Lost Generation vs Beat Generation
While reading Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road I have noticed that the author Ernest Hemingway is mentioned quite often in the book. This has raised my interest to focus my research on the following. For the purpose of this paper I would like to take a closer look at Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, in context of the Beat Generation, in comparison to Ernest Hemingway, the leader of the Lost Generation. This paper tries to show the differences and the agreements between the two literary streams and how it influenced the two particular authors. Therefore, the paper starts with a definition of the Lost Generation and Hemingway in particular, and then I will try to deal with different aspects of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road and its corresponding literary period. Finally, I would like to argue if the two authors are classical or rather if they are beyond classical norms.
The Lost Generation
The term was coined by Gertrude Stein, who was a Lost Generation writer herself, and she argues “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation” and applied that term to the writers of the 1920’s (Monk 1) It was a particular group of writers, like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who spent some time in Europe between World War I and World War II and rejected the values of post-war America. Most of the young men had to march in and fight at the front, which is the reason why World War I left its mark among those writers. Many young men died in the war or were physically or mentally wounded. They felt lost and furthermore, all their basic values were gone after the war, because they have seen the consequences of what humanity is able to do. They lost their faith in the moral guide that had given them hope before, but that was no longer valid. They had to take the consequences; no goals in life and no perspectives anymore. Basically, they were hanging out in bars and got drunk in order to deal with their situation of being a writer in the 1920’s of whom society expected to continue writing in Victorian Times’ style.
In order to find freedom they went abroad, mainly to Paris, because they all shared a similar sense of disillusionment after the war. The formed a new youth culture that corresponded to “expatriate Americans with literary and aesthetic aspirations” (Monk 2).The Lost Generation departed from traditional principles. They were inspired by European culture and used their experiences abroad in order to frame a cultural achievement on their own. It also gave them new insight. Paris was the centre of European culture and furthermore the ultimate destination in Europe. In Paris you could experience sexual freedom and it was also the centre of Bohemia (Monk 191). Especially Ernest Hemingway was inspired to write about his life in Paris (Monk 139). The Lost Generation carries along two main metaphors, which Hemingway tended to use quite often in his novels. Being on the road was one of them and had the deeper meaning that those writers were still moving even though they did not know where to go, because as I have mentioned before, they lost all their goals in life. The second metaphor would be impotence due to the fact that it was really hard for them to fall in love with someone.
They were not able to love and therefore they only had sexual relationships. The literary phase of the Lost Generation was introduced by Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, which was a portrait of recklessness and waste and therefore also a portrayal of the Lost Generation (Monk, 6). The mainstream media of the US feared that this book could possibly become a bible for the disaffected youth of the early 20th century (Monk 6). However, the Lost Generation was looking for peace in general and searching for a way of life. Hemingway painted a picture of the Lost Generation; same as Jack Kerouac did a couple of years later about the Beatniks and their motives, which were quite similar to the ones of the Lost Generation. Autobiographies were considered to be essential during the literary period of the 1920’s and as Philippe Lejeune claims,”the author, the narrator, and the protagonist must be identical” (Monk, 10). By means of this particular genre, those writers found a way to communicate with the mass audience (Monk 14).
The authors of the Lost Generation even defined themselves by their autobiography and their involvement with each other, because they shared the same motives and their time of experience abroad. Those autobiographies functioned as a question of identity for Lost Generation writers, because they interpreted their existence as meaningless, after the war. Jack Kerouac’s novel On the road also shares some autobiographical aspects, because the narrator tells its own personal story, which is actually referring to the author himself; basically, Sal is a real-life person. The book’s content is based on real-life events of Jack Kerouac. The narrator somehow functions as an alter ego. In the novel, the narrator, Sal Paradise, a young dissatisfied man, who broke with communities and suffers from the depression of World War II, reflects the feelings of Jack Kerouac and simultaneously the ones of a whole generation. Both, this novel and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises stand for the mood and the feelings of their particular generation. On the Road functions as a reflection and a portrait of the Beat Generation, same as Hemingway’s novel did for the Lost Generation.
Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac was a spokesman of a whole generation due to the fact that he described the mood of a whole period in the 20th century. This particular period was called the Beat Generation and shared similar aspects and motives with the Lost Generation. The name was given because the people of this generation felt beat after the effects World War II. They suffered from an even greater disillusionment than the people of the 1920’s, so therefore Jack Kerouac started to constantly use the word beat. Additionally, the United States were involved in the Cold War and in the Korean War, which had the effect of a turned down atmosphere throughout the country. In the midst of there political and social conflicts the Beat Generation was born. Another shared aspect would be their impulse to be on the road, driven by their troubled anxiety after World War II. People were searching for something that would somehow give their lives significance and this placed emphasis on being on the road stands for the “spiritual quest for the meaning of life” (Zerlauth 55). At that time, it was difficult to deal with the fact that you belong to a society that killed people with terrible bombs.
Therefore, the road functions as an escape, for being in motion and not having time to think much about one’s situation in life. People tried to break out of this limitedness of life and to leave one part of one’s character behind. Partly it was also a reason for not being associated with a particular person or place; just feeling free (Zerlauth 58). The literary movement during the time of the Beat Generation was quite short-lived. Most importantly, it has to be distinguished that there was a political Beat Generation, concerning the society and the Beat Literature. Authors were immediately judged by their literary outcome and only later, their cultural influence and popularity emerged and was appreciated. In spite of everything On the Road became the bible of the Beat Generation, because it corresponds to the “Beat” lifestyle and image This particular period was a turbulent era in the United States due to great influential changes in politics, economy and society.
On the one hand there was a kind of excitement in the United States during World War II, because the people were interested in what role they would pay in the conflict. On the other hand, the harsh reality of the war and the millions of people, who lost their lives was shocking and had a profound effect on the nation’s consciousness. America’s economy was stronger than ever due to the outcome of World War II and resulted, among other things in automobiles and became popular throughout the country. New roads were built and at that time gasoline was quite cheap, which made travelling easy and fun at the same time.
On the Road
On the road is an example of rebellious popular culture, a reflection of values and themes of North American imagination and resistant to many dominant ideas in America. It is a protest against the prosperity America enjoyed after the war. Jack Kerouac’s novel was a major success, mainly owing to a profound cultural effect on society at that particular time. Same as Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, Kerouac’s novel was also considered to have a bad influence on the young people, mainly because of its depiction of drug use and promiscuous sex. It was seen as the evidence of the increasing immorality of American youth. In the end the people were so fascinated about the content and the bohemian lifestyle the book describes, so that it became a bestseller and its popularity continued till the late 1960’s, when it was also a handbook for the hippie culture and their self exploration and personal freedom. On the Road could even be called a manifesto for the Beat Generation, because it captured exactly the feelings and at the same time the attention of this generation, dissatisfied with America’s materialistic values and political climate.
The book is about two guys, Sal and Dean, who enjoy being on the road non-stop and start a rebellion against the American Dream. It is not true that they do not believe in it, the true reason is that they do not buy into the popular conception of it. Both disassociate themselves from society and become outsiders, because they want to distance themselves from classical American middle class values and have difficulties with obeying authorities. The content of the novel was set perfectly into the time of the counter culture of the 1950’s, the so-called Beat Generation, when many young people were striking against family values and the American Dream. Sal and Dean realized directionless mobility in order to resist US cultural norms during the 1950’s. It functioned as a rebellion against authority and was a form of behaviour at that time. The road becomes a metaphor for all the experiences of the two main characters. It even turns into a whole meaning of life and into their home. In general, there is a constant movement in the book ”from the limitation of possibilities to their expansion” (Dardess 201). Furthermore, the relation between the two men is immediately connected to the direction of their actual geographical movement through the nation (Dardess 202).
Additionally, the theme of mobility is connected to culture itself, mainly the counter culture of the 1950’s, because both are unstable and a product of the process of life. In On the Road, it is clearly shown that women are a threat to men who want to be themselves. Settling down with a woman in a particular place would again limit their lives, hence they continue being on the road and experience infinite possibilities. Thus the motive of the two guys, Sal and Dean, is not in order to arrive at some place but to constantly be in motion. Concerning their relationships with women, they prefer having only sexual affairs with no love involved, which is also an essential characteristic of the Lost Generation. They constantly leave and meet women without getting involves emotionally. This non-familial sexuality is again connected to the metaphor of the road and is therefore used by Kerouac against the ideology of family and home the United States. Another aspect of the two main characters in the novel would be their heavy use of alcohol, which they do for repressing heir bad feelings about their life; however, they take drugs in order to intensify their feelings (Zerlauth 62).
Comparison of the Two Authors
Both wrote down their lives in form of novels that function as autobiographies and create philosophical depth. Another thing they have in comment would be their shared conception of the reader, which should feel the emotion; like taking part in the book. Hence, it should have an effect on the reader. What distinguishes the two authors would be their way of writing a novel. Hemingway is definitely in certain respects a classical writer, because when he starts writing a novel, he would never use the first draft. For him, it is essential to really think about what you are going to write and how you structure the sentence and express your thoughts. Every item is “artfully chosen” (Levin 588), which is a classical norm. Kerouac would rather prefer the first draft, because he intents to communicate the emotions he felt when he wrote it. For Kerouac, a piece of writing is more intense and authentic, when it is not revised, so to speak. Concerning his novel On the Road, the first draft was written in six weeks and was used entirely for the novel.
He enjoys working nonstop on a book and he would even refuse to revise his language afterwards (Dardess 729). Perhaps it would destroy its particular mood and as well Kerouac’s intention. For this novel, Kerouac uses a particular way of writing, namely the “spontaneous prose method” (Dardess 729). As mentioned before, an essential aspect for Kerouac is that the reader is able to identify himself with the characters, same goes for Hemingway, although their perception of how to write a novel is different (Levin 596). Focusing on their different style of writing one could argue that Hemingway’s writing style lacks of dynamic, partly due to the fact that Hemingway was fond of using little adjectives and instead choosing the verb as the most powerful word in a sentence, which was unconventional at that time. Same as the flow of Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous prose method in the 1950’s As argued before, Hemingway obviously is a classical writer, but in comparison with Kerouac, there are some differences. On the Road, is made of a complex structure and one might think that it is just loose written notes with just a geographical and chronological order, but actually it is a construction between the narrator Sal and his friend Dean (Dardess 200). Thus, the book is written according to a classic dramatic design (Dardess 201).
I reach to the conclusion that both writers became cultural iconic writers and had a major impact on their corresponding generations. The two World Wars were extremely significant and influential for the people at that time and so it obviously influenced its literature as well. Both authors belong to different and special periods of the 20th century and yet, both have a unique style, although they have written in a kind of similar environment and mood. In addition to that, both of them were spokesmen of a whole generation and described the mood of a whole decade by means of their literary works. To me, it was interesting comparing the two authors and their periods, due to their astonishing agreements in motives and emotions. Ernest Hemingway definitely had an impact on Jack Kerouac, mainly because both have been through the same kind of circumstances, concerning the war and their discontentment with politics and society. Noticing Hemingway’s name in On the Road encouraged me to do some research and to focus my interest on this field.
Dardess, George. “The Delicate Dynamics of a Friendship: A Reconsideration of Kerouac’s On the Road.” American Literature 46.2 (1974): 200-6. JSTOR. 20 Sept. 2010
Dardess, George. “The Logic of Spontaneity: A Reconsideration of Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose Method.” The Oral Impulse in Contemporary American Poetry 2.3 (1975): 729-46. JSTOR. 20 Sept. 2010 .
Levin, Harry. “Observations of the Style of Ernest Hemingway.” The Kenyon Review 13.4 (1951): 581-609. JSTOR. 20 Sept. 2010 .
Monk, Craig. Writing the Lost Generation. Iowa City: Iowa UP, 2008.
Zerlauth, Martin. “Lost? Beat? X? – An existentialist reappraisal of Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta – The Sun Also Rises, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X – Tales for an Accelerated Culture.” Univ.,
Dipl.-Thesis. U of Innsbruck, 1999.
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