Cover image for Understanding Jack Kerouac
Understanding Jack Kerouac
Theado, Matt, 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Columbia : University of South Carolina Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
200 pages ; 19 cm.
Chronology -- Biography and background -- Kerouac's technique -- The town and the city (1950) -- On the road (1957) -- Visions of Cody (1972) -- Doctor Sax: Faust part three (1959) -- Maggie Cassidy (1959) and The subterraneans (1958) -- Tristessa (1960), Visions of Gerard, (1963) and Buddhism -- Desolation angels (1965) and The Dharma bums (1958) -- Big Sur (1962) -- Later work.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3521.E735 Z84 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Understanding Jack Kerouac introduces a new generation of readers to what Matt Theado calls Kerouac's unwieldy accretion of published work - fiction, poetry, nonfiction, selected letters, religious writing and true-story novels. Presenting this Beat Generation icon as a writer rather than as a social rebel or media celebrity, Theado asks why Kerouac's reputation has outlived disparaging beatnik associations. He takes a book-by-book approach to the sometimes confusing canon and develops a framework for understanding Kerouac's thematic concerns, writing techniques and artistic evolution.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Kerouac wave that has delivered biographies, critical studies, and various selected works continues to crest with three new titles. More than 60 of the wildly prolific writer's earliest works are published for the first time in Atop an Underwood. The title is Kerouac's; he coined it at age 19 for a proposed collection of short stories, which he introduced with these two resonant lines: "Hello, this is Jack Kerouac F.P., a new writer. F.P. stands for furious poet." It should come as no surprise that Kerouac's salient literary features--his Whitmanesque appetite for both experience and electrifying description, his love of motion and music, and his persistent autobiographical streak--are already present in his youthful works. After all, his childhood was his wellspring and albatross, just as writing was prayer and antidote, a great surging sea of words echoing the frenzy both within his soul and at large in the world. Kerouac was a tireless letter writer, a habit that stoked the fires of his creativity. The first volume of letters Kerouac scholar Charters put together traced his rapid evolution from a young and solitary visionary into a conspicuous and controversial member of the beats. Here, in a collection that begins the year On the Road was published and ends two days before his death, Kerouac not only experiments with potential scenes for works in progress but also articulates his unease within the glare of publicity and his suffering in the face of harsh critical response. He is both at the peak of his artistic innovativeness and at the nadir of emotional and physical health. Theado attempts to elucidate Kerouac's often misunderstood and misrepresented oeuvre by proceeding book by book in an order that illuminates autobiographical underpinnings. He also seeks to explicate the evolution of Kerouac's style, from jazzy riffs to "spontaneous prose," which "may yet be his chief claim to literary longevity." Theado's approach encompasses just the right amount of biography, stylistic analysis, and fluent thematic interpretation to show that Kerouac opened new territory for American writers and did indeed succeed "in making something new." --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

Having issued over 50 volumes devoted to contemporary American authors and genres, the "Understanding Contemporary American Literature" series, under the direction of Matthew J. Bruccoli, continues to provide useful guides for students and general readers. Following Edward Foster's broader work, Understanding the Beats (LJ 3/1/92), Theado's more focused study examines Kerouac's books in the order in which they were written, as opposed to their publication order or their place in Kerouac's "Duluoz legend"Äan approach that makes it easier to trace the development of major themes and motifs and to chart Kerouac's artistic growth as he experiments with language and technique. Making good use of Kerouac's recently published correspondence, Theado's analyses of Kerouac's major themes are generally on target. But too much of the book is devoted to summary. Whitt is much better at integrating summary and analysis in her graceful study of Naylor's work (although, to be fair to Theado, taking on Kerouac's massively diverse corpus is the more formidable task). Examining each of Naylor's novels in order of publication (through her 1998 The Men of Brewster Place), she perceptively comments on Naylor's major themes, her use of symbolism, the development of her characters, and her critical reputation. She also explores Naylor's literary influencesÄthe Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, African American folklore, and mythology. Whitt's scholarship, presented in clear, vivid prose, is perfect for the readers this series hopes to attract, though more knowledgeable readers will also benefit from her keen insights into one of America's most talented novelists. Like all series volumes, these works include primary and briefly annotated secondary bibliographies.ÄWilliam Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This competent introduction to Kerouac's writing adds to a literature that includes Warren French's Jack Kerouac (CH, Oct'87). Theado (Gardner-Webb Univ.) provides basic plot summaries of Kerouac's major fictions for the beginning reader, filling in background and plot outlines, with asides on thematic and stylistic development. Theado borrows from Edward Halsey Foster's Understanding the Beats (CH, Oct'92) in treating the works in the order of their composition, in an attempt to place Kerouac as an evolving artist who jumped back and forth chronologically to fill in the sections of his autobiographical Duluoz Legend. There are no critical revelations here, but Theado is a trustworthy guide for the neophyte, especially on the compilations of the more experimental aspects of Kerouac's later work. Theado asserts without question Kerouac's place as an extremely important figure in 20th-century US literature, and this standard book for newcomers to the Beats testifies to the fact that Kerouac is becoming less and less a controversial writer as time provides the hindsight of historical distance. Such acceptance might have pleased Jack Kerouac, but then again it might have made him somewhat uneasy. Undergraduate and general collections. ; Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus