Big Sur makes rather explicit comparisons between the city (San Francisco, specifically) and the natural world (in this case, a cabin in the woods of Big Sur, California). Kerouac describes the city as "gooky," confining, a place in which he feels "trapped," a place he needs to "escape." Big Sur, while freeing, is also frightening. The natural world is incredibly large, and serves as a reminder of the insignificance of man and the futility of one's life. Narrator Jack Duluoz finds both environments problematic for these very different reasons.
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- Does Jack's immersion in nature soothe him or stoke the fires of his impending madness?
- When Jack is alone in Big Sur in the summer, he hears the sea yell to him, "GO TO YOUR DESIRE DON'T HANG AROUND HERE." What is Jack's desire – what does he really want?
- What is it about Big Sur that makes Jack feel as though he needs to be alone there? Why is it incompatible with a big gang of people?
Chew on This
Jack's breakdown at the end of the novel is the result of worlds colliding; he tries to mix his social and sexual life with his solitary and spiritual ones.