Study Guide

Big Sur Man and the Natural World

By Jack Kerouac

Man and the Natural World

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.

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