Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 31

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Chapter 31

  • Jack stands at the window of Billie's apartment and watches as Ben Fagan gets on the bus at the corner of the street. Jack remembers standing like this when he was a child, looking out windows the same way.
  • What gets him is that others in the world don't feel guilty about their lives. He may be a drunkard, but he feels guilty about being a member of the human race at all.
  • He remembers the words of Milarepa: if you gain insight during meditation, don't be eager to share it with others.
  • As a writer, Jack thinks that's exactly what he's trying to do. If he doesn't write, he feels, he'll have no purpose on earth.
  • When Billie gets home, Jack sits back down in the same old chair, which collapses under him. He looks over at the fishbowl and realizes that the goldfish – the goldfish he's been sitting next to for a week – are dead.
  • He wonders when that happened, or if maybe he caused it by giving them some Kellogg's corn flakes. He can't stand the thought that it might be his fault.
  • Jack gets a little anxious – he asks Billie what they're going to do now. All he wants to do is go home and die with his cat.
  • Jack realizes he could have been "a handsome thin young president in a suit" but instead he's a drunkard sitting next to a pair of dead goldfish.
  • Then, looking at Billie and Elliot, he realizes "it's just a little family home scene and [he's] just a nut in the wrong place."
  • When he asks aloud what he's done wrong, Billie tells him he's withheld his love from her.
  • She tries to paint a picture of the happy couple they'd make if they were married. Jack responds by telling her he's a creepy guy and she doesn't know the half of him.
  • Perry comes into the room and Jack remembers that he likes to joke about kidnapping little girls.
  • Then he sees that Perry has tears in his eyes and he realizes – Perry "is in love with Billie and has always been, wow." But when Jack suggests this to him, Perry denies it and they argue.
  • As Jack writes, "Perry is in fact a tragic young man with enormous potentials who's just let himself swing and float to hell. […] Besides loving Billie secretly and truly he must also love Cody as much as I do […], yet he is the character always being put away behind bars […], ragged, covered with woe."
  • He and Jack sit in Billie's apartment while Jack entertains offers of pot from a visitor.
  • And now for some sex talk. Jack finds "the muscular gum of sex" to be "such a bore," but maintains that he and Billie have great fun together. They make largely idealistic plans to be together forever.
  • Billie firmly believes they're meant for each other, but Jack knows that they're not. There's Elliot, for one, who doesn't like Jack (and Jack doesn't like him either).
  • Jack wants to call Dave Wain and have him drive them all out to the cabin at Big Sur for a week. Once he gets on the phone, Jack rants for a bit about how he's done everything, seen everything, and all he sees now is "the same old singsong sad song truth of death." The reason he yells about death so much, he explains, is that he's really yelling about life – "because you can't have death without life."
  • Finally Jack gets Dave on the phone and tells him to bring his big brunette Romana and come in the jeep and take them all to Big Sur without Ron Blake.
  • Jack explains that he's been sitting at Billie's drinking for a week and needs to leave.
  • Dave tells him he ought not to drink so much – but Jack counters that "that's not the real trouble."
  • The two of them banter back and forth – with sentences that seem largely the result of free association word games – and conclude that, yes, Dave will get Romana and drive to pick up Jack and Billie.

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