Study Guide

Big Sur Mortality

By Jack Kerouac

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Big Sur is riddled with what Kerouac calls "signposts" of death, often in the form of dead animals or, in one instance, in the form of a sick friend. In recognizing the mortality of other living beings, protagonist Jack Duluoz must constantly deal with his own mortality, a task made more difficult by his alcoholism and delirium tremens. "Everything is death," concludes Jack at one point in the novel.

Questions About Mortality

  1. We talk in "Genre" about the way Kerouac's novel functions as a fictional version of real events. Think about all the "signpost" deaths that occur throughout the novel and increase Jack's growing instability. Do these feel like contrived, structured, fictional details rather than honest accounts? And if so, how does such obvious literary intention take away from the palpable, real-life pain of Big Sur?
  2. In the optimistic ending of Big Sur, does Jack address his issues with mortality, or does he ignore them?
  3. What is it about death that so horrifies Jack? Why does the sight of dead animals bother him so much?

Chew on This

Jack is interested in Billie – and in love in general – only because it distracts him from his obsession with mortality.

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