I Am My Mother’s Son

Searching, exploring; a loftier meeting between nature and the mind. The pathway from one to the other is what it means to be human. Kerouac is seduced time and time again by Siren voices—family, religious, moral, sexual, literary, philosophical and political—but conceded ultimately to his own, or to the ventriloquial version of his own voice that he assigns to his soul. It is the further propulsion of the growth spirit that has evolved in stages. It is only five years before that he staked a claim to his identity and stood by it:

“I am my mother’s son. All other identities are artificial and recent. Naked, basic, actually, I am my mother’s son. I emerged from her womb and set out into the earth. The earth gave me another identity, that of name, personality, appearance, character and spirit. The earth is my grandmother: I am the earth’s grandson. The way I comb my hair today has nothing to do with myself, who am my mother’s son. I am also on this earth, my grandmother, to be her spokesman, in my chosen and natural way. The earth owns the lease to myself: she shall take me back, and my mother too. We have proven the earth’s truth and meaning, which is, simply, life and death.”

Back then, he had a conviction to plant his stake into the world, to be not only a man of substance, but a writer too. It seemed, in retrospect, all so clear. Now, in 1945, he has survived his raging self-fighting that had plagued him since 1943. He was led astray, slightly, caught up in war hysteria.

The onset of 1945 represented a turning point. Kerouac began to come into his own, shorn of his marriage and with it, its attendant obligations of being a provider. There was, he felt, a “crucial sense of “end” and “beginning.” Because of this, his written output increased: a collaboration with Burroughs on a novel; a novella, Orpheus Emerged; some literary essays on William Blake, Nietzsche and Yeats. By February, he had completed his sections of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

The novel was split between Burroughs and Kerouac writing alternate chapters (with the exception toward the end of the book where Burroughs wrote three in a row). Their target was the events leading to David Kammerer’s murder. Despite the scandalous nature of the murder spreading  like wildfire not only on the Columbia campus, but the entire city, the crime is rather muted, not occurring until the closing chapters. Burroughs, writing as “Will Dennison” and Kerouac as ”Mike Ryko”, they each offer not very dissimilar perspectives on their motley group as they cavort from couches and floors to locations like the Minetta Tavern.

Through March, Kerouac spent more time with Burroughs, allowing him an opportunity to perform psychoanalysis on him. On the 16th, Burroughs concluded that Kerouac was too dependent on his mother, and that it would only constrict the older he got. Writes Kerouac:

“Seeing a lot of Burroughs. He is responsible for the education of Lucien, whom I had found, in lieu of his anarchy (rather than in spite of it), an extremely important person. “I lean with fearful attraction over the depths of each creature’s possibilities and weep for all that lies atrophied under the heavy lid of custom and morality” – and – “The bastard alone has the right to be natural.” (Gide) These lines elicit a picture of the Burroughs thought. However, the psychoanalytical probing has upset me prodigiously.”

Kerouac, disturbed, went to Ginsberg at Livingtone Hall. Kerouac was persona non gratis on the Columbia campus after the murder. Multiple operatives were in effect: Ginsberg wasn’t allowed to have overnight guests, even moreso if it were Kerouac, and even furthermore, an overnight male sharing a bed. There he slept until the Columbia authorities were alerted to Kerouac’s presence. Knocking on Ginsberg’s door, Kerouac hid under the blankets leaving Ginsberg to fend for himself.

It was the assistant dean who was here on report that Allen had scrawled obscenities in the dust of his dorm window sill. Ginsberg was suspended from school. Without a place to stay, Ginsberg moved into Joan Vollmer’s apartment on West 115th Street.

By summer 1945, the group dispersed. Edie was now with her grandmother in Ashbury Park, no longer answering Jack’s letters. Joan Vollmer and her daughter Julie moved with her parents in Loudonville, New York. Burroughs moved in with his parents in Clayton, Missouri. Ginsberg went to the US Maritime Service Training Center, and Kerouac moved in with his parents in Ozone Park. From there, as he began to shape ideas for a new novel started in May 1945, he took on small jobs so that he could eventually be free of them once and for all. Maybe he could even return to sea. But even this was no longer possible for the moment.

In August 1945, Leo Kerouac was admitted to the hospital where his stomach condition continued to worsen. There was no going to sea, Kerouac’s seaman’s papers were suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard over his abandoning ship in Norfolk back in October ’44. His mood swung in a continuous pendulum of depression and jubilation. He felt unsuited to keep any job for any length of time. He thought of attending U.C.L.A. using his G.I. Bill and applied in July 1945. He would not be accepted there either, receiving his rejection letter in September. He was driven to fulfill his goal of writing a novel before his father died. He felt his end to be imminent. This may be that he wanted to show his father what he was capable of, or maybe for more practical reasons. Without his father alive, Jack would become the “man of the house” and therefore, solely relied upon to work and support his aging mother.

There was no time to wait for the revolution he was yearning for, that he wrote of on July 24 when he thought that man’s primary issue was cultural. For his part, he was waiting for the “only authentic revolution on this earth: The inward revolution.”

There was nowhere for him to go. He was an outcast, even where he was accepted. Ginsberg wrote in July 1945: “Jean, you are an American more completely than I, more fully a child of nature and all that is of the grace of the earth.”

But Kerouac did not feel the same. He saw fault in his country. He even saw it in the nuclear family, where it did not instill family values, but that of a nurtured neuroses:

“The fault with the American home, with the middle class home anywhere, is that it is uninteresting, and therefore holds no water.

“The other two homes, the upper class and the lower class, are empty and wretched.

There should be no homes at all. All degrees of incest create neurosis. Children must develop vigorously together en masse.”

Kerouac felt that the “artistic personality” was the basis of all “great achievements.”

“I recommend it for all human beings.”


2 thoughts on “I Am My Mother’s Son

  1. This is very well-written! It is an interesting concept you brought to light regarding Kerouac’s philosophies, specifically of “mother”. I am not as knowledgable of Kerouac in comparison to others, so I was reading with a “clean slate”. You were able to present these ideas and this part of Kerouac- his psyche- in an understandable way that makes me want to read more!


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