otherwise known as Jack Duluoz, the world of raging action and folly and also of gentle sweetness seen through the keyhole of his eye."
– Jack Kerouac

This is not an epigraph, rather an author's note. But it does something very similar to an epigraph: it gives us some direction as to how we should read this novel. In this case, that direction is as follows. 1) Read this as a personal reflection of real events and people, rather than a purely fictional work, and 2) read this in the context of Kerouac's other works.

It's extremely important that you keep both of these in mind while reading the novel and also while reading this Shmoop guide, since we take this advice to heart in our analysis. When we talk about main character Jack Duluoz, you can assume that we're talking about author Jack Kerouac. You should also feel free to compare this character to other alter egos – like Sal Paradise in the earlier novel On the Road. You might want to read our guide to On the Road when comparing the two books. For a further discussion of the tension between Big Sur as a first-person recollection and Big Sur as a work of fiction, check out our discussion of "Genre." For now, keep this Author's Note on a mental sticky note.

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