| Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1922. The last of three children, Kerouac's parents were from the French-speaking region of Quebec. French was spoken in the home and Kerouac did not learn English until he was about six years old. Just after Kerouac turned four, his older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever. The two brothers had become close during Gerard's illness and his death left the young Kerouac feeling particularly lost. But what Kerouac learned from his brother before his death, would stay with him forever. He explained later that Gerard had prompted a "reverence for life."
In many ways Kerouac was a typical young boy. He enjoyed athletics and was a very good football player. Kerouac began speaking English fluently at his public junior high school. His eighth-grade English teacher recognized a talent in the young boy and encouraged Kerouac to write and explore language. It was around this time that Kerouac began a life-long habit of carrying a small notebook in his pocket so that he might always be able to jot down notes or observations. As Kerouac grew older and entered high school his interest in language extended to an interest in literary classics. He was an intelligent young man who had a thirst for knowledge and the inspiration it might provide him.
The year 1936 brought a great flood to Kerouac's town and his father's business was destroyed. From this point on, Kerouac's family life would never be quite stable. Leo Kerouac began to put great pressure on his son to bring respect and pride to the family. Interestingly enough, Kerouac never seemed to resent this.
Kerouac graduated from high school in 1939 and then spent one year at a prep school called Horace Mann before entering Columbia. Kerouac broke his leg during a football game in the fall of his first year at Columbia. Although he returned to football and school the next year, war was declared in September and Kerouac left school shortly after that. Kerouac spent the next few years as a wanderer, and in and out of school. He also joined the United States Merchant Marines.
In 1944 Kerouac had hunted down an old friend, Edie Parker. Kerouac and others, including Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, and William Burroughs, began using Parker's Manhattan apartment as a meeting place. Kerouac was closest to Carr during this time and even suffered time in jail for the sake of his friend. Kerouac's relationships with Burroughs and Ginsberg would be better understood a few years later. Burroughs was a kind of idol to the younger Kerouac and served as his literary critic and close friend. Ginsberg, on the other hand, did not always get along with Kerouac. However the two men were close beginning in the winter of 1944 and together they shared a love of poetry and an appreciation for spirituality.
Leo Kerouac died of stomach cancer in May 1946. The death of his father was said to have liberated the young writer. It was shortly after this time that Kerouac sat down to write, The Town & The City, what would eventually become his first novel. Published in 1950, The Town & The City, is not directly autobiographical, though it does contain some elements of Kerouac's life. What the novel lacked was a particular style. The book's sentences were structured after those of Thomas Wolfe and although no style is ever perfectly unique, it was evident that Kerouac had not yet found his own personal style.
In the fall of 1946 Kerouac met Neal Cassady. Cassady would later be portrayed as Dean Moriarty in On the Road. The friendship between these two men lasted for almost a decade and had a deep effect on Kerouac's writing. The two traveled, worked, and even lived together for a short time. When On the Road was finally published by Viking in 1955 Kerouac already felt like an old man. Although only thirty-five years old, his body had been severely physically weakened after years of alcohol abuse. His spirit was tired, and he found himself wanting a private life rather than great publicity.
The media attention from the book only brought Kerouac down even more. His alcoholism got worse and he became depressed. Surprisingly enough though, he was able to write two more books. In October 1969 Kerouac suffered a burst vein in his stomach and died almost twenty-four hours later.
Kerouac's legacy is still being developed today. As coiner of the phrase, "Beat generation," Kerouac found that the term embraced his sense of America's victimization by its own social and scientific inventions. He believed the term characterized the feelings held by himself and others of being cast aside by the modern industrial state. He is remembered as a "misunderstood" writer who had a gift for telling stories.