Big Sur is the story of author Jack Kerouac's experiences with delirium tremens. In his opinion, this illness resulting from alcohol withdrawal is a form of madness. The novel builds towards one particular episode – the night of September 3, 1960 – in which main character Jack Duluoz (Kerouac) is haunted by visions and nightmares. In this novel, madness is the direct result of substance abuse, but also a reflection of inner turmoil. At this point in his life, Jack is struggling with the cost of fame (stemming from the popularity of his novels and his reputation as "King of the Beat Generation"), his own mortality (he's nearing 40), and a spiritual crisis (Kerouac was raised Catholic but studied Buddhism extensively).
Jack is more stable when alone than he is with other people.
Jack is more stable when he's around people than he is when he's alone.