The Subterraneans Analysis

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Ashley Barna
Literature of the Beat Generation
Kevin Kilroy
7 October 2010
Jazz in Terms of a Beatnik’s Words

Jazz poetry can be defined as poetry that "demonstrates jazz-like rhythm or the feel of improvisation”. As members of the Beat generation began to embrace aspects of African-American culture, the art of jazz poetry shifted its focus from racial pride and individuality to impulsiveness, spontaneity, and freedom, which are all themes in The Subterraneans written by Jack Kerouac. In this case, both jazz poetry and jazz music were seen as influential statements against the status quo, which encompass the cultural phenomenon that is beatnik culture. After reading Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, which can be described as a memoir, yet also as a poetic novel, illustrates jazz poetry to the highest degree. Every page is so poetic, where sentences seem more like lyrics that flow madly and encompass the spirit of jazz. Kerouac’s stream of consciousness style is ideal for narrating a problematic, tangled, thorny love affair with a woman he can't pull himself together enough to keep, but nonetheless mourned enough to write a book about. This tale documents their zealous relationship that takes place in San Francisco during the 1950’s. The position of jazz and jazz culture is central to the novel, tying together the themes of Kerouac's writing as well as the "spontaneous prose" style in which he composed most of his works. Throughout The Subterraneans, Leo Percepied, the narrator, presents himself as a philandering fool, who happens to fall in love by way of jealousy with an African American named Mardou Fox. The book focuses on their strained relationship and lifestyle which is muddled mix of art, partying, drugs, and music. The relationship from the start immediately seems destined for failure and it is Kerouac’s frenetic and restless pursuit of new sensation and experience in life that is impeccably translated into his writing. When the...
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