Jack Kerouac was the spark that started the flame of the Beat Generation though, through his own eyes, he felt like a failure. Jack keyed the term ‘beat’ generation in a conversation with John Clellon Holmes, another of the beat generation poets, in 1948 (). The Beat Generation might not have happened without the help of Jack. What formed him into the blunt writer that he was, was his loving family, the death of his brother, movies, college, and newfound friends.
Jack Kerouac, baptized Jean Louis Lebris de Kerouac, was born to Lou and Gabrielle Ange L’Evesque on March 12, 1992 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack had two older siblings: brother Gerard, five years older than [whom he looked up to], and sister Caroline or Nin who was three years older. The whole family spoke French in the house due to Gabrielle’s French-Canadian decent and this was the children’s first language (Charters 24). When Jack was four years old, Gerard died of Rheumatic fever leaving little Jack shocked, and scared (Gifford 5). Jack’s mother often spoke of Gerard as a saint after death implying to Jack in his mind that he was not. “Jack worshipped him and emulated him and was entirely bereft after his death.” (5). The whole community mourned for Gerard because he was such a model student, and religious boy. But soon Nin, eight, and Jack, five, were off to the movies every day where they could watch for free because their father printed the programs for the theater. These movies were the spark that started the flame for an imagination that never quit.
Jack grew older throughout the years and soon college time came along. He only played varsity football in his senior year but it was enough to have scouts notice him. Jack was offered scholarships at both Columbia and Boston College. His father wanted Jack to go to Boston because people at his job where pushing for his son to go there. As usual though, Jack followed his mother’s advice and chose Columbia where he truly wanted to go, New York City (Charters 30). Before Jack could go to Columbia though he had to go to Horace Mann Prep School for a year. For the most part he got good grades but slacked off and failed two of his classes which he had to attend summer school for. Jack did not like Horace Mann, he felt out of place, poor among the rich kids (Tytell 56). Finally, he was off to Columbia where he played football well but did not like the coach. A downfall in football that became boost for Jack’s writing career was when he broke his leg his freshman year. He spent more of his time reading since it was not consumed by football as it had been before. When he came back after his injury things had changed for Jack, his priorities were no longer football but instead, writing. After one particularly excruciating practice though, he had enough and walked off the field, only to return after Coach Little asked him to come back. Jack was starting a trend for himself, getting bored with things and leaving them as he did with college and football. He soon dropped out of Columbia against his parents will and decided to pursue writing.
Jack became a nomad after dropping out of college, not staying in one place for long but always coming back to his home. Jack decided that the best way to get his life back on track after dropping out of college was to go into the Navy, or so his parents pressured him to do. But Jack, a nonconformist to military ways, walked out of training one day. Held under observation in a military hospital he was given a honorable discharge for what was labeled “indifferent character” (Gifford 32). As Douglas Brinkley said after being discharged, “Thus began the restless wandering that would characterize both his legacy and his life (2). His father, Leo, found him a job as a gas attendant hoping it would be a start for him, as small as it may be. Jack quit the job though, unhappy with it. Once again his parents pressured Jack to start to do something with his life so he worked on some ships to get away from home for three or four months at a time. Jack was not a good seaman unfortunately, he hated it. On one particular trip to Liverpool he only spoke ten words to the crew the whole time, leading them to think he was crazy (Charters 39). Every time Jack came back he felt like a failure to his parents so he moved out.
Jack started his wanderer stage at about this time, and his beginning of dating, marrying, divorcing, and drugs; what Anne Charters called “a jumble of creative brilliance and personal chaos (99). He had met a girl at Columbia before he dropped out, Edie Parker, and he moved in her New York apartment with her in 1943 (Cosmic Baseball Association). Jack’s mother discouraged him living there because morally, she felt that a woman who let a man live with her did not really respect him (Charters 41). Through Edie Jack met all the people he would become best friends with to develop him into an unforgettable writer and leader of the Beat Generation. Some of the people he met was Lucien Carr, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, and Allen Ginsberg. William [Bill], Allen and Jack were the three that were together the most, helping each other and influencing each others work with Jack as their tutor. Before Jack became great friends with Bill and Allen though, he befriended Lucien. They were quick friends and often hung out at bars together. Lucien had a homosexual man, David Kammerer, that was obsessed with him. Kammerer would often follow Lucien and it got worse and worse. On the night of August fourteenth during an altercation Lucien killed him and disposed of the body in the Hudson River. Lucien came to Jack for help and they disposed of the boyscout knife he had used to stab Kammerer (Charters 48). Later both Lucien and Jack were arrested, Jack was charged with helping to dispose of evidence and was sent to prison. To raise bail to get out Jack married Edie Parker on August twenty second. Marrying Edie made his parents happy, his mother thought that a wife would calm Jack down and get him to concentrate on a career. Two months later in October of 1944 though, the marriage was over. In December of 1946 the marriage was officially annulled (Cosmic Baseball Association). Once again, Jack had failed to make his parents happy and arguments erupted over how Leo, his father, thought Jack was throwing his life away (Charters 55).
The reoccurring theme in Jack’s life was that of disappointment from his parents. He tried to make them happy, to keep jobs, to have a wife but it never worked out for him. When his father died of stomach cancer he told him to take care of his mother, which he tried his best to do even at the cost of not supporting his own daughter.
Brinkley, Douglas. “In the Kerouac Archive.” The Atlantic Monthly. 28:5 (1998). 9
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