On The Sea Is My Brother & The Brotherhood of Man

In February 1943, Kerouac fleshes out on paper what his new writing will eventually encompass. He wants to exceed narrative constraints using a writing craft beyond his means. Though he is in agreement with his country’s desire to squash Fascism, he criticizes Modernism’s pussyfooting of social issues. He feels it disguises the truth behind symbolistic writing. Besides, equality for all through politics is insincere at best. Kerouac feels that to preserve independence of spirit, he must retain skepticism and practice caution. His thoughts lie with the Universal Brotherhood whom espouses similar sentiments. He, like they, seeks to explore the nature of man and his relation to the universe. Kerouac is reminded of Socrates’s tale of ill-fated Hypatia whom yearns to break down the wall of exclusiveness dividing races and nations and is yet torn part by an angry mob for her beliefs.

Well before most attribute Kerouac’s immersion into Buddhism in 1953, he is alerted to Buddha’s lesson that the paths of right and wrong are open to all. The truest path for mankind, Kerouac firmly believes, is  the “Brotherhood.” It is a spirit of helpfulness springing effortlessly from his heart. It renders to those in need. Where Kerouac champions self-reliance in 1939 to 1942 (writing in a journal at one point about his “Moor of Myself”), he now realizes its discordance with the true harmony of the Brotherhood. This is The Sea is My Brother’s underlying message, bridging Whitmanic camraderie to intellectualism. Before, Kerouac treasured his independent spirit. He now yearns for a Brotherhood that usurps societal constraints that seeks to shackle the Universal spirit. Kerouac, on February 15, 1943, vowed to never “heed” to any; to stay true to his path.

March 15, 1943: Kerouac advises Sebastian Sampas that though they, as the Brotherhood should “stick together,” they mustn’t become dependent on each other. Kerouac realizes that what he specifically (and his group of Lowell friends, the Young Prometheans generally) discovered thus far (Kerouac had just turned twenty-one years old) was an “awakening of social conscience.” He realizes that his views differ from Sampas, a young ill-fated theatre student serving time on the European front as an army medic. Kerouac, at the moment (March 1943) has amassed  35,000 words on The Sea Is My Brother. He writes feverishly, night and day, determined to finish the book “before the Navy gets me.”

Kerouac intends address his passion for glory and life. The polarities he experienced, to his detriment and advantage, are present too; where he finds peace, he is also plagued by a simmering restlessness. Where he suffers ennui, he also endures a feverish facility for life. His desires by night, morning and afternoons are present in equal abundance. There is never enough time. He ‘burns his candles at both ends,’ as the saying goes. He expends his youth solely for creation experiencing what one scholar describes of Kerouac’s literary hero Thomas Wolfe, a “Faustian sickness.” Despite stacking odds, a world war, the draft board,  drinking binges and women… all are bottom-tiered to the act of writing. He is labeled crazy, irresponsible, foolish, deluded and petty-minded. But he is in fact proud to the extent that he self-pens press squibs from The New York Herald-Tribune, the New Yorker and The New York Times, each calling The Sea Is My Brother the authentic work of a young Melville-like scribe, drawing comparisons to Keats, Shelley and even Beethoven. The Sea Is My Brother, Kerouac imagines, is the greatest book of its time, certainly of his generation of writers, and perhaps the most potently poetic stirring tome since Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

On March 21, he is alone in his family’s Crawford Street house in Pawtucketville, Lowell. It is 4 A.M. on a Sunday. He writes to Sebastian. In a few hours he’ll kneel with the faithful at the very same church he will determine the meaning of “beat” in later years. But for now he is awed by the hushed stillness of a home formerly bustling with activity. He feels the ghosts of those he loves, an exasperating sorrow smothering him into a fit of weeping. He thinks of his mother, and others like her embodying the far-flung stars of humanity. He sees it so clearly that he begins to understand it.


It breaks his heart and he cries.


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