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Jack Kerouac (1922- 1969)

Jack Kerouac (1922- 1969)Jack Kerouac is one of the most important writers of the 20th century and he is idolized by all the childrens of the world, thanks to his novel “On the road”. With this novel he has upset United State at first and the rest of the world later and also became the leading chronicler of the beat generation. This was a current in American life which emerged in the late 1940’s and exploded in the 1950’s and 1960’s dominating American life and literature for two decades. The writers were rebels against all the conservative values (conformism, materialism, hypocrisy) of social institutions, business, politics and militarism. Moreover the writers believed that their task was to explore new experience and embody them in their works: this is what Kerouac has done.


Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, massachusetts and his family were French speaking immigrants; his father was a failure in business and the family had financial difficulties. He was sent to prep-school in New York and offered a scholarship to Columbia University, where met Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. Under the influence of this two friend, Kerouac dropped out of university and devoted himself to writing; he became a chronicler of the group’s activities, recording their advenrures. In 1947 Kerouac went on a long journey all over United State, by bus and hitching-hike: so begin his life “on the road” in search of new sensations having interesting experiences. In 1951 he wrote on a roll of paper of a teletype “On the road”, his masterpiece, which remained unpublished for many years; the book was finally published in 1957, six years after it was written. This success gave Kerouac a few years of prosperity and security, but alcoholism and drug abuse had destroyed his health. In 1969, tired and defeated by life, Kerouac died from a haemmorrhage caused by drinking and drugtaking.

“On the road”

“On the road” is the best-known prose work of the Beats. It is a novel based on the lives of Kerouac and his friends. Kerouac speaks about the image of the roads crossing the great American continent, the sense of America’s bigness as a dimension of existence that needs to be explored and offers freedom.

The two central characters are Dean Moriarty (a fictional portrait of Neal Cassady) and Sal Paradise (Kerouac) who follows in his footsteps and chronicles his activities and those of the group. He communicates a feeling of the openness and friendliness of ordinary American men and women,  their hospitality and interest in other people. Every thing is observed with good humour and sense of immediate involvement.

“On the road” has not a plot, but there are three structural elements that give it coherence:

  • the theme of travel itself, the journeys across America and the people met on the way

  • the group of people, the friends drifting around America and meeting up in different cities

  • in the end there is Kerouac/Sal Paradise himself, who provides us with a running commentary on people, places and the thoughts inside his head.

The extract “First Impression”

“First Impression” is the opening pages of the book; Sal Paradise recounts his first meeting with Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady) in New York and the third of the central characters is Carlo Marx, the fictional “persona” of Allen Ginsberg.

The Character Sal Paradise seems to be speaking confidentially to the reader, recounting the past, reflecting on it. The kind of language of the passage is colloquial American English. The colloquial tone of the narrative also appears in the casual refers to people and events which are all a part of Sal’s private world, but about the reader is insufficiently informed. The narrator follows his own order of memories, including a lot of heterogeneous details. This is evident in the narrator’s habit of using names of people and places without giving the reader any information about them.

We also deduce that he and Sal are friends, but we know nothing about his age, appearance, occupation, etc. (none of the kinds of tbings which a novelist would traditionally tell us about a character when he appears for the first time in a book. The effect of this kind of narrative is to create tbe impression that the narrator is admitting tbe reader to his private world of references and relationships, and it is therefore a technique for suggesting sincerity. The narrator is telling the story as if to an intimate friend, without reservations or artifice. Finally the passage contains certain expressions and turns of speech which are peculiar to the narrator himself and an expression of his personality.

These deeply individual characteristics of language constitute what is know technically as an "idiolect".The distinctive kind of language used by an individual and which differentiates his speech from that of other individuals. In the case of Sal Paradise, we notice that his speecb is in many ways highly distinctive. In addition to the use of slang and colloquialisms which create an impression of informality, we find that at certain points he uses expressions that are unusual in various ways. Firstly there is a marked tendency towards exaggeration, coupled whith emotional words that sound vaguely effeminate. Secondly there are various mannerisms which seem artificial and literary, for example the habit of piling up adjectives, similes and metaphors. The word "Iong bodied" also exemplifies another literary mannerism evident in the prose, the tendency to write as a single word what would normally be two separate words or a hyphenated compound. These literary expressions tend to be used at points where the narrative becomes more emotionally intense, and where the normal colloquial register would be inadeguate to express tbe importance of a certain observation.

Percorso interdisciplinare di laura papo anno scolastico 2004-2005 liceo scientifico "G.Oberdan" Trieste


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