"The life of every Beat Writer is characterized by a prolonged psychic crisis that is finally resolved by means of a sudden vision or insight"
Gregory Stephenson Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation (Southern Illinois University Press, 1990)

James T. Jones, in his book Jack Kerouac's Dulouz Legend: The Mythic Form of an Autobiographical Fiction (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999) argues forcefully and in comprehensive fashion for an Oedipal analysis of Kerouac's literary output, grouping the Kerouac texts in the context of of Freud, the Oedipus myth, and how Kerouac's depiction of family relationships - and by extension, interpersonal relationships in his personal life and as "fictionalized" in his prose - may be explained through Freud's application of that myth. Without recaptitulating his argument, it is clear there is analytical value in sharing his look at the enduring relationship betwen Kerouac and his mother, the residual rivalry with his father - and by extension sibling rivalry with his older deceased brother Gerard, and ultimately to a succession of male colleagues - and how BIG SUR's alcohol-induced nervous breakdown is the symptom of a breakdown brought on by his attachment to his mother and obsession with the psychic tensions induced by the Oedipal family struggle.

"Jack Dulouz , suffering from the effects of chronic alcoholism and sensing an impending nervous breakdown, seeks refuge at the oceanside cabin...unfortunately, like the grove of the Eumenides in Oedipus at Colonus, it is full of reminders of both the cause of his misery and the fate that awaits him," writes Jones.

So too it is evident even with a casual visit to the canyon in which the breakdown took place - with its rumbling surf, incessantly babbling brook, and overawing canyon horizon - that it bears marked resemblance to the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the bridge across the Merrimack River, in Kerouac's hometown of Lowell. It is a site he refers to with some feeling, having been introduced to it by his brother Gerard in all its fearsome mystical power - and the spilling sound of river water over the long weir, not to mention present day roar of traffic, combined with the craggy vista presented by the grotto itself cannot fail to impress.

Another paradigm of analysis, however, offers insight into another central feature in the psycho-spiritual tensions depicted in Kerouac's novel BIG SUR - the conflict between Jack Kerouac and the young boy for the attention of the woman - the boy's mother - with whom he is having an affair.

Though Jones refers to this situation as the ultimate moment of confrontation for the man/boy Kerouac, faced with the conflict between being a child and a father figure in his relationship with the boy's mother and his ostensible lover, one might turn to an analysis offered of western culture offered by Robert Bly. Indeed, much insight may be gathered into Kerouac's relationship with the boy through a close reading of Bly's 1970s analysis of the feminine anima of matriarchal societies, a piece which exposes the deeply ingrained manner in which these figurative and mythical elements underly personal and cultural expressions in contemporary culture.

In the work "I came out of the Mother Naked" (found in Sleepers Joining Hands, Harper Colophon Books, NY 1973) Bly refers to a kind of cross-like quadrad of Mother characters which inform our souls: along one axis, the Good Mother, a nurturing creature and at the other end the Death Mother; and along the other axis, the Ecstatic Mother - a rather Dionysian figure - and the inert Stone Mother.

The cross-like quadrad is not an insignificant point, given Kerouac's Catholic underpinnings - and more specifically, to his deus ex machina-style resolution of the conflict at the end of the book, a sudden and transcendant vision of the Christian cross, and recognition at that moment that "all will be well."

Back to Bly and the goddesses, however. The job of the Stone Mother, writes Bly, is "to end ecstasy and spiritual growth...she stands for numbness, paralysis, catatonia, the psyche torn to bits...the alcoholic has seen the Stone Mother, and he drinks to dull the fear that his inner rivers will turn to stone. He avoids looking at the Mother, and the alcohol turns him to stone."

In BIG SUR, we may see Kerouac's struggle to establish a relationship with the woman in question as a gesture toward the Ecstatic Mother, against his own decline into middle age and the grip of the Stone Mother. To compound the difficulties, he is confronted with the young boy's persistent struggle to define that same woman as his own personal nurturing Good Mother figure.

Kerouac's life by this point emblemizes Bly's theorization neatly - seeking to recapture his earlier life seeking the inspiration of Ecstatic Mother experience in drugs, alcohol, sex, jazz, kicks - but increasingly fallen into the inert immobility of the Stone Mother.

Indeed his well-documented tendency towards isolation and inexpressiveness during this period of his life has become a recurring theme in analyzing Kerouac's story - a living retreat with his mother Memere - ascribed variously to the effects of alcohol, frustration with the fickleness of fame, alienation from his former friends, and to a commitment he had made to his father to care for his mother.

More incisive, perhaps, might be an analysis which looks at the sway of Memere during this period as that of the Stone Mother in full grip of the writer in his decline.

In this context Kerouac's failed attempt to break this grip through his escape to Big Sur is discernable as a struggle to escape the Stone Mother. We watch as he attempts and fails to re-create his former glory as a full participant in the Ecstatic inspiration of his earlier life, foreshadowed in many of his writings from a decade past, when he comes full force into conflict with his own demons and the boy's claim on the woman.

In a sense, the journey to Big Sur was a flight from "Death, the ultimate beneficiary of the Stone Mother's grip," an act of desperation of which Kerouac ultimately understood he was doomed to fail.

At one point Bly's analysis of the Goddess Quadrad focuses on the lifework of Holderin: "The idea of the Stone Mother helps to explain Holderin's life," he writes. "He grasped from reading ancient poetry that the Ecstatic Mother was actually alive, and not just a literary invention. Then he met a partial embodiment of her...moved closer and closer to her, so close that he actually started writing in the ecstatic meters of the dancing Greek poets, unused for centuries. But...the road toward her is glassy, he lost his footing, and was pulled in a fraction of second into the Stone Mother's house. He became "insane," and lived quietly there, above a carpenter's shop, with the Stone Mother, for the last thirty-six years of his life."

Swap Kerouac for Holderin, Kerouac's spontaneous bop prosody for the meters of Greek poets, Memere for the Stone Mother. A succession of retreats in Northport, Lowell, Orlando and St Petersburg for the carpenter shop. Swap some dozen increasingly embittered years after the publication of On The Road, for Holderin's thirty six - and Bly could be telling tales on Kerouac's life.

-George Wallace