Tag: stream-of-consciousness


55. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

August 19th, 2010 — 10:04pm

This is my first week back to work after my two and a half month long summer vacation. I spent a majority of those months in the car, visiting friends and having local adventures, which is probably why I gravitated to this book for my next voyage into the book list.

On the Road is a pivotal book from the Beat Generation. There is an apocryphal story of Jack Kerouac’s coffee-and-amphetamine fueled conception of the book, in which he taped together several typewriter scrolls in order to write without the pesky interruption of having to stop to reload. The original scroll manuscript has gone on a tour of college libraries throughout the United States and Europe and was published as On the Road: The Original Scroll in 2007. The stream of consciousness style as employed by Kerouac was used to showcase his semi-autobiographical novel about the adventures that he and his friend, Neal Cassady, had on the road from 1947-1950.

The names of Kerouac’s characters have been analyzed by literary scholars since the book’s publication in 1957. Kerouac based the novel on actual events and subsequently had to change the names of his friends who appeared as characters.

Neal Cassady (left) and Jack Kerouac (right).

The novel begins with Sal Paradise (Kerouac) introducing the concept of Dean Moriarty (Cassady). Sal was obsessed with the idea of the human condition, which included his friends, the jazz scene, the United States outside of New York, and most importantly, women.

They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Dean arrives in New York and changes everything for Sal. When Dean first arrived, he met Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), and they bond together and feed Sal’s fascination with eclectic and unique personalities.

In July of 1947, Sal decides that it is time for him to venture to the West Coast, and he hits the road with fifty dollars in his pocket. He travels to Chicago, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles, meeting women and different eccentric personalities along the way. Dean spends some time in prison for stealing cars, which cements his transition into an epic hero in Sal’s eyes.

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”

As their sojourn around the country continues, Sal becomes more and more disillusioned with what he finds on the road. The people that he encounters are from the more poverty-stricken end of the spectrum, including elderly African-American men and Mexican prostitutes. The sense of Sal and Dean’s heroism begins to falter as their lives and experiences turns into a series of failures.

Sal’s final attempt at finding a solution from the road leads him to Mexico City with Dean; they embark on a marijuana-fueled adventure through bordellos with mambo music and prostitutes. But while in Mexico, Sal develops dysentery and becomes feverish and hallucinates. Dean leaves Sal while he’s ill, which gives Sal the realization that Dean is more pathetic than he let on, and that the attributes that Sal originally admired in him were actually symptoms of his insecurity and existential crises:

When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

Sal returns home and ends the novel sitting on a pier facing west, reflecting on his friendship and adventures.

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

I love this book. I first read it when I was fresh out of high school and had a lot of grand notions of what my life was going to be and I was convinced that my best friend and I would be Kerouac and Cassady but with less drugs. The stream-of-consciousness style helps to convey the frenetic energy and the passion with which the characters, both fictional and their live counterparts, lived their lives. Reading On the Road or poetry from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti makes me feel cooler than I actually am, which is what the Beat Generation authors were all about — experiencing their lives through means that allows them to become more than they are. The movement got its name from the religious theory of beatification as well as the slang term of being beaten down. The Beat Generation was beaten down, but they were looking up.

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45. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

May 27th, 2010 — 1:12pm

The first novel from Ernest Hemingway was The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. The title comes from Ecclesiastes 1:5: “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

Hemingway is an interesting character. He is the epitome of masculinity, fighting in wars, hunting big game, womanizing, the works. He popularized the “Lost Generation” with this novel; Gertrude Stein is famously credited with coining the phrase to describe a group of young literary modernists who were all expatriates living and writing in Paris.

The Sun Also Rises itself is mildly autobiographical. Several occurances in Hemingway’s life inspired the plot and the characters:

In July 1925 Hemingway went to the San Fermin fiesta in Pamplona. That year he and his wife Hadley were joined by a group of ex-patriates that included his friend Harold Loeb and Lady Duff Twysden who was estranged from her husband. A level of tension developed during the fiesta that permeated the group: Hemingway was interested in Lady Duff; he was jealous when he learned she spent a week with Loeb in France; Loeb argued about money with another member of the group; and Hemingway and Loeb almost had a fist fight. Against this background was the influence of the young matador from Ronda, Cayetano Ordóñez, whose brilliance in the bullring affected the spectators.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

The plot of the novel is fueled by alcohol, sex, and violence. The characters fight with each other, get incredibly drunk, and Lady Ashley has sex with pretty much every man she meets. The narrator, Jake Barnes, has been made impotent from a WWI injury, so he seems to just be a reporter, observing his friends and writing down their exploits. It makes sense that hemingway was a war reporter, as the book is fact drivien and doesn’t leave a lot of room for emotion or description.

I originally read this book in college, but one of my juniors was complaining about how much he hated having to read The Great Gatsby, so he’s reading The Sun Also Rises so I don’t have to hear him whine so much. Of course, he loves it. Fitzgerald and Hemingway are like the yin and yang of the Lost Generation era literature. Where Fitzgerald wrote of lavish parties and beautiful dresses, Hemingway wrote of bullfights and bloodied capes. Fitzgerald makes sure you know what everyone is feeling and thinking, while Hemingway will barely let you know the character’s name.

There are a lot of timestamps on this book. Racial and religious slurs, for example. Robert Cohn, the token Jewish character, is told to keep his “Jew nose out of it.” Lady Ashley is also supposed to be a modern “new woman” of the time, but she goes from man to man — she is unable to sustain herself outside of a sexual relationship. If she doesn’t have a man, she calls Jake and muses about “what could have been” if he only didn’t have that darn war wound. That’s the reason why they can’t be together; never mind the fact that, you know, feelings or emotions could be involved. Feelings are for sissies.

However, the lack of description does give birth to this gem of dialogue:

“You weren’t bored, were you?” asked Bill.

Cohn laughed.

“No. I wasn’t bored. I wish you’d forgive me that.”

“It’s all right,” Bill said, “so long as you weren’t bored.”

“He didn’t look bored,” Mike said. “I thought he was going
to be sick.”

“I never felt that bad. It was just for a minute.”

“I thought he was going to be sick. You weren’t bored, were
you, Robert?”

And that is not the only time that occurs. Oh no. It happens quite frequently throughout the novel. If someone says something once, they say it at least three more times for good measure.

“They come from Biarritz,” Mike said. “They come to see the
last day of the quaint little Spanish fiesta.”

“I’ll festa them,” Bill said.

“You’re an extraordinarily beautiful girl.” Mike turned to Bill’s
friend. “When did you come here?”

“Come off it, Michael.”

“I say, she is a lovely girl. Where have I been? Where have I
been looking all this while? You’re a lovely thing. Have we met?
Come along with me and Bill. We’re going to festa the English.”

“I’ll festa them,” Bill said. “What the hell are they doing at
this fiesta?”

“Come on,” Mike said. “Just us three. We’re going to festa the
bloody English. I hope you’re not English? I’m Scotch. I hate the
English. I’m going to festa them. Come on, Bill.”

Oh. My. God.

However, some good has come out of my study of the book. When my American Novel from 1870 to Present professor taught us this book, he informed us that the reason the characters drink so much champagne is that champagne is what gets you drunk the quickest — the bubbles effervesce in your bloodstream. My classmates and I were the classiest college students at parties, with our bottles of champagne. And Ernest Hemingway’s legacy lives on.

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64. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

May 13th, 2010 — 1:53pm

I’m cheating. Again.

It’s getting toward the end of the school year, and quite frankly, I am sick of students at this point. I have spring fever more than they do. And if I hear one more student complain about not wanting to read, I won’t be responsible for my actions.

My junior class has finished reading The Great Gatsby, which is on the curriculum, but because there are three weeks left of school, I’m having them read The Catcher in the Rye, which is not on the curriculum. If they complain about it, they’re going to be sorry. But I figured that since I’m having to read it with them, then I might as well skip ahead and count this as a plus in the read column.

The Catcher in the Rye is the only novel by J.D. Salinger, who wrote mostly short stories, especially those concerning the Glass family. It was published in 1951 and is both lauded and lamented, as it appears equally on lists of the greatest novels of all times and is one of the most frequently challenged and banned books. Teachers have been fired for teaching the book in their classes. Oops.

The narrator is the apathetic Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from yet another prep school. The greatest insult Holden bestows on people or things is that they’re phony, and pretty much everyone or everything he encounters is labeled as such. His roommates are phony, the school is phony, his teachers are phony. As he’s expelled from the school, he packs up and leaves for New York City in the middle of the night, but as he doesn’t want to face his family with the news (it’s Christmas vacation), he goes on a lost weekend of sorts as he wanders around New York City.

The title of the book comes from a misinterpretation of a line from a Robert Burns poem, Comin’ Through the Rye — where the poem says “gin a body meet a body/comin’ through the rye,” Holden hears it as “gin a body catch a body/ comin through the rye,” and imagines a scene of children playing in a field of rye with him standing watch, making sure they don’t fall off the cliff. He wants to be the catcher in the rye. The rye field in this case is metaphorical for innocence, especially the innocence of children. There are several accounts throughout the nvoel of Holden trying to protect children; in one case, he rubs the words “fuck you” off of the wall of Phoebe’s school because he worries that someone will explain to the children what it means.

As the novel reaches the end, Holden’s breakdown is becoming more and more apparent. He is overwhelmed by what he perceives as the ugliness and phoniness of the world, including the graffitied profanity on the walls, vulgar Christmas tree delivery men, and visits with his younger sister and his former English teacher that don’t satisfy him and leave him feeling lonely. Holden takes his sister, Phoebe, to the carousel in Central Park and as he watches her, feels deliriously happy:

I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe keptgoing around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around adn around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.

The novel ends abruptly — the last page is Holden revealing that he’s been writing this story from a rest home to recover from his breakdown, and that a psychoanalyist keeps asking him if he’s going to return to school in the fall, which he thinks is a stupid question. His facade of apathy and misanthropy is beginning to crack in the final lines, however:

About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everything.

The thing that is the most notable about the novel is the language; not just the liberal use of profanity, but the slang of the time and the stream-of-consciousness form that Holden uses to narrate. Having taught teenagers for two years, this really is how they write, like the pencil and paper are an extension of their thoughts. There is very little planning with my students; they basically sit down, start writing, and turn in whatever comes out, regardless of spelling or grammatical errors or content that should really be saved for Oprah. Reading the book really does seem like you’ve picked up a diary of some emo kid named Holden Caulfield who is annoyed with the world.

J.D. Salinger is known for his writing as well as his publicized recluse status. He gave his last interview in 1980 and refused to let any of his work be adapted into movies after what he considered to be a disasterous movie adaptation of “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” However, movie studios have been dreaming of turning The Catcher in the Rye into a movie pretty much since its publication. Given that Salinger passed away in January 2010, a movie is probably in the works right now.

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