Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 1

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 1

  • As explained in his author's note, Jack Kerouac and the other "real-life" characters in the novel all go by fictional alter egos. The narrator, who we all know is Kerouac, goes by "Jack Duluoz."
  • Jack Duluoz wakes up hung over in San Francisco.
  • Since the publication of his novel On the Road he's been a famous guy, and he was hoping to make a "secret return" to the city, un-harassed by fans.
  • However, alcohol seems to have ruined his plan.
  • The plan was to meet up with Lorenz Monsanto and drive out to his (Lorenz's) cabin at Big Sur on the Californian Coast.
  • Instead, Jack drank too much and bounced into Monsanto's bookstore, City Lights, where everyone recognized him as "the King of the Beatniks." (As we discuss in our "Overview," Jack was a part of the "Beat" generation, an intellectual movement in the 1950s. His book On the Road was the poster novel for the group.)
  • The next morning, when Monsanto found Jack passed out in his hotel room with friends Ben Fagan and Robert Browning, Monsanto just drove off to Big Sur without him.
  • But by the time Jack wakes up, Robert and Ben are gone, and Jack's alone and sad. He's too tired to even drag his body off to the refuge cabin in the woods.
  • Jack is generally exhausted from the fame that's been dogging him since he published On the Road. Beat fans have been swarming his house and distracting him from his writing.
  • He tried to escape the fame and attention by drinking, but now feels he needs to "get away to solitude again or die."
  • That's why he came from Long Island to San Francisco to see Monsanto. On the trip across country, he felt happy for the first time in three years.
  • He finds it amusing that kids all over the world think he's the 26-year-old hero from On the Road, when in fact he's "almost 40, bored and jaded."
  • Now he lies alone in his hotel room, listening to the sad song of the church bells and the cries of the Salvation Army meeting below his window.

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