Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 38

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 38

  • Dawn ends up being the worst part – until morning, which is even worse. The bright sun seems to intensify his pain.
  • Jack goes walking up and down the valley trying to find a place to sleep, but he doesn't want to lie down somewhere where tourists can see him.
  • "What on earth's happened to me?" he asks. "Am I not a human being and have done my best as well as anybody else?"
  • Jack feels guilty about the wisdom he presumed to have earlier in his life and through his studies and writing. He realizes he's just a piece of dust.
  • When Jack returns to the cabin and sees his friends sleeping, he decides that sleep is death, that in fact everything is death.
  • When the others finally get up and start to make breakfast, Jack tells Dave that he can't take anymore, that he can't possibly stay in Big Sur another moment and they have to drive back to the city this minute.
  • The group gets ready to head back.
  • Billie is supposed to dig a pit to bury the garbage, but she digs a tiny coffin-shaped hole – exactly the right size for Elliot, Jack notices, as does Dave. "We've all read Freud to sufficiently understand something there," writes Jack, especially since Billie has been beating Elliot all morning and talking about suicide.
  • The coffin-shaped hole horrifies Jack so much that he quickly takes a shovel in order to bury the garbage. As soon as Elliot sees him pick up a shovel he starts screaming and won't let him anywhere near the hole.
  • Finally Billie dumps the garbage in the pit; when she asks Jack if he's going to "finish the job," Jack doesn't know what she means.
  • Dave, watching the scene, also recognizes "something cold and frightening" in the whole scenario.
  • Finally Jack calls Billie out on making the pit look like a little grave; but she's only smiling and shoveling dirt by that point. Elliot is screaming and attacks Jack when he tries to take the shovel. Finally Jack just yells, "To hell with all this madness!" and sinks into a chair on the porch. The girls start cleaning up the porch, Dave goes on a walk, and Elliot falls asleep.
  • At last, jack is able to sleep.
  • When he wakes up, "everything has washed away" and he is "perfectly normal again." "I still can't understand it," he writes.
  • By now, "all the dark torture is a memory."
  • He knows that they'll be OK, that Billie won't commit suicide or kill her child, that he'll forgive everyone, that he'll finally make his way back home to New York "and it'll all be like it was in the beginning – simple golden eternity blessing all."
  • He imagines that, when he does get home, his mother will be waiting for him. And the place in the corner of the yard where his cat is buried "will be a new and fragrant shrine," and "Something good will come out of all things yet – And it will be golden and eternal just like that – There's no need to say another word."

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