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Big Sur

Big Sur


by Jack Kerouac

The Jesus Stuff, and Other Spiritual Potpourri

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Big Sur wouldn't be a Kerouac novel without some veiled references to Jesus, now would it? The first tip-off is the scene that takes place on the creek by Monsanto's cabin. Jack takes deliberate, spiritual, almost ritualistic care in arranging the stones in the water:

I start inserting tiny pebbles in the spaces between the stones so that no water can sneak over to wash away the shore, even down to the tiniest sand, a perfect sea wall, which I top with a wood plank for everybody to kneel on when they come there to fetch their holy water – Looking up from this work of an entire day, from noon till sundown, amazed to see where I was, who I was, what I'd done – The absolute innocence. (6.6)

Shortly afterwards he drinks from his shaker, which he calls his "holy cup" (7.3) Next up is Jack's trip back from Big Sur to the city. The grueling journey – on foot – begins to sound a bit like a spiritual pilgrimage or even a spiritual test. Take a closer look:

But because I'm wearing desert boots with their fairly thin soles, and the sun is beating hot on the tar road, the heat finally gets through the soles and I begin to deliver heat blisters in my sockiboos – I'm limping along wondering what's the matter with me when I realize I've gotblisters. […] – I'm in despair because I'm really stranded now, and by the time I've walked seven miles I still have seven to go but I cant go on another step – I'm also thirsty and there are absolutely no filling stations or anything along the way – My feet are ruined and burned, it develops now into a day of complete torture, from nine o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon I negotiate those nine or so miles when I finally have to stop and sit down and wipe the blood off my feet. (10.3-4)

But the major tip-off is at the end of the novel, when Dave tells Jack, "The holy flesh of this little fish will heal you" and they all take "their little holy bites" at dinner (35.2, 36.4). Recall the symbol of the ichthys (also known as the Jesus fish) or the many references to fishing in the New Testament (including the famous "I will make you fishers of men" line).

Jack undergoes a sort of communion in Chapter Thirty-Six when he eats of the fish Dave killed for dinner. In this novel, even the idea of communion takes on a dark and sinister twist. Jack feels guilty at eating the fish that only hours earlier was swimming happily along the river. Of course, shortly after this dinner, Jack does battle with his faith in the nightmare of his delirium. He sees a vision of the cross disturbed by "a great evil blur like an ink spot" that he believes to be the devil (36.9). Everything about Kerouac's alter-ego has been darkened and shaken since his days in On the Road – even his faith.

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