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Kerouac and Burroughs

In general, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a travelogue, a story of personal and cultural exploration in and around America.  His work testifies to his almost spiritual need to transcend convention and conformity, and to soak up life experience in the divine search for ‘IT.’  But, if Kerouac and his characters are only searching, are ‘on the road’ to a life of alternative experiences--or, ‘on the road’ to what they often call ‘madness’--William S. Burroughs, in his satiric and mythological portrait of junkies, addiction, doctors, and capitalism, seems to have already arrived.  In Naked Lunch, Burroughs tells a fantastic tale from the eye of the storm, from within a drug-induced haze and the consequent painful withdrawal.  And he and his characters are already deeply entrenched in their own darkest extremes, barely aware of any reality beyond their own. Therefore, given the basic difference in perspective for Kerouac and Burroughs, their writing styles seem to reflect their unique positions along the continuum of madness to which they find themselves bound.

Kerouac and Burroughs

Early on, Burroughs’ offers a statement that seems to best sum up his literary style:  “…I try to focus the words…they separate in meaningless mosaic…” .  As a result, his work passes between stretches of coherent satire about a modern world of consumption and excess to what reads like incoherent stretches of juxtaposed words, fragmented and chaotic.  In these latter situations, his writing seems to mirror the mind tortured by its own addictions, the “junk sickness” as he calls it, and the after-effects of withdrawal.  His work, therefore, is written as a series of episodes (or, ‘routines’), loosely strung together, that parody his condition, while advancing his paranoid and delirious perspective on the junkie culture of doctors, addicts, freaks, buyers, and sellers in which he finds himself.

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