Jack Kerouac is one of those authors who you either love or hate. For that reason, many of his books come under intense scrutiny or admiration. That is the case for one of his most renowned books, The Dharma Bums.
Before reading Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, I had no idea where I stood with regards to liking or disliking his work. After finishing the book, I still don’t really know. I think I will need to read another one of his works. But I think I lean towards the type of reader that enjoys his style of writing and story telling. With that being said however, there were definitely parts of The Dharma Bums, where I was a bit frustrated.
Kerouac’s writing style can be described as erratic, lacking linearity, stream of consciousness and hard to keep up with. There were various portions of the book where I lost track of the timeline, characters and plot line. However, there were other parts that are still vividly lodged into my memory.
The Dharma Bums is full of rich description and imagery. The way Kerouac describes his scenes, specifically natural settings like the mountains, is incredibly entertaining to read and easy to visualize. He does a good job of painting the picture of his audience and placing them within the story. That is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this book so much.
Another reason why I enjoyed it is because of how much it reminded me of myself, my friends and some of the adventures we have gotten mixed up in. Kerouac’s characters are very accessible. Probably because they are based off real people. Due to that, I think most every friend group has at least one of the character types that Kerouac creates, if not more. I saw myself and my friends in the discussions and arguments his characters were having, in the personal thoughts that they were reflecting upon and in the events they were taking part in.
A third reason why I enjoyed the book is because of it’s mixture of the metaphysical and earthly/physical. Kerouac’s characters, like all of us, are on a quest for finding the meaning of life. For them, this quest is heavily influenced by Buddhism, hence the dharma. Their quest is also couched within the lifestyle of the modern day backpacker and what once was popularly called the ‘hobo’, hence the bums. They are a group of friends who spend their life on the road and living in shacks, consuming and practicing the parts of Buddhism that resonate with them.
For many, their experiences are also heavily influenced by sex, alcohol, drugs, music etc. Which is what makes it so physical. All the while, they are inundated with metaphysical quarrels, thought processes and self reflections through the spiritual avenue of Buddhism. Kerouac does a good job as combining these two concepts and creating a story that is entertaining and relatable. Because lets be honest, which of us haven’t used some sort of substance in order to alter our physical reality in search of some sort of metaphysical answer or breakthrough?
For me, The Dharma Bums was an enjoyable read. Probably not one of my most favorite literary classics, but a classic nonetheless. If you haven’t read any Kerouac, I really think you should. He is one of the most infamous/famous North American authors– and for good reason. I think it’s time to find out for yourself if you love or hate Jack Kerouac’s writing. The Dharma Bums is a good place to start.