Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 11

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 11

  • Next Jack gets to San Francisco, gets in a night of sleep in a hotel room, and gets to Monsanto's bookstore, City Lights.
  • Monsanto has some bad news: Jack's mother wrote to say that his cat is dead.
  • To an ordinary man, writes Jack, the death of a pet cat is no big deal. But to Jack it feels like the death of a little brother. He loved Tyke (his cat) completely, and now he finds out that he died the night after Jack left for the east coast.
  • Jack then reproduces the letter for his readers. In it, his mother reveals that the cat got sick (chills, throwing up) and then died. She laments having to bury him in their back yard, and she thinks the birds in the yard must have known somehow that he died. She feels heartsick over the whole thing.
  • Jack was happy and contented with the solitude of his time in the woods until he heard this news. After, he felt the same despair he did when he took that deep breath by the ocean. This is yet another premonition or signpost, he believes, anticipating his coming madness.
  • Monsanto realizes how distraught his friend is.
  • Jack explains (to the reader) that his relationship with his cats has always been "dotty."
  • When Monsanto offers that Jack go back to the woods, Jack declines in favor of getting drunk in the city.
  • Jack thinks it's fortunate he heard about the death of his cat in San Francisco; if he had been home when he heard the news, he "might have gone mad in a different way."
  • In the meantime Jack chats with Monsanto about writing – he remarks that Monsanto has achieved Jack's own dream of ending up "a kin of literary businessman." Jack thinks that his friend's smile (Monsanto was nicknamed "Smiler" in college) seems fake at first, but that if he ever stopped smiling the world might stop too.
  • Jack thanks him for the use of the cabin – it was the happiest three weeks of his life, he says.
  • While he thinks about the death of his cat, Jack laments that "this strange scandalous death comes also to human beings."
  • Anyway Jack meets up with his pal Ben Fagan and his friend "Jonesy" to go out to a bar.
  • Jack finds himself preoccupied by a blonde passing by – he wonders who she is and where she's going.
  • He feels that his buddy Ben understands his time in the woods because he, too, has been alone in the wilderness. Ben is thinner than he was "in [the] mad Dharma Bum days of five years ago, a little gaunt in fact, but still the same old Ben who stays up late at night chuckling over the Lankavatara Scripture and writing poems about raindrops."
  • Most of all, Ben knows Jack very well –he knows that Jack will get raging drunk for weeks on end "just on general principles" and that he'll end up too exhausted to talk to anyone and fall asleep helplessly with Ben at his side, smoking his pipe and keeping silent company.
  • By now Dave Wain is back in town, too, anticipating another wild drinking binge like they had last year, when Dave drove Jack from California to New York in his wild Jeep called "Willie." Dave has never met "the great Cody," so Jack is looking forward to introducing them.
  • (FYI, "Cody" is the alter ego for Neal Cassady, whom you might know as Dean Moriarty from On the Road.)
  • So Jack starts drinking. He can feel "the joy rise in [his] soul" and he doesn't "realize the enormity of what's yet to come."
  • Jack takes a moment to consider whether Dave Wain or Cody is a better driver.
  • The guys all sit around and talk about George Baso, who was with Jack and Dave on that trip across country in the jeep last year. It seems he's in a hospital outside Tulare with T.B. (tuberculosis), so they make plans to go see him tomorrow.
  • Dave has no money, so Jack pays for everything. He's got a young guy with him named Ron Blake, a good-looking teenager who aspires to be a singer and is trying a little too hard to be a beatnik. He thinks Ron might be conning Dave, but then again Dave is a marvelous poet and it fits that young kids want to imitate him.
  • Jack pegs Dave as being one of the greatest talkers of all time. He remembers that Dave and George Baso once fantastically concluded that everyone in America was walking around with a dirty behind because no one cleans himself or herself with water after using the toilet.
  • Now they've really gotten into the drinking, and Ben Fagan retires home (typically, it seems).
  • Ben's home is a old four-story rooming house "on the edge of the N**** district of San Francisco." In it live Ben, Dave, Ron, Jonesy, "a painter named Lanny Meadows, a French Canadian drinker called Pascal and a N**** called Johnson."
  • Jack feels the house embodies everything that people want to think about the Beat Generation. He likes that you can rush into any room and find the expert on any topic.
  • If you want to know about Buddhist scriptures or how to make beef stroganoff or borrow a tape recorder – you can find someone to help you.
  • The kitchen, explains Jack, is the "main talking room." In this madhouse, "there was Zen, jazz, booze, pot and all the works," and "itinerant visitors like [Jack] always had an extra mattress to sleep on."

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