In the only critical examination of all of Jack Kerouac's published prose, James T. Jones turns to Freud to show how the great Beat writer used the Oedipus myth to shape not only his individual works but also the entire body of his writing.
Like Balzac, Jones explains, Kerouac conceived an overall plan for his total writing corpus, which he called the Duluoz Legend after Jack Duluoz, his fictional alter ego. While Kerouac's work attracts biographical treatment—the ninth full-length biography was published in 1998—Jones takes a Freudian approach to focus on the form of the work. Noting that even casual readers recognize family relationships as the basis for Kerouac's autobiographical prose, Jones discusses these relationships in terms of Freud's notion of the Oedipus complex.
After establishing the basic biographical facts and explaining Freud's application of the Oedipus myth, Jones explicates Kerouac's novels of childhood and adolescence, focusing on sibling rivalry. Supporting his contention that the Beat writer worked according to a plan, Jones then shows how Kerouac revised The Town and the City (1950), his first published novel, in Vanity of Duluoz, the last novel published in his lifetime, to de-emphasize the death of the father. He treats three versions of Kerouac's road novel—including On the Road—as versions of Oedipus's fateful journey from Corinth to Thebes. And he argues that Pic, often considered peripheral to the Duluoz Legend, replicates the Oedipal themes.
Jones demonstrates that Maggie Cassidy, The Subterraneans, and Tristessa share a form that results from Kerouac's unresolved rivalry with his father for the love of his mother. He discusses Kerouac's replacement of the destructive brother figures in On the Road and Visions of Cody with the constructive hero of The Dharma Bums. He also shows how the Oedipal structure of the Duluoz Legend applies to Kerouac's nonfiction.
In the penultimate chapter, Jones explains how Big Sur, Kerouac's story of his alcohol-induced nervous breakdown, actually marks the climax of the Duluoz Legend. The alcoholism, Jones insists, is not the cause but a symptom of a breakdown brought on by his attachment to his mother. He shows how Kerouac's obsession with his family repeats Oedipal themes throughout the Duluoz Legend. Finally, he deals with Oedipal themes in Kerouac's nonnarrative work, including Old Angel Midnight, Some of the Dharma, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, and several poems.