The Dharma Bums

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dharma Bums
By Jack Kerouac

This thinly veiled account of Kerouac’s travels and spiritual awakening takes place after the events in On the Road.

I couldn’t help but feel like Kerouac was full of crap through much of this book. He talks about the poor, stupid people who spend their lives working, trapped in one place because they have a spouse and kids. He thinks they aren’t truly living because they aren’t doing exactly what they want to do each moment. This way of thinking is not only incredibly selfish, it’s also unrealistic. Kerouac’s protagonist does travel around doing what he wants, hitchhiking and climbing mountains, but he then returns home and stays with his mother for free.

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they seem trapped in a cycle of arrested development. I know the people around him were frustrated too, because he talks about his brother-in-law being fed up with him staying at the North Carolina farms and refusing to help with any chores. He glorifies his life as being free and wild. Living on the wind and going where he chooses, but in reality he is mooching off everyone around him. He takes advantage of the people he knows and then neglects them for months at a time.

I really enjoyed On the Road when I read it, but that was years ago when I was in college. I think that’s the time to read Kerouac, because if you want until you’re out in the “real” world paying bills, etc., it’s hard to enjoy his condescending ramblings.

But here’s the thing, after all of that I still ended up loving parts of the book. Kerouac’s love of life is infectious. He may be naive, but he’s sincere and you can’t help but see some of that joy in his writing. So although the first half of this review is a bit of a rant, I can’t deny the beauty of his writing.
If I’d read this in high school or college I might have loved it. I’m a bit too logical to ever embrace the gypsy lifestyle, but Kerouac’s romanticized version of Ray’s life made me want to smack him and tell him to get a job. You won’t hear me claiming that the man can’t write though. His words are poetry; it’s the content that bugs me.
“The human bones are but vain lines dawdling, the whole universe a blank mold of stars.”

“The yard was full of tomato plants about to ripen, and mint, mint, everything smelling of mint, and one fine old tree that I loved to sit under on those cool perfect starry California October nights unmatched anywhere in the world.”


Meg @ write meg! said...

I've been meaning to read On the Road for, oh... probably a decade now. I have a hunch you're right about tackling his work in college -- still young and carefree and naive. Sometimes I miss those days!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

There are books I wish I'd read in college because I don't think I would like them now. I wish I'd read Catcher in the Rye when I was about 15 instead of later.

Jenners said...

I think your point is excellent -- this type of book is appealing when you a certain age and then it doesn't age with you.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Yes, I think that his writing is still beautiful at any age, but he just sounds selfish and naive a lot of the time.