Jack Kerouac is an American author who, to this day, is often misunderstood by his critics and idolized by his followers. In ancient Greece, Kerouac would have been honored as a rhapsode, a wandering poet who embodied the wisdom of his era ( Enos 1978). Yet in the mid-twentieth- centuryAmerica that Kerouac celebrates and exalts as Walt Whitman did one hundred years earlier, Kerouac remains something of an enigma. In holding up a mirror to the culture of his time, Kerouac enabled others to grow excited by what they saw and agitated at what he implied. In a culture that often kills its messiahs ( Mencken 1994), Kerouac lived and died by evoking his supporters--who subsequently caged him and turned him into an icon--and by provoking oppositional pressures. Ultimately, Kerouac died a martyr's death. Willingly or unwillingly, he became a cultural "hero" who gave a spirit to an age and an identity to those resisters who struggled against the forces of conformity.
Kerouac spent his adult life chronicling his existence through thinly veiled autobiographical novels, and he shared with his audience the trials and exultations of his experience. Such behavior was hardly unusual for a young author growing up in twentieth-entury America. J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, and scores of other writers were all similarly engaged in documenting their lives. Yet Kerouac is somehow different from his literary contemporaries; his writing does more than merely contribute to the bulk of American letters. This "more" needs to