Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 34

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 34

  • The next morning Jack gets up and sees Dave and Romana having sex while he's getting ready for breakfast. He imagines Romana seeing the two of them as Adam and Eve waking up in the woods together.
  • Right away they see they're out of wine, so Dave and Romana get some more, which leaves Jack alone to talk with Billie.
  • Jack starts to feel depressed as last night's alcohol finally begins to lose its power. He's shaking so much he can't even light the fire.
  • Meanwhile Elliot is all over Billie, asking her endless little-kid questions, most of which start with "Why."
  • Later the couple walks down to the beach.
  • Billie is upset because everything was fine with Jack last night, and now he won't even hold her hand.
  • She threatens to kill herself.
  • Jack begins to realize, now that he's sober, that this has all gone too far, that he doesn't love Billie, that he's leading her on, and that he made a big mistake bringing everyone down to Big Sur. "I'm just plumb sick and tired just like Cody I guess," he concludes.
  • On the walk to the beach the scenery looks completely different than it did when Jack was alone
  • Even the movement of the leaves makes him feel horrible.
  • He remembers before when he wrote down what the sea spoke to him, but now he has no interest in anything it might have to say. He feels like he was a fool before for "using words as a happy game."
  • Billie is moaning on the beach after realizing the hopelessness of everything with Cody and now with Jack too.
  • Watching her walk by the water, Jack wonders if she really kill herself; she could just walk into the waves and drown.
  • She told Jack he was her last chance –but all women say that, he tells himself. She probably wasn't talking about marriage, he thinks, rather "some profoundly sad realization of something in me she really needs to go on living."
  • In his mind he sees the words "St. Carolyn by the sea" imprinted in the sand above her figure.
  • Jack is again made nervous by the movement of the wind, the leaves, and the waves. "It seems God is really getting mad for such a world and's about to destroy it," he writes.
  • He sees Billie heading towards the water and notes that if she does try to kill herself, he'll have to go in after her.
  • Just when he's getting nervous, she turns around and comes back toward him.
  • Then he muses: if he calls her a "nut" in his mind, what the hell must she call him? "O hell, I'm sick of life," he writes. "If I had any guts I'd drown myself in that tiresome water."
  • He compares the wandering, moaning Billie to the figure of Ophelia.
  • Jack notes the neighbors and figures there's talk about this crazy gang taking up Monsanto's cabin, especially since Dave and Romana had sex in plain sight of everyone on the beach that morning.
  • All this scrutiny makes Jack feel like "the most disgraceful and nay disreputable wretch on earth."
  • He credits his hangover for the paranoia he now feels.
  • Back at the cabin Jack finds he can't do anything – can't sleep, can't walk, can't chop wood, can't sit still.
  • He finds himself going down to the creek over and over to drink more water until Dave Wain comes back and the two of them sit around on the porch slugging wine. Jack's paranoia makes him wonder if Dave put something in his wine bottle.
  • But Dave is happy and makes plans to catch a big fish for dinner.
  • When Dave suggests they go to Nepenthe, (the restaurant where Jack met a general earlier in the novel), Jack furiously screams "no" and then rationalizes his reaction.
  • Jack is also adamantly against going to see Henry Miller, a painter and writer who lives in Big Sur, had written the preface to one of Jack's novels, and wanted to meet Jack.
  • They were supposed to all visit him earlier in the week except everyone got drunk instead. "The hell with it," Jack says, as in his paranoia he imagines Miller's preface as a malicious deterrent from his own work.
  • Billie, too, is getting worse.
  • She's ranting about all the different things she could do – put Elliot with a nice family to take care of him, get to a nunnery (more Ophelia references), kill herself and maybe Elliot too.
  • Jack tries to tell her not to talk like that, and not to be so hung up on him because really he wouldn't be any good for her anyway.
  • Then Billie, rather insightfully, remarks to Jack, "You want to be a hermit you say but you don't do it much I noticed, you're just tired of life and wanta sleep."
  • She remembers that the first night they were together Jack told her he loved her and then just went back to drinking.
  • She knows he's a writer and he suffers, but at the end of the day he isn't a great guy. She knows he can't help his sickness, but she wishes he wouldn't give up so easily.
  • Jack responds that he's bound up, that he "can't move emotionally."
  • He criticizes the people who go around talking about what a beautiful world God made –how do you know God doesn't hate it, he asks? "He might even be drunk and not noticing what he went and done."
  • Jack begins to talk about whether or not God is dead, but he realizes that all this philosophy is just "empty words," that he's been "playing like a happy child with words words words in a big serious tragedy."
  • The worst part, writes Jack, is that the more Billie talks to him and tries to help the worse it gets.
  • In his paranoid state he even suspects she's doing it on purpose, trying to drive him mad. "She must be some kind of chemical counterpart to me," he thinks, "I just can't stand her for a minute."
  • At the same time he is sympathetic because she actually seems like a "wonderful person."
  • As Jack spins out of control he begins yelling at Billie, who tries to calm him down.
  • All through his fits Elliot is there, too, tugging at Billie and saying over and over again "Don't do it Billie" whenever she puts her hands on Jack.
  • Finally, frustrated with her son, Billie starts beating him in front of Jack and sobbing herself, yelling that she'll kill Elliot and herself if he doesn't stop crying.
  • Finally she breaks down and takes him in her arms.
  • Jack knows that through this horrible scene Alf the Sacred Burro is standing in his yard, waiting for someone to give him an apple.
  • He goes back to yelling at Billie; among other things, he advises her to get to a nunnery.
  • Then he tells the story of meeting a reverend mother once who cried after talking to him, because Jack thought the universe was a woman since it's round. Then again, he says, she might have been crying about a romance she had in her younger days with some soldier who died. "She was the greatest woman I ever saw," says Jack.
  • Despite the arguing, or perhaps because of it, the two of them end up making love, though the whole time Elliot is pulling at Billie and begging her not to do it.
  • Billie is on top, and Jack finds this indicative of just how beat down he feels.

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