An artistic and introverted spirit, Jack Kerouac never set out to become the leader of one of the greatest literary movements of the 20th century. He only wished to achieve his own sense of enlightenment and share his journey with his friends, hoping to help them achieve their own form of enlightenment by expressing their truths through fiction and poetry. However, as news of his radical novel, On the Road, spread like wildfire through the nation, Kerouac was thrust into the spotlight as the poster boy for the Beat Generation and the counterculture movement it spawned. As he grew older, Kerouac became jaded and reclusive, rejecting many would-be counterculture artists and writers who cited him as an inspiration for their own works. His final essay, “After Me, the Deluge”, was a sarcastic, biting piece that best expressed his feelings of resentment and disgust towards the “hippie-yippie” lifestyle that was becoming popular among the youth. Although the long-winded sentences and provocative vernacular were consistent with Kerouac’s earlier writings, the acerbic tone and disdainful jeers, as well as the clear lack of interest in the Beat movement that he had once so zealously championed, weakened the message of “After Me, the Deluge” and made it a poor close to his literary career.
The self-proclaimed “intellectual forebear of Beat spontaneous prose,” Kerouac was prone to loquacious writing that was “intended to clack along… like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talking caboose at the end” (Inchausti, 81) and using idiosyncratic, lofty language that belied his Ivy League education. Even when he was nearing the end of his life and literary career, these distinctive qualities still shined through in many of Kerouac’s writings, and “After Me, the Deluge,” is no exception. With statements like, “Here, every handshake, every smile, every gibberous applause is shiny hypocrisy, is political lust and concupiscence, a ninny’s bray of melody backed by a ghastly neurological drone of money-grub accompanied by the anvil chorus of garbage can covers being banged over half-eaten filet mignons which don’t even get to the dogs, let alone the hungry children of the absent ‘constituency’,” Kerouac demonstrates that long after he traded his rebellious, youthful spirit for a constant state of astringency and desolation, he still is able to express his thoughts in his final essay as skillfully as he did in works like The Dharma Bums and Visions of Cody. The diction and colloquialisms of “After Me, the Deluge”, are perhaps the greatest strengths of Kerouac’s final work.
If the tone and substance of his final essay had been as compelling as Kerouac’s style of writing, perhaps this essay could have become a more fitting end to his career. In his final essay, he was sardonic, mocking the new crop of aspiring Beat writers who he believed were “parasites feeding on their own national host,” and even went so far as to state that he was ashamed to have inspired the works of people like Allen Ginsberg, who he once considered a close friend. He claimed that the Beat movement had been overtaken by faux Buddhists and hippies who were just as hypocritical as the politicians and aristocrats that they claimed to so valiantly oppose, maintaining an air of unrelenting scorn throughout without ever offering any ideas as to what led to what he felt was the degradation of the Beats and counterculture. If it came from any other writer, this essay would likely be passed off as the drunken ramblings of a poor, outdated writer who was resentful of the loss of the attention and consideration he had once received from admirers around the world. However, Kerouac was never one to be concerned with the opinions of others, save for a select few in his inner circle, which suggests that the acidic statements and lack of meaning in this essay is due to the fact that it was written only to satiate a desire to spew insults at the new generation of counterculture writers who he believed had twisted and perverted the messages of his work.
Although “After Me, the Deluge” did offer readers insight into the morose philosophy that Kerouac had developed in his final days and was, like most of his work, a testimony to his talents as a writer, it was not a fitting close to his literary career, and is thankfully not the work that the world has chosen to remember him by when they speak of him in history books. Written out of anger and exasperation, Kerouac’s final essay expressed the sentiments of a shell of a man who had become jaded and burned out by a wild, passionate life that had been marked by great successes and equally tremendous tragedy, especially in his later years. Although the essay does offer many beautiful examples of Kerouac’s garrulous writing and eloquent articulation of his unique thought process, the lack of significance of the material itself and the caustic tone with which it is written makes this essay a less than fitting close to his literary career.
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