This past Halloween I decided to dress up as Jack Kerouac. I wore a black and charcoal button down shirt, a pair of jeans and carried around a rolled up scroll of paper with the words “On The Road” written on it, as well as a rolled up fake cigarette. No one knew who I was supposed to be. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as Jack Kerouac is not extremely well known among most people my age.
He was a 1950’s writer who wrote stream of consciousness prose about his observations of America while traveling by car across the United States. He became a huge hit and one of the burgeoning authors who would make up what historians would later call the ‘beat’ writers of the 50’s, who would heavily influence the people of the hippie movement a decade later. While his writing did often discuss episodes of fornication from both Kerouac and his other friends the book, it also expressed compassion for the poor and victims of racism, as well as portraying and conveying the true beauty of the American landscape. The topic of God also crops up here and there, as Kerouac was raised in a Catholic home and though he tried Buddhism at one point in his life, he kept to a consistent belief in God throughout his tragically short life.
For this blog I am doing something a bit different. I have decided to pull a few quotes out of the aforementioned “On The Road” memoir and discuss them in light of scripture. So for this post, I am writing about a non-Christian book, whereas up until this point I have discussed a couple of books by Christian authors. I plan on doing this a bit more often, considering I cover mainstream music and movies and the Biblical Truths they convey consistently.
Here is the first quote I would like to discuss:
“Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk--eal straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious."
There is a lot here to break down. First and foremost, I think it is really quite good that Kerouac is realizing that boys and girls in America are engaging in sexual intercourse at an alarming rate in their relationship without ‘proper talk.’ When you bear in mind that he wrote this in the mid 1950’s it becomes all the more amazing. It is also worth noting that the word ‘sophistication’ here more than likely used here by Kerouac to mean ‘make impure or adulterate’ as opposed the normal definition we usually use it for today meaning ‘to refine’ or ‘make more complex.’
This actually somewhat reflects what the Bible says about sexual intercourse outside of marriage as being immoral (1 Cor. 6:18-20 is one example), though Kerouac doesn’t completely condemn all sex outside of marriage, just sex that happens too quickly in a relationship. However the final line in this segment is also well spoken. “Life is holy and every moment is precious.” In God’s eyes our lives are very important. What we do here on earth matters in eternity. As the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:19 “It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord.” Therefore not only are our lives important and we should desire to live a Holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:7), but we should also realize that every moment that we have is a gift and is therefore precious.
Another aspect of Kerouac’s work that I have always loved is his aforementioned compassion with which he writes for the American migrant workers and victims of racism and bigotry. He always wrote about how he would feel sad seeing people who were down and out while he was hitchhiking around the country. One example is here where he is watching a caravan of jalopies driving out west:
"They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there--and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see."
This compassion for those who ‘have worries’ about ‘money for gas’ and ‘how they’ll get there’ reflects the heart of our Father in Heaven as well. God desires that those of us on earth who are blessed with much to be generous to those who are not as blessed as well are. Jesus told us in Luke 3:11 that “If you have two coats give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Far too often though, we see less and less people acting on these commands. The temptations to keep everything for ourselves become greater and greater it seems the more and more we have. Jesus also taught that it would be harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to travel through the eye of needle (Matthew 19:24). Kerouac himself later on in his life found the amount of fame, and thus wealth, that he received from the success of “On The Road” was ultimately harder to cope with than his life beforehand, when he was an ordinary person. In some ways he felt more connected to humanity and the pain of the common man when he, in a sense, became one of them himself, hitchhiking across America.
Ultimately though, while Kerouac’s work feature a large amount of stories about fornication, binge drinking, and drug consumption, it also features an overarching theme of compassion and love for a human race that although broken is still precious in God’s sight. “On The Road” is a story of just that, a journey around our great country and the people that one encounters on that journey. However, it is also a story about one man’s desire to find God in the world, and even though Kerouac often looks in the wrong places, he never gives us as readers the impression that he has stopped searching!