Study Guide

Big Sur Chapter 7

By Jack Kerouac

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Chapter 7

  • On the fourth day in Big Sur Jack is astounded to find that he's already bored.
  • He recalls a series of quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" and concludes that he's happy with the simplicity of living alone in the woods. He enjoys watching the butterflies more than the intellectualism of thinkers like Hermann Hesse (whom he calls an "old fart").
  • Every night at eight Jack takes a notebook, pencil, and lamp and walks down to the beach (past Alf, of course) to write down "the sound of the waves" in his notebook.
  • He often writes in the dark, afraid to light his lamp lest he disturb the people up on the cliff eating their tender dinner. (Of course, he found out later there was no family up there – just "overtime carpenters finishing the place in bright lights.")
  • Though the waves seem to speak mostly nonsense, Jack feels he has to write it down "because James Joyce wasn't about to do it now he was dead." Though he feels it's his duty, he also feels it's what drove him mad.
  • (Jack here includes a footnote to let you know that "the complete poems written by the sea are to be found at the end of this book.")
  • He especially likes to come back to the comfort of the cabin after spending time in the wild of the beach.
  • He finds many uses for the simplest of objects (like a copper kitchen scouring pad) and his shaker or "holy cup" that he's had for five years now. He believes that the inexpensive things are always so much more useful than the expensive things he's bought and never used, like fancy clothing.
  • Best of all is the green t-shirt he found in a dump eight years ago.
  • On his deathbed he'll remember the little things – like arranging the rocks in the stream – and forget the big things, like the day he sold his book.
  • Looking out over the land at noon, Jack muses that it must have looked this way, just as it does now, a thousand years ago. "As far as I can see," he says, "the world is too old for us to talk about it with our new words."
  • The things we do now, he writes, won't matter – the land will go on looking the same forever, whether we're here or not
  • Jack realizes that everything is cyclic – that we may take trees and make them into paper bags, but that those paper bags will return to the earth and grow back into trees again.
  • Then he wonders: "Can you imagine a man with marvelous insights like these can go mad within a month?"
  • Still, he identifies a "nameless horror" in the realization that "we're all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do."

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