Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 5

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 5

  • Jack discusses the pet mule he's found lumbering around Big Sur. Jack names him Alf the Sacred Burro.
  • What scares Jack most about the area is the "strange Burmese like mountain" at the east end of Big Sur; it makes him feel crazy now when he's actually feeling healthy and good.
  • Imagine how he will feel, he writes, six weeks from now in the full moon night of September 3rd when he's going mad.
  • The mountain in question reminds him of the nightmares he's been having in New York, about what he calls "the Mountain of Mien Mo" (based on a place he once saw in Mexico).
  • In his dreams, he's sitting on the top of the mountain, dogged by flying horses and staring at "giant empty stone benches […] once inhabited by Gods or giants of some kind but long ago vacated." He calls these dreams "drinking nightmares."
  • Jack writes that, once he finally gets settled in Lorenzo's cabin, he will be haunted by such dark visions.
  • But we're not there yet.
  • After Jack finds the cabin, Monsanto drives him back to Monterey, picks up food and supplies, and brings him back to the cabin again where he leaves him alone "for three weeks of solitude." Jack becomes acquainted to life in the cabin, and spends his days "writing down what the sea [is] saying."
  • It's so calming that he can't understand why "after three weeks of perfect happy peace and adjustment in these strange woods [his] soul so went down the drain" on the night when he returned to the cabin with Dave Wain and Romana (more on them to come).
  • One night Jack's sleeping bag rips and erupts and feathers come flying out in the middle of the night. As he tries to sew a patch onto it, he's bothered by a bat flapping its wings and throwing shadows in the light of his kerosene lamp.
  • At the time, he's intrigued by the sounds of the creek gurgling outside, but he writes that three weeks from now, at the height of his madness, it will become "the babble and rave of evil angels in my head."
  • Unable to sleep with the thought of the bats outside, he stays awake and reads Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde until dawn, when he makes pancakes for breakfast.
  • So Jack becomes accustomed to a routine in the cabin.
  • Every night he begins with "the religious vestal lighting of the beautiful kerosene lamp," followed by a walk outside during which he picks some ferns. In the afternoon he watches the fog roll in and at daylight he watches the flies "retreat" to sleep.
  • In the dark he sits on the beach in the fog with his notebook and pencil and marvels at the awe-inspiring "Pacific fury flashing on rocks like rise like gloomy sea."
  • Jack can see a light on in a cabin up on the cliff overlooking Big Sur and surmises that someone is "having a mild and tender supper." He can't imagine who would ever build a cabin in such a terrifying spot.
  • Best of all is the sleep – Jack sleeps like a log in this solitary cabin and wakes up late in the morning, "refreshed and realizing the universe namelessly; the universe is an Angel."
  • Still, it's in the woods, writes Jack, that you get a nostalgia for cities, where you "never see how sickening it will be" in the cities "because of the primordial innocence of health and stillness in the wilds."

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