Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this but finally realizing I was surrounded and outnumbered and had to get away to solitude again or die. (1.1)
Jack claims he drinks to keep up appearances – to keep himself "jovial" – but we soon find that this isn't really the case. Drinking makes Jack retreat further from social scenes.
That feeling when you wake up with the delirium tremens with the fear of eerie death dripping from your ears like those special heavy cobwebs spiders weave in the hot countries, the feeling of being a bent back mudman monster groaning underground in hot steaming mud pulling a long hot burden nowhere, the feeling of standing ankledeep in hot boiled pork blood, ugh, of being up to your waist in a giant pan of greasy brown dishwater not a trace of suds left in it... The face of yourself you see in the mirror with its expression of unbearable anguish so haggard and awful with sorrow you cant even cry for a thing so ugly, so lost, no connection whatever with early perfection and therefore nothing to connect with tears or anything (2.1)
Much of the sickness Jack feels after drinking has to do with identity, with reconciling the morning-after alcoholic with the way he sees himself.
We all agree it's too big to keep up with, that we're surrounded by life, that we'll never understand it, so we center it all in by swigging Scotch from the bottle and when it's empty I run out of the car and buy another one, period. (12.4)
Jack's attempt at escape is very much tied to feeling overwhelmed by all the literature, people, and potential and activity of the world.
I rush to explain to Cody what happened the year before when his religious advisor at the prison had invited me to come to San Quentin to lecture the religious class -- Dave Wain was supposed to drive me and wait outside the prison walls as I'd go in there alone, probably with a pepup nip bottle hidden in my coat (I hoped) and I'd be led by big guards to the lecture room of the prison and there would be sitting a hundred or so cons including Cody probably all proud in the front row -- And I would begin by telling them I had been in jail myself once and that I had no right nevertheless to lecture them on religion -- But they're all lonely prisoners and dont care what I talk about -- The whole thing arranged, in any case, and on the big morning I wake up instead dead drunk on a floor, it's already noon and too late, Dave Wain is on the floor also, Willie's parked outside to take us to Quentin for the lecture but it's too late (13.4)
This anecdote reminds us of the futility of plans for these characters, and of their wasted potential.
And I tell this to Cody who ponders a chess problem and says "Drinkin again, hey? " (if there's anything he hates is to see me drink). (13.4)
This is an incredibly important line, and it's given in parentheses. It's important that we get the reactions of Jack's friends to his drinking. This perspective is not an easy task for the author in a first-person narrative.
There he is wearing goggles working like Vulcan at his forge, throwing tires all over the place with fantastic strength, the good ones high up on a pile, "This one's no good" down on another, bing, bang, talking all the time a long fantastic lecture on tire recapping which has Dave Wain marvel with amazement -- ('My God he can do all that and even explain while he's doing it') -- But I just mention in connection with the fact that Dave Wain now realizes why I've always loved Cody... (13.7)
The friendships between Jack and his friends are characterized by this intense amazement, bordering on hero worship. Part of the pain in reading about Jack's alcoholism and break-down is watching his friends witness it.
Any drinker knows how the process works: the first day you get drunk is okay, the morning after means a big head but so you can kill that easy with a few more drinks and a meal, but if you pass up the meal and go on to another night's drunk, and wake up to keep the toot going, and continue on to the fourth day, there'll come one day when the drinks wont take effect because you're chemically overloaded and you'll have to sleep it off but cant sleep any more because it was alcohol itself that made you sleep those last five nights, so delirium sets in -- Sleeplessness, sweat, trembling, a groaning feeling of weakness where your arms are numb and useless, nightmares, (nightmares of death)... well, there's more of that up later. (14.6)
It's all the more painful to read Big Sur knowing that Jack is aware of his own problem. He has no illusions about his alcoholism nor his delirium tremens.
Arthur Ma suddenly yells: "Hold still you buncha bastards, I got a hole in my eye" and generally the way parties go, and so on, ending with the steak dinner (I dont even touch a bite but just drink on), then the big bonfire on the beach to which we march all in one armswinging gang. (19.2)
Again, Jack gives us some scary and important information about his alcoholism through parentheses. It's as if he's ashamed of his disease and shies away from discussing it directly. Ironically, he draws more attention to this illness with these small, parenthetical asides.
But anybody who's never had delirium tremens even in their early stages may not understand that it's not so much a physical pain but a mental anguish indescribable to those ignorant people who don't drink and accuse drinkers of irresponsibility -- The mental anguish is so intense that you feel you have betrayed your very birth, […] , you feel a guilt so deep you identify yourself with the devil and God seems far away abandoning you to your sick silliness -- You feel sick in the greatest sense of the word, breathing without believing in it, sicksicksick, your soul groans, you look at your helpless hands as tho they were on fire and you cant move to help, you look at the world with dead eyes, there's on your face an expression of incalculable repining like a constipated angel on a cloud (21.13)
Jack's attempt to describe his delirium tremens to his readers is just as much his own attempt to understand and characterize his experience.
(in my drunkenness I've already projected a big trip with Billie and Elliott and Perry to Mexico but we're going to stop in L. A. to see a rich woman Perry knows who's going to give him money and if she doesn't he's going to get it anyway, and as I say Billie and I are going to be married too)
Jack lacks perspective the same way Sal did in On the Road. He suffers from living in the moment a little too much, a symptom of his constant drinking.
I've got the directions all memorized from a little map Monsanto's mailed me but in my imagination dreaming about this big retreat back home there'd been something larkish, bucolic, all homely woods and gladness instead of all this aerial roaring mystery in the dark. (3.1)
Much of Big Sur has to do with the rift between imagined ideals and reality – from Big Sur to Jack and his public "Beat" persona.
The road's up there on the wall a thousand feet with a sheer drop sometimes, […] And worst of all is the bridge! I go ambling seaward along the path by the creek and see this awful thin white line of bridge a thousand unbridgeable sighs of height above the little woods. (4.1)
Big Sur is an appropriate setting for Jack's tale – he's teetering on the edge of madness, as he indicates with various "signposts" throughout the novel.
In August a horrible development took place, huge blasts of frightening gale like wind came pouring into the canyon making all the trees roar with a really frightening intensity that sometimes built up to a booming war of trees that shook the cabin and woke you up -- And was in fact one of the things that contributed to my mad fit. (6.5)
Jack's constant allusions to his mad fit actually give the novel its structure – we're heading towards a definite climax in our plot.
So once again I'm Ti Jean the Child, playing, sewing patches, cooking suppers, washing dishes (always kept the kettle boiling on the fire and anytime dishes needed to be washed I just pour hot hot water into pan with Tide soap and soak them good and then wipe them clean after scouring with little 5-&-10 wire scourer) (7.1)
Jack is always calmed by labor – he seems most peaceful while he's working at something.
The blue sky adds "Dont call me eternity, call me God if you like, all of you talkers are in paradise: the leaf is paradise, the tree stump is paradise, the paper bag is paradise, the man is paradise, the fog is paradise" -- Can you imagine a man with mar-velous insights like these can go mad within a month? (7.5)
The constant reminders of Jack's impending madness make us wonder about the perspective of the writer himself – how sane is our author at the time of writing?
Suddenly, boom, the door of the cabin is flung open with a loud crash and a burst of sunlight illuminates the room and I see an Angel standing arm outstretched in the door! -- It's Cody! all dressed in his Sunday best in a suit! beside him are ranged several graduating golden angels from Evelyn golden beautiful wife down to the most dazzling angel of them all little Timmy with the sun striking off his hair in beams! -- It's such an incredible sight and surprise that both Pat and I rise from our chairs involuntarily, like we've been lifted up in awe, or scared, tho I dont feel scared so much as ecstatically amazed as tho I've seen a vision... (23.4)
Jack's delirium isn't just about nightmare and terror; his highs are as extreme as his lows.
"Her voice is the main point—she talks with a broken heart—her voice lutes brokenly like a heart lost […], it's almost too much to bear sometimes […]. I just sit and marvel and stare at her mouth wondering where all the beauty is coming from and why" (26.4)
Billie's voice is a great example of the way Jack associates sadness with beauty.
"O the sad music of it all, I've done it all, seen it all, done everything with everybody." (31.7)
Jack's madness is in part driven by the cynical boredom of his middle age.
I see it all raving before me the endless yakking kitchen mouthings of life, the long dark grave of tomby talks under midnight kitchen bulbs, in fact it fills me with love to realize that life so avid and misunderstood nevertheless reaches out skinny skeleton hand to me and to Billie too -- But you know what I mean.
And this is the way it begins. (33.1-2)
Look at the strange combination of sadness, despair, and yet appreciation that Jack feels in these moments of reflection. These conflicting feelings are at the emotional heart of the novel.
But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek toward the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of "Oh my God, we're all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do" -- And a bird who was on a crooked branch is suddenly gone without my even hearing him. (7.5)
Jack's fear of death creeps into the novel early and will play a large part in his impending madness. This is the first clear indication of his obsession with his own mortality.
"Did you write anything? " -- "I wrote the sounds of the sea, I'll tell you all about it -- It was the most happy three weeks of my life dammit. (11.6)
And yet it didn't seem that way when he was at Big Sur. Jack characterizes his time in Big Sur with a false perspective – is the novel similarly tainted by such retrospective wishful thinking? Consider the novel's optimistic ending…
(and animals are so sad and patient I thought as I remembered Tyke's eyes and Alf's eyes, ah death, and to think this strange scandalous death comes also to human beings, yea to Smiler even, poor Smiler, and poor Homer his dog, and all of us) (11.6)
Now we can understand why Jack is so bothered by the death of all these animals: the mortality of others is a reminder that he, too, will die. It's not so much about the animals' mortality as it is about his own mortality.
But now George has TB and they tell me he may even die... Which adds to that darkness in my mind, all these DEATH things piling up suddenly -- But I cant believe old Zen Master George is going to allow his body to die. (78.10)
It's interesting that Jack gives such agency to Baso (with the phrase "let" his body die). How much control does Jack have, on that note, over his own physical suffering in Big Sur?
"Look out there floating in the sea weeds, a dead otter! " -- And sure enough it is a dead otter I guess, a big brown pale lump floating up and down mournfully with the swells and ghastly weeds, my otter, my dear otter, my dear otter I'd written poems about -- "Why did he die? " I ask myself in despair -- "Why do they do that?" -- "What's the sense of all this? " -- All the fellows are shading their eyes to get a better look at the big peaceful tortured hunk of seacow out there as tho it's something of passing interest while tome it's a blow across the eyes and down into my heart (21.6)
Part of what makes these signposts of mortality so painful for Jack is that he is alone in his horror; no one shares his reaction, nor can anyone really understand it.
Because a new love affair always gives hope, the irrational mortal loneliness is always crowned, that thing I saw (that horror of snake emptiness) when I took the deep iodine deathbreath on the Big Sur beach is now justified and hosannah'd and raised up like a sacred urn to Heaven in the mere fact of the taking off of clothes and clashing wits and bodies in the inexpressibly nervously sad delight of love... (26.6)
For Jack, the appeal of sex is its ability to distract him from his delirium.
I've been sitting in that chair by that fishbowl for a week drinking and smoking and talking and now the goldfish are dead. (31.3)
Part of what scares Jack so much about death is its senselessness and its randomness. When he tries to find meaning or attribute blame, he comes up empty-handed.
"Remember when we were in East St Louis with George, and Jack you said you'd love those beautiful dancing girls if you knew they would live forever as beautiful as they are?" (31.7)
The idea of decay and death is ever-present in Big Sur. Knowing that things – people, animals, relationships – are going to end is a constant torment to Jack.
…the eyes of hope looking over the glare of the hood into the maw with its white line feeding in straight as an arrow, the lighting of fresh cigarettes, the buckling to lean forward to the next adventure something that's been going on in America ever since the covered wagons clocked the deserts in three months flat (33..1)
It's interesting that Jack's vision of America is such a dynamic one. This version of America fits well with concern over transience (the fleeting nature of life being one example).
"One fast move or I'm gone, " I realize, gone the way of the last three years of drunken hopelessness which is a physical and spiritual and metaphysical hopelessness you cant learn in school no matter how many books on existentialism or pessimism you read, or how many jugs of vision producing Ayahuasca you drink, or Mescaline take, or Peyote goop up with – (2.1)
From the beginning of the novel, Jack admits that his kind of sickness can only be felt – it can't be understood through literary renderings.
Tho why after three weeks of perfect happy peace and adjustment in these strange woods my soul so went down the drain when I came back with Dave Wain and Romana and my girl Billie and her kid, I'll never know -- Worth the telling only if I dig deep into everything. (5.2)
Jack has already suggested that his experiences can't be adequately explained to his readers. Maybe he's writing Big Sur for his own benefit, to better understand what happened in the cabin by the woods.
And such things -- A whole mess of little joys like that amazing me when I came back in the horror of later to see how they'd all changed and become sinister, even my poor little wooden platform and mill race when my eyes and stomach nauseous and my soul screaming a thousand babbling words, oh -- It's hard to explain and best thing to do is not be false. (6.7)
Big Sur is characterized by a raw honesty – as though Kerouac is attempting, quite genuinely, to figure out and convey his experiences to us.
Long nights simply thinking about the usefulness of that little wire scourer, those little yellow copper things you buy in supermarkets for 10 cents, all to me infinitely more interesting than the stupid and senseless "Steppenwolf" novel in the shack which I read with a shrug, this old fart reflecting the "conformity" of today and all the while he thought he was a big Nietzsche, old imitator of Dostoevsky fifty years too late (he feels tormented in a "personal hell" he calls it because he doesnt like what other people like! ) -- Better at noon to watch the orange and black Princeton colors on the wings of a butterfly -- Best to go hear the sound of the sea at night on the shore. (7.1)
Big Sur touches on the inability of literature to accurately reflect reality. Nowhere is this rift more apparent to Jack then out in Monsanto's cabin, where the natural world is larger and grander than life.
And as far as I can see the world is too old for us to talk about it with our new words -- We will pass just as quietly through life (passing through, passing through) as the 10th century people of this valley only with a little more noise and a few bridges and dams and bombs that wont even last a million years -- The world being just what it is, moving and passing through. (7.5)
Much of Big Sur has to do with Jack looking for a purpose, or meaning for his life. It's possible, then, that writing the novel at all has to do with leaving some mark on the world, and getting around the curse of transience he discusses here in this passage.
And the sadness of it all is that the world hasn't any chance to produce say a writer whose life could really actually touch all this life in every detail like you always say, some writers could bring you sobbing thru the bed fuckin bedcribs of the moon to see it all even unto the goddamned last gory detail of some dismal robbery of the heart at dawn. (12.3)
Is this what Jack aspires to in his writing? What makes it so impossible?
The night ending with everybody passing out exhausted on cots, in sleepingbags outside (McLear goes home with wife) but Arthur Ma and I by the late fire keep up yelling spontaneous questions and answers right till dawn like "Who told you you had a hat on your head? " -- "My head never questions hats" -- "What's the matter with your liver training? " -- 'My liver training got involved in kidney work" (19.4)
Jack has already established that words are a poor reflection of the mind. This sort of free association might be the closest he gets to expressing the mind and spirit.
Our radio plays rhythm and blues as we pass the joint back and forth in jutjawed silence both looking ahead with big private thoughts now so vast we cant communicate them any more and if we tried it would take a million years and a billion books. (25.3)
In their close friendship, Jack and Cody don't need words. Their ability to communicate goes beyond the spoken word.
Mighty genius of the mind Cody whom I announce as the greatest writer the world will ever know if he ever gets down to writing. […] Besides I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him there's no need to do anything but live it, writing's just an afterthought or a scratch anyway at the surface -- But if he could! if he would! (25.3)
This passage illustrates more squandered potential. Much of the sadness of Big Sur comes from this sort of "could, would" wishful thinking.
Nobody in the world even ever dares to write the true story of love, it's awful, we're stuck with a 50% incomplete literature and drama -- Lying mouth to mouth, kiss to kiss in the pillow dark, loin to loin in unbelievable surrendering sweetness so distant from all our mental fearful abstractions it makes you wonder why men have termed God antisexual somehow -- The secret underground truth of mad desire hiding under fenders under buried junkyards throughout the world, never mentioned in newspapers, written about haltingly and like corn by authors and painted tongue in cheek by artists, agh (26.6)
Writing can touch neither the pain of Jack's delirium nor the heights of pleasure. Both extremes of are off limits to the written word.
So I had sneaked into San Francisco as I say, coming 3000 miles from my home in Long Island (Northport) in a pleasant roomette on the California Zephyr train watching America roll by outside my private picture window, really happy for the first time in three years, staying in the roomette all three days and three nights with my instant coffee and sandwiches (1.1)
Some things never change – just like we saw in On the Road, Jack is only happy when he's moving from one place to the next.
(all over America high school and college kids thinking "Jack Duluoz is 26 years old and on the road all the time hitch hiking" while there I am almost 40 years old, bored and jaded in a roomette bunk crashin across that Salt Flat) (1.1)
This is one of the most important thematic notes in Big Sur, and we get it in parentheses. Kerouac makes excellent use of parenthetical asides in much of the novel – keep an eye out for them next time you read the novel.
In fact, flying silently around my lamplit cabin at 3 o'clock in the morning as I'm reading (of all things) (shudder) Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde -- Small wonder maybe that I myself turned from serene Jekyll to hysterical Hyde in the short space of six weeks, losing absolute control of the peace mechanisms of my mind for the first time in my life. (5.1)
It seems we can track two major transformations for Jack. One comes within the context of Big Sur when he changes from the nervous-but-stable man in the first chapter to the insane man in the final one. The second transformation occurs on a broader spectrum: the Sal Paradise in On the Road evolves to Jack Duluoz in Big Sur.
(but surprising everybody the night of the show by doing my job of reading just fine, which surprises the producers and so they take me out with a Hollywood starlet who turns out to be a big bore trying to read me her poetry and wont talk love because in Hollywood man love is for sale)... (6.1)
Jack's frustration with the superficiality of Hollywood is similar to his frustration with the way the "Beat generation" has been changed. It, too, has become popular, superficial – "for sale" even.
Looking up occasionally to see rare cars crossing the high bridge and wondering what they'd see on this drear foggy night if they knew a madman was down there a thousand feet below in all that windy fury sitting in the dark writing in the dark -- Some sort of sea beatnik, tho anybody wants to call me a beatnik for THIS better try it if they dare. (7.2)
Jack resents the fame he's earned as a writer and so-called "King of the Beat Generation." Dissatisfied with the popularized, commercial image of the beats, he seeks to carve out a new identity for himself.
This is the first time I've hitch hiked in years and I soon begin to see things have changed in America, you cant get a ride any more […]. Sleek long stationwagon after wagon comes sleering by smoothly […], the husband is in the driver's seat with a long ridiculous vacationist hat with a long baseball visor making him look witless and idiot -- Besides him sits wifey, the boss of America, wearing dark glasses and sneering, even if he wanted to pick me up or anybody up she wouldn't let him -- But in the two deep backseats are children, children, millions of children, all ages, they're fighting and screaming over ice cream, they're spilling vanilla all over the Tartan seatcovers -- There's no room anymore anyway for a hitch hiker. (10.3)
Yet another transformation explored in Big Sur – the changes in America from the 1940s and 50s to the 1960s. Jack certainly takes a critical – perhaps even cynical – view of his country.
"a good-looking teenager with blonde hair who wants to be a sensational new Chet Baker singer and comes on with that tiresome hipster approach that was natural 5 or 10 or even 25 years ago but now in 1960 is a pose, in fact I dug him as a con man conning Dave" (11.10)
Ron Blake is an important character for this reason – he represents the would-be Beat generation that so frustrates Jack. Jack knows that things have changed, in America, in himself, since his younger days.
"You said in 1957 in the grass drunk on whiskey you were the greatest thinker in the world" -- "That was before I fell asleep and woke up: now I realize I'm no good at all and that makes me feel free" -- "You're not even free being no good, you better stop thinking, that's all'. (30.3)
In seeking enlightenment, Jack has actually driven himself to madness. The knowledge he thought would help him has only tormented him.
"I wanta go home and die with my cat. " I could be a handsome thin young president in a suit sitting in an oldfashioned rocking chair, no instead I'm just the Phantom of the Opera standing by a drape among dead fish and broken chairs -- Can it be that no one cares who made me or why? (31.4)
In the process of self-examination Jack recognizes his lost potential. He no longer identifies as a writer or even a drunkard. In failing to understand who is he, he finds only what he could have been.
Pacific fury flashing on rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove, the bingbang cove with its seas booming inside caves and slapping out, the cities of seaweed floating up and down you can even see their dark leer in the phosphorescent seabeach nightlight. (5.5)
Look at the way Jack's mood is reflected in his word choice ("fury," "gloomy," "shroud"). His language serves as a reminder that the natural world is subject to interpretation in this novel. We're also reminded linguistically that the landscape is often more emotional than physical.
Who cant sleep like a log in a solitary cabin in the woods, you wake up in the late morning so refreshed and realizing the universe namelessly: the universe is an Angel -- But easy enough to say when you've had your escape from the gooky city turn into a success -- And it's finally only in the woods you get that nostalgia for "cities" at last, you dream of long gray journeys to cities where soft evenings'll unfold like Paris but never seeing how sickening it will be because of the primordial innocence of health and stillness in the wilds... So I tell myself "Be Wise. " (5.6)
Jack realizes that he's never happy where he is. In the city he longs for nature, and in nature he longs for the company of people in the city.
All kinds of strange and marvelous things like the weird Ripley situation of a huge tree that's fallen across a creek maybe 500 years ago and's made a bridge thereby. (6.4)
Big Sur is steeped in this kind of history. The vastness of the landscape and the concept of its ancient roots combine to make Jack insignificant, a "crumb of dust" as he'll later say.
Nevertheless I go there every night even tho I dont feel like it, it's my duty (and probably drove me mad), and write these sea sounds, and all the whole insane poem "Sea." (7.2)
Jack spends much of Big Sur trying to determine what his divine purpose is – what he's supposed to be doing, why God put him on earth.
There's the poor little mouse eating her nightly supper in the humble corner where I've put out a little delight-plate full of cheese and chocolate candy (for my days of killing mice are over). (8.1)
Notice that this passage comes shortly after Jack's acute awareness in Chapter Seven that he is a part of something bigger. His time in Big Sur makes him feel connected to many aspects of the natural world – down to the smallest mouse.
The sea swirls up but seems subdued -- It's not like being alone down in the vast hell writing the sounds of the sea. (19.3)
Look at the way Big Sur changes for Jack when he's there with other people. The landscape is subject to his interpretation.
"I'll stand by the drape of the window night listening to the babble of all the world and I'll tell you about it" (31.7)
Remember that this is exactly what Jack tried to do when he wrote his poem "Sea" in Chapter Seven.
I stand by the window looking out on the glittering San Francisco night with its magic cardboard houses. (31.7)
After spending time in the woods at Big Sur, Jack finds an artificiality and superficiality in the city.
Tho when I look out of Cody's livingroomwindow just then I do see my star still shining for me as it's done allthese 38 years over crib, out ship windows, jail windows, over sleepingbagsonly now it's dummier and dimmer and getting blurreder damnit as tho even myown star be now fading away from concern for me as I from concern for it...
And yet, at the end of the novel, Jack returns to the idea of the stars as an ever-present comfort. Check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for a discussion of such contradictions in mood.
That first night I sit there and all I know, as I look up, is the kitchen light is on, on the cliff, to the right, where somebody's just built a cabin overlooking all the horrible Sur, somebody up there's having a mild and tender supper that's all I know... (5.5)
Though he came to Big Sur to be alone, Jack is still desperately looking for human contact.
And in the flush of the first few days of joy I confidently tell myself (not expecting what I'll do in three weeks only) "no more dissipation, it's time for me to quietly watch the world and even enjoy it, first in woods like these, then just calmly walk and talk among people of the world, no booze, no drugs, no binges, no bouts with beatniks and drunks and junkies and everybody (6.1)
Look at everything Jack is trying to escape from by seeking refuge in Big Sur.
All said So-Is sight of the world, right there in front of my nose as I look, -- And looking at that valley in fact I also realize I have to make lunch and it wont be any different than the lunch of those olden men and besides it'll taste good -- Everything is the same (7.5)
The solitude Jack experiences in Big Sur is unique – even alone he feels a part of something bigger. He never forgets his own small place in the universe.
I figure I'll get a ride into Monterey real easy and take the bus there and be in Frisco by nightfall for a big ball of wino yelling with the gang, I feel in fact Dave Wain oughta be back by now, or Cody will be ready for a ball, and there'll be girls, and such and such, forgetting entirely that only three weeks previous I'd been sent fleeing from that gooky city by the horrors -- But hadn't the sea told me to flee back to my own reality? (10.1)
Jack Duluoz is characterized by the same boredom that plagued Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise in On the Road – no place is ever good enough to stay.
A regular nuthouse actually and just exactly the image of what the journalists want to say about the Beat Generation nevertheless a harmless and pleasant agreement for young bachelors and a good idea in the long run -- Because you can rush into any room and find the expert, like say Ben's room and ask "Hey what did Bodhidharma say to the Second Patriarch? " -- "He said go fuck yourself, make your mind like a wall, dont pant after outside activities and dont bug me with your outside plans" -- "So the guy goes out and stands on his head in the snow? " "No that was Fubar" -- Or you go runnin into Dave Wain's room and there he is sitting crosslegged on his mattress on the floor reading Jane Austen, you ask "What's the best way to make beef Stroganoff? "... "Beef Stroganoff is very simple, "t'aint nothin but a good well cooked beef and onion stew that you let cool afterwards then you throw in mushrooms and lotsa sour cream
The wild intellectual camaraderie and the opportunity to learn from others are what Jack misses when in solitude.
I'm bursting to explain everything to him, not even Big Sur but the past several years, but there's no chance with everybody yakking -- And in fact I can see in Cody's eyes that he can see in my own eyes the regret we both feel that recently we haven't had chances to talk whatever, like we used to do driving across America and back in the old road days, too many people now want to talk to us and tell us their stories, we've been hemmed in and surrounded and outnumbered -- The circle's closed in on the old heroes of the night (13.2)
Isolation is not just a physical thing in Big Sur; Jack feels alone even when he's around his closest friend.
"Well I'll be damned" he keeps saying as he sees those bluffs and cliffs and hanging vines and dead trees, "you mean to tell me you ben alone here for three weeks, why I wouldn't dare that... must be awful at night ... looka that old mule down there... man (18.2)
Cody's reaction to Big Sur is almost exactly identical to Jack's, and markedly different from the general population of tourists (both men feel awe and terror rather than joy at the landscape's beauty). This is just a reminder of how close these two friends really are.
I feel excited to be with the gang but there's a hidden sadness too and which is expressed later by Monsanto when he says "This is the kind of place where a person should really be alone, you know? When you bring a big gang here it somehow desecrates it not that I'm referring to us or anybody in particular? there's such a sad sweetness to those trees as tho yells shouldnt insult them or conversation only" -- Which is just the way I feel too. (94.7)
If this is the case, then why does Jack return to Big Sur with Romana, Dave, and Billie at the end of the novel?
Not so much that I'm a drunkard that I feel guilty about but that others who occupy this plane of "life on earth" with me don't feel guilty at all […]. I feel guilty for being a member of the human race. (31.1)
This goes some way in explaining why Jack spends so much time in self-imposed isolation. He may love those around him, but he harbors a hidden disgust for people in general.
I know is that I'm a helpless hunk of helpful horse manure looking in your eye saying Help me" -- "But when you make those big final statements it doesnt help you" (32.1)
She just doesn't get it – Billie is trying to counter Jack's despair with logic and pragmatism. This sort of misunderstanding is the greatest barrier between Billie and Jack.
Marvelous opening moment in fact of the first afternoon I'm left alone in the cabin and I make my first meal, wash my first dishes, nap, and wake up to hear the rapturous ring of silence or Heaven even within and throughout the gurgle of the creek -- When you say AM ALONE and the cabin is suddenly home only because you made one meal and washed your firstmeal dishes -- Then nightfall, the religious vestal lighting of the beautiful kerosene lamp after careful washing of the mantle in the creek and carefuldrying with toilet paper, which spoils it by specking it so you again wash it in the creek this time just let the mantle drip dry in the sun. (5.4)
Jack imbues even the smallest of actions in Big Sur with spiritual significance. His time in Monsanto's cabin is as much a spiritual retreat as anything else.
With my mind even and upright and abiding nowhere, as Hui Neng would say, I go dancing off like a fool from my sweet retreat, rucksack on back, after only three weeks and really after only three or four days of boredom, and go hankering back for the city -- "You go out in joy and in sadness you return, " says Thomas a Kempis talking about all the fools who go forth for pleasure like high schoolboys on Saturday night. (10.1)
Hui Neng was a Chinese monastic; Kempis was a Catholic monk. It's interesting that Kerouac so easily mixes such different religions. Raised a Catholic, yet a serious student of Buddhism, Kerouac seems to have no trouble incorporating these different kinds of spirituality into his writing.
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 -- And then when I fix the feet and put the shoes on again, to hike on, I can only do it mincingly with little twinkletoe steps like Babe Ruth, twisting footsteps every way I can think of not to press too hard on any particular blister (10.4)
Jack's journey takes on the weight of a spiritual quest.
If someone's to ask him "Let's drive to New York" he'd jump right for it without a word -- On a sort of a pilgrimage, see, with all that youth, us old fucks oughta take a lesson from him, in faith too, he has faith, I can see it in his eyes, he has faith in any direction he may take with anyone just like Christ I guess. " (14.3)
Jack finds God in the strangest of places – from the sacred mule to the pool shark teenager.
My old thoughts about the silt of a billion years covering all this and all cities and generations eventually is just a dumb old thought, "Only a silly sober fool could think it, imagine gloating over such nonsense" (because in one sense the drinker learns wisdom, in the words of Goethe or Blake or whichever it was "The pathway to wisdom lies through excess') – But in this condition you can only say "Wisdom is just another way to make people sick" (21.15)
Until the novel's climax, Jack's delirium tremens convince him that his spiritual and literary pursuits have been fruitless. He must discover something in the final fit at Big Sur that leads to his conclusion that "there's no need to say another word."
And by God their little sweet five year old girl who is such a pleasant sight to see as she goes jongling and jiggling through the fields to look for flowers, everything to her is perfectly new beautiful primordial Garden of Eden morning here in this tortured human canyon (23.1)
Even in his delirious despair, Jack can still find beauty – and spirituality (hence the Garden of Eden reference) in the innocence of a little girl. This is consistent with Sal and Dean's behavior in On the Road; remember the little Indian girl in Mexico?
But Cody's oldfashioned family tiptoe sneak carries that strange apocalyptic burst of gold he somehow always manages to produce, like I said elsewhere the time in Mexico he drove an old car over a rutted road very slowly as we were all high on tea and I saw golden Heaven, or the other times he's always seemed so golden like as I say in a davenport of some sort in Heaven in the golden top of Heaven. (23.4)
Jack seems to only experience joy when he's around other people. Big Sur may calm him, but it never shows him "heaven" the way Cody does.
I feel good because I've had my sleep but mainly I feel good because somehow old Ben (my age) has blessed me by sitting over my sleep all day and now with these few silly words (30.3)
Again, Jack finds God only in other men. According to Jack, guys like Ben or Cody or even Monsanto embody the height of spirituality.