Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums
Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums does not fall too far from a basic description of his life. Kerouac spent the bulk of his writing career riding trains from city to city, meeting people and writing books and poetry. He was among the premier writers of the Beat Generation, a group of primarily urban poets and writers who put the basics of life and their spiritual nuances into poetry with a beat. The book, The Dharma Bums, is a window into the daily structure of the Beat Generation.
Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums while living the life of a bum, riding from city to city as a stowaway on various trains. He used an old portable typewriter that fed from a large roll of paper, into the typewriter, and back into a roll. This was a source of irritation to his publisher later on as Kerouac handed him a large roll of typed paper while announcing his new book. The book took only two weeks to write. It was one book of an unintentionally related series later referred to as the Dulouz Tales. Kerouac’s previous book, On the Road, defined the Beat Generation, and while expanding this explanation, The Dharma Bums focused more on the reasoning of the Beat Generation.
Focusing often on the Zen Buddhist beliefs of Ray, Kerouac’s character in The Dharma Bums, and Japhy, Ray’s best friend and spiritual mentor, the book often loses itself in pondering the meanings of life. Kerouac not only broaches the Zen Buddhist beliefs on the various issues, but also touches on how Christians, Taoists, and Muslims see the same issues. All this is affected in the dry, down to earth style of writing Kerouac became famous for.
Kerouac’s matter of fact style is evident throughout The Dharma Bums. When, during conversation, Kerouac would have paused and said, "Well," it is in his narratives. The style of description used by Kerouac follows the same tack. He is almost always meticulous in certain aspects of a given scene while leaving out what one would think are important details. However, the descriptions given are always enough to reveal a full, vivid picture of moments, whether only gestures are described or wall paper.
The various scenes of the book are often unexpected, but the matter of fact style of writing usually diffuses. Kerouac creates such a familiarity with his readers that it becomes assumed that any...