Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 37

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 37

  • The chapter begins: "I see the Cross, it's silent, it stays for a long time, my heart goes out to it, my whole body fades away to it."
  • Jack feels that his body is dying; he starts to scream but he doesn't want to wake anyone up, and doesn't want anyone to hear his screams.
  • As soon as he surrenders to it – as soon as he allows himself to sink into it – he comes back to life.
  • The visions of devils are back, too, tormenting him. He sees the Cross again, but it's smaller and further away. Jack thanks Jesus for being with him.
  • Jack can't believe that he's spent so many years meditating and studying Buddhism and now here it is – the Catholic Cross – before him clear as anything. "We're all saved," he thinks, and now he can sleep.
  • But sadly, it's only begun. It's one o'clock in the morning and Jack has a long night ahead of him.
  • As it gets worse, Jack is torn in battle between the raging devils and the image of the Cross.
  • If he could only sleep, for an hour, he knows, "the whole complex of noisy brains would settle down, some control would come back somewhere inside there, some blessing would soothe the whole issue."
  • But he is distracted by a flapping bat around his head and the vision of a flying saucer above his head.
  • Looking towards the cabin, he can see that Billie is asleep. But when Elliot thumps his little foot Jack is filled with shame at the idea that the boy is awake and witnessing all of this. Then he suspects that Elliot is a warlock, that he's torturing Jack and even Billie.
  • Moments after this silent accusation, Jack feels sorry for Elliot when he sees that his bare arms are outside the sleeping bag and probably freezing. He covers him up and goes back to lie down "with mad eyes looking deep inside" him.
  • As he begins to drift off Jack feels the "bliss" of sleep. And then he dreams.
  • Jack dreams that he and "two other kids" are hired to work in the mountains. He has to lie on the edge of the mountain in snow trying to rescue some lost men – until he realizes his employers are fooling him and there are no lost men.
  • He and his coworkers then start on a trip downriver; on the way they're stopped by peasants who tell stories about "the God monster machine" who "makes sounds like certain birds and owls and has a million infernal contraptions enough to make you sick with all the slipshod windmill rickety details."
  • When they arrive at another Mien Mo Mountain, there is a river running through it and vultures out on the rocks. Jack sees bums pulling at the vultures and feeding them like pets. Then he dreams that the vultures are actually fornicating, "humanly formed vultures" with human features engrossed on a slow, grotesque act of sex. Jack is tormented by how human they look.
  • Next he's taken to a Vulture People part of town and brought into a vulture person apartment. He's again disgusted by these half-humans; "Their faces are leprous thick with softy yeast but painted with makeup to make them like thick Christmas dolls […], like with thick lips of rubber muzz, fat expressions all crumbly like cracker meal, yellow pizza puke faces." The apartment is huge and greasy and full of washrooms, and there are dozens of uncooked chickens lying all around rotting.
  • Jack's dream only gets more visceral, and disgusting as the night continues.
  • For further details of this manic episode, you should read your book.
  • Fortunately, some time during Vulture People visitations Elliot thumps his foot and wakes up Jack.
  • Now awake, Jack again paces back and forth from the cabin to the creek, cursing Dave and Romana for taking the only good sleeping spot.
  • Jack tries to drink the last of the port wine, but there's nothing left in the bottle.
  • Fully dressed, Jack gets into the sleeping bag with Billie, thinking maybe he can sleep. He doesn't take his clothes off because he wants to be able to run away quickly should something go wrong.
  • He wants to wake Billie up and talk to her, but he's afraid of scaring her.
  • Again Jack is tormented by the sound of the water babbling nonsense at him. He writes: "Every thought I have is smashed to a million pieces by millionpieced mental explosions that I remember I thought were so wonderful when I'd first seen them on Peotl or Mescaline."
  • Every time Jack starts to drift off to sleep Elliot thumps his foot on the floor and wakes him.
  • The horror, he says, is thinking that he deserves this all for having written so much about the suffering of others in his previous books. If he ever gets out of this, he promises, he'll become a mill worker and shut his big mouth.

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