Study Guide

Big Sur Writing Style

By Jack Kerouac

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Writing Style

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Kerouac's fame has a lot to do with his unique writing style, and Big Sur is a great example of what makes his writing unique. Kerouac had no problem breaking all the rules, whether speeding on the highway, taking illegal substances, or breaking the laws of English grammar. As a result, his prose is loose and phonetically indulgent. He sacrifices correctness for sound and rhythm that well reflects the tone and mood of his subject matter. Let's take a look at a few examples.

You might notice number of made-up words in Big Sur. These may be words that sound like what they mean, such as:

  • "…big elbows of Rock rising everywhere, sea caves within them, seas plollocking all around inside them…" (4.2)

  • "…facing all the Pacific fury flashing on the rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove, the bingbang cove with its seas booming inside caves and slapping out…" (5.5)

  • Or words intuitively adapted from others: "…those big gooky rainforest ferns among lightningstruck conifers…" (5.1)

  • "…clear rushing unstagnated bugless drinking water…" (6.6)
You'll also notice that Kerouac abandons paragraph breaks in favor of long dashes, particularly in dialogue. Take a look at the conversation between him and Arthur Ma at the end of Chapter Twenty for a solid example. Rhythm wins out over correctness. Or think about the way he writes lists of adjectives, without commas in between (as is technically correct): "Me just an innocent lost hearted meditator and Goop among strange intense criminal agitators of the heart" (27.4). It may be grammatically wrong, but look what it does for the fluidity of the sentence. Jack's writing at times even parodies the "proper" way to do things. We love this melodic paragraph opener from Chapter Six: "Meanwhile by the way and however…" (6.4). It reads like a caricature of the proper way to switch topics (namely, using one of these transitional phrases).

Lastly, we should take a moment to appreciate the poetic nature of Kerouac's prose. Before you move on, read this passage out loud: "I go out on that porch and sit in the old canvas chair and turn my face up to all that mooching going on up there, all those stars crying with happy sadness, all that ream and cream of mocky ways with alleyways of lightyears old" (22.6).

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