The Raw Body of America: Landscape, Embodiment, and the Americas in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and “Tristessa”

By Melanie Keomany.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Undoubtedly one of America’s most popular novels, the appeal of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is often characterised as that of the seductive, intoxicating freedom of the open road. Kerouac’s fascination with the American continent is not limited to On the Road, with most of his work drawing directly on his travel experiences—he not only travelled extensively in the United States, but frequently went beyond its borders into Mexico, where he spent a significant amount of time. Despite this, little attention has been paid to the influence and presence of Mexican landscapes, people, and culture that is, I believe, crucial to his work.
This paper explores how Kerouac constructs his knowledge of the American continent in two of his novels: On the Road and the less well-known Tristessa. I argue that his vision of both the United States of America and Latin America is deeply rooted in an intense and deeply physical interaction with the geography and the landscape of the continent itself. In both On the Road and Tristessa the experiences of Kerouac’s protagonists as they travel through the United States and Mexico are mediated through their bodies; indeed, it is their attempts to embody and incorporate the landscape and their journeys across it that underpin their relationships and interactions with American and Mexican people. Kerouac not only sought to make the landscapes and cultures he encountered a part of his writing, but a part of his being and existence.

Keywords: Jack Kerouac, Landscape, Land, Continent, Embodiment, Body, Beat Generation, Mexico, America, Travel

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 10, pp.235-244. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 758.429KB).

Melanie Keomany

School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melanie Keomany is a Master of Arts candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis explores representations of Mexico and Latin America in selected works of the Beat Generation in comparison with Octavio Paz’s portrayal of Mexican culture in his essay El laberinto de la soledad.


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