The Quest—Part I: On the Road

  • Nancy M. Grace


By the conclusion of the Windblown World journals, Kerouac was immersed in what is now recognized as his most productive period as a writer. The end of 1950, when he was twenty-eight years old, saw him embarked on a serious study of Buddhism, using Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible as his most cherished collection of Buddhist primary sources, which as he told Ginsberg in 1954 “is by far the best book because it contains the Surangama Sutra and the Lankavatra Sutra, not to mention the eleven-page Diamond Sutra which is the last word” (Letters 1: 415). In addition, he had typed the “scroll” version of On the Road, a project that he began on April 2, 1951, radically transforming the third-person narrative of Ray and Smitty into a lyrical, bop-driven vision of America embodied by Cassady, the model for Smitty. Over the next several years, as Tim Hunt has meticulously documented, this process involved revisions, consultations with editors, and much anguish on Kerouac’s part as he struggled to reconcile “the symbolic truth of the inner world of the child and the realistic truth of the outer world of the adult” (117). Kerouac called the book a meditation “on problems of the soul” (WW 206), and as such On the Road, despite the editorial changes that Kerouac later denigrated and the extent of which readers still remain unaware, was the first major teaching of Kerouac as paraclete, a critical transition in his journey.


Posit Hunt Ghost Egypt Tempo 
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© Nancy M. Grace 2007

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  • Nancy M. Grace

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