Big Sur explores the tension between the desire to be alone and the need to be around others. Kerouac's alter ego and narrator, Jack Duluoz, oscillates between two extreme viewpoints: a cynical, misanthropic take on Americans and the way they've changed for the worse in the last decade, and a genuine love of the people with whom he surrounds himself. While he finds solitude comforting and healing, he also gets bored when he's alone. While he finds company soothing, the presence of others often makes him paranoid.
Questions About Isolation
- Initially, Jack refers to Big Sur as a "refuge" and "escape." From what is he trying to seek refuge or escape?
- Check out Chapter Sixteen. (You might want to read it again – it's only one paragraph.) What's going on there with that "Bruce something," "the greatest driver in the world?" What does this short and stand-alone episode add to the novel?
- While talking to McLear, Jack comments: "I feel that lonely shiver in my chest which always warns me: you actually love people and you're glad Pat is here" (23.1). Why a "lonely" shiver? What is it about loving people that Jack finds problematic?
Chew on This
Big Sur can only "heal" Jack when he's there by himself.