A White Man in Love: A Study of Race, Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Jack Kerouac's Maggie Cassidy, The Subterraneans, and Tristessa.
This focus on color should not surprise readers of the Duluoz legend. As Kerouac wrote in Lonesome Traveler (1989, 39), the African-American was "the essential American." In many respects, Kerouac's fascination with race and ethnicity, conjoined with gender and class codes, addresses what Toni Morrison describes in Playing in the Dark (1993) as the white writer's expression of his/her dream through the presence of the black character. According to Morrison, the white writer throughout American literary history has used the story of the "Africanist presence," a black person as bound and/or rejected, to reflect on humanity, specifically the risky venture of exploring one's own body in the guise of the sexuality, vulnerability, and anarchy of the other" (1993, 53). Kerouac engaged in this process through ficto-autobiography--repetitively confessing and reconstructing his own history through the imaginative rendering of memory.
In the love stories, this attention to color works not only to accentuate the black presence but also to conflate racial categories so that Kerouac's creation of dark characters not explicitly black, such as Maggie and Tristessa, encodes a subtext of "otherness" that speaks of the black experience as well as that of other marginalized groups. These forms complicate the story of race in America, demarcating and blurring boundaries of human cast and producing imbrications that defy our efforts to separate them. By so doing, the darkness of the Kerouacian female and her allegorical Africanist heritage become the allegory of Kerouac's own condition as a marginalized male, a masculine hybrid.
It's critical that we not lose sight of Kerouac's hybrid status. The commercialization of his image, especially his recent elevation to white-collar advertising icon, has all but erased his history as the French-speaking son of working class, French-Canadian Catholics in ethnically diverse Lowell, Massachusetts. But it's a history that bequeathed him a complicated identity, one which transformed his own Caucasian heritage into something of a sinister monolith, a force to be feared and shunned but nonetheless revered.
"White" has never been essentialist. It is an unstable historical and social category characterized by particular groups moving in and out of its boundaries through the vagaries of legal codification.  In the Lowell of Kerouac's youth, French-Canadians were more privileged than some who could not have the same "purity" of lineage. It was a heritage Kerouac remained proud of all his life. But French Canadians were also considered by many to be stupid and lazy. As a result, they bore the brunt of a prejudice that labeled them les blancs negres (Nicosia 1983, 15).  Complicating matters, Kerouac claimed Irish and Native-American descent, an ancestral mix that, whether actual or a product of family lore, aligned him with peoples long denied personhood. Kerouac then grew up an ambivalent amalgamation, the maligned and homeless "Canuck," a hybrid of hybrids.
It is this identity, a paradoxically unstable and rigid formation, that to a great extent propels the movement of his love stories. His engagement with the Africanist presence fuels the project of self-construction, drawing upon a host of linguistic strategies to flesh out a consciousness that expresses distrust of all color markers, especially the label "white male." In particular, we find those strategies that Toni Morrison identifies: economy of stereotype, metonymic displacement, metaphysical condensation, fetishization of race, dehistoricizing allegory, and patterns of disjointed, repetitive language (1993, 67-69). All converge in images of the conflicted white man in love with the dark woman.
To portray this female, Kerouac relied upon three character types: the white goddess, the fellaheen, and the grotesque. The goddess appears as the "White American Woman," or "The Good Blonde" as he named her in a short story of the same title. She is the foundational block of his protean self, that which he must deify, reify, and vilify as he wrestles with identity. Pure and beautiful, a trophy wife or girlfriend signifying economic, social, and spiritual success, the White American Woman is the converse of the blemishes and orifices of the (dis)functioning sexual and social body, negating the mid-twentieth century American fear of corruption represented by loose and domineering women, homosexuals, blacks, and other "deviants." Her powers are illusionary, however. A pastiche of religious iconography and Hollywood celluloid, she reflects the antithetical cultural paradigms with which he existed: the pure asexuality of the Virgin Mary merged with the more open and attainable sexuality of the female movie star.
Kerouac juxtaposed the White American Woman with the fellaheen, or "wailing humanity" as he called them in On the Road (1979, 280).The fellaheen is a subset of the primitive, a category to which Western culture has historically relegated blacks, women, and the feminine. Presented discursively, the body of the primitive, particularly the female, is often constructed as over-sexed, devious, diseased, irrational, voiceless, fit only to breed or labor. This is the subjected body, created through systemic practices of violence and ideology. In this respect, Kerouac's attraction to it replicates a Western pattern of using the primitive body to encode desires that we seek to repress, to sustain practices of domination and subordination. Specifically, Kerouac used the fellaheen to negotiate what he understood as the natural and supernatural. The interplay is complicated, the female fellaheen becoming the earthly substance with which, and the surface upon which, his narrators recognize their own flawed character. This includes their inability to actualize personal and cultural definitions of self as well as their attempts to resolve perceived disjunctions between hegemonic cultural practices and the nature of self, spirit, and world.
These images are conjoined with a pattern of structures known as grotesque realism, a social and literary phenomenon rooted in European folk culture. As a bodily category, the grotesque embraces the despised, exoticized, irregular, and incomplete. It also defines the body as a site of ideological codification. As Mikhael Bakhtin argues in Rabelais and His World, grotesque realism of the Renaissance period is identified with the "low" culture of carnival, comedy, and social rebellion and conceives of the body not as an individual unit but as a social body. Drawing upon metaphysical condensation to destroy the human oppressor, it blends with the world, animals, and objects, stressing the human mouth and the lower body parts which are open to the outside and undermine body/world dualism (1984, 27, 317). Later during the Romantic period, the grotesque as a literary phenomenon viewed the world as alien and terrifying. Reconciliation with the body occurred in a "subjective, lyric, or even mystic sphere" (1984, 39) stressing the triumph of the individual. Kerouac had a deeply felt propensity for both forms, perhaps a legacy of his Catholic Breton heritage nurtured through folk customs in French-speaking Lowell.
The grotesque, in combination with the fellaheen and the White American Woman, provides an ideal mechanism to create indeterminacy, open-endedness, counter-identification, and disidentification--all key elements in Kerouac's love stories. As the remainder of this discussion demonstrates, his ficto-autobiography, focused on the generating power of the dark female, adjusts the belief that he extolled white masculinity at the full expense of women and minority males. While his prose tends to commodify people of color and white women, it is simply too easy to label him racist and misogynist. The Duluoz legend presents a much more complex mapping of the human project.
Maggie Cassidy is the story of Kerouac's high school romance with a 17-year-old, working class, Irish girl. Told through the tightly woven perspectives of three Jacks (16, 20, and 32 years old), the book chronicles his courtship of Maggie from 1939, his last year at Lowell High where he is a star athlete, to 1943, the year he ships out as a merchant marine. Kerouac's Maggie is his first and purest love, a variant of the white goddess. While their story features no fellaheen women per Se, his account of the relationship establishes imaginative patterns of the fellaheen and the grotesque that lay the groundwork for Mardou Fox, and Tristessa. Maggie Cassidy also exemplifies his ability to control the discipline of ficto-autobiography to such an extent that his conclusions about the social conditions of America surpass as authentic transformative rhetoric those of The Subterraneans and Tristessa. The book argues that those who refuse to defy the cultural formations of identity participate in the dehumanization o f themselves and others.
In the first several chapters, Maggie, whom he meets on New Years Eve 1938, emerges as the sublime antithesis of young Jack's "Canuck half-Indian" gawkishness (1993,30). Orchestrating the majestic language of romance, Jack presents a Janist-faced Maggie surviving in his memory as saint-like whiteness and ancient female darkness. He venerates her god-like whiteness, but it is her freckled ethnic body, her dark agrarian Irish ancestry which Jack believes he shares, that allows him freer play. Imagining himself inside her darkness, he discovers the possibility of potentialities which he expresses as a Whitmanesque catalogue of masculine roles. Some beautiful, some ugly, all the selves that he desires and despises -- "her brother, husband, lover, raper, owner, friend, father, son, grabber, kisser, keener, swain, sneaker-upper, sleeper-with, feeler, railroad brakeman in red house"--he maps out on the dark interior of her body (1993, 77). This darkness, evoking the primitive exotic, is a force of beauty and elegan ce for Jack, the promise of self-knowledge and self-definition, a sign of maturity and manhood.
But the image of classic beauty quickly breaks down. Jack revises his initial impression of Maggie, remembering that she had appeared "small, thin, dark, unsubstantial" (1993, 36), thereby creating a desexualized female body, somewhat like, but a distorted form of, the saintly white body. The shape of sex, which threatens classical perfection, gives way to the body of the child. This manipulation has disturbing connotations (hints of the pedophile), especially because Maggie is so clearly a sexual being who attracts Jack just when he his own sexuality is awakening. The image of the child-like dwarf may well reflect Jack's deflated sense of himself projected onto Maggie, a device to bond them in memory. It may also act as a barrier to protect them, at least in Jack's mind, from sexuality, the full expression of which was thwarted by pervasive courtship customs of the day and the doctrine of Irish and French-Canadian Catholicism, both of which conflate sex and love, allowing limited expression of love and dema nding sexual abstinence by "good" girls and respect for this abstinence by "good" boys.
Consequently, the only recourse Jack and Maggie have when they begin to date is to neck and pet, integral components of the dating system when Kerouac was a teenager (Bailey 1998, 81). But their behavior is by no means chaste. Their response to the body and to the social codes controlling that body suggests a subterranean system defying mainstream tenets of identity. They practice a strange kissing ritual that involves chewing on each other, interchanging spittle, and sustaining the kiss until their muscles cramp and their lips crack and bleed (Kerouac 1993, 37). This grotesque image records an act of cannibalism, the acting out of the stereotypic "black" (i.e., sexual, sinful, immoral, lower class) to counter the "white" (i.e., nonsexual, good, moral, middle-class), a socially acceptable way of having sex and not having sex.
Jack notes that neither he nor Maggie know why they do this, although they've heard that other teens do the same. He also speculates that the kisses are fueled by a "gigantic sexual drive" as well as "the fear of the world" (1993, 37). His hypothesis, a product of maturity and hindsight, is astute. When sex is subsumed by the romantic concept of love as holy, as it is for Jack and Maggie, when religious rites and class consciousness codify sex, we render the body something to be feared, especially the sexually awakening body. The world itself, which is their future represented through the body, also becomes an object of fear. Disfiguring the lover's perfect, untouchable mouth, consuming bits of each other, the young couple symbolically, and largely unwittingly, negate the culturally mandated restrictions of gender and sex roles, the isolation and impotence that accompany such restrictions. In other words, they coax each other into the world.
For Maggie, this means pleading with Jack to marry her and live with her in Lowell, a request that is not unreasonable. Maggie, who failed to complete junior high, has few opportunities other than that faced by generations of poor Irish girls: marry and have children, a condition upon which her own success as a woman depends. A part of Jack desperately wants to accept this future. Maggie's darkness, like the brown fellaheen glow that he associates with Lowell and uses as a watercolor wash throughout the book, is the aura of his ethnicity and working class identity that he values and seeks to preserve. In this respect, his feelings are not unlike those of many ethnic individuals, whose intense desire to retain the heritage of family and country is buttressed by the fear of the larger "foreign" world in which the vulnerable ethnic group exists as a subpart, a component that faces diminution or obliteration through Americanization.
But Jack also associates marriage to Maggie with personal and cultural stagnation. If he marries her, he loses his childhood, family security, status as a star athlete, and freedom to hang out with his gang and to date other girls. Then, too, remaining in Lowell negates the middle-class aspirations of his parents, who, like millions of working class Americans, plan a better life for their son, including the furthering of his education. Maggie's darkness, akin to the Lowell tenements stained with ethnicity and working class identity, threatens this future. Paradoxically, then, Maggie comes to signify the absence of movement, of progress, of becoming.
As Maggie's world rushes in on him, Jack seeks to seal off the orifice through which it pulses, transforming her saintly darkness into the bestial grotesque: "a little darklashed lowered disbelief and nay, loose ugly grin of self-satisfied womanly idiocy-flesh, curl of travesty-cruelty" (1993, 92-93). He contemplates "ripping her mouth out," that is, denying her the world and life and then of murdering her which he admits wanting to do. But Jack can't kill Maggie. Hatred is converted into tenderness, which opens the door to the life-affirming, lower stratum of society, enabling him to both affirm Maggie's goodness and nullify her presence through imaginative reflection on their love. Conflating the temporality of his 16-year-old memory with the present, the narrator constructs a visionary tableau conjoining Christ's feet nailed to the cross and those of poor fellaheen workers who stand with one foot on the other to keep warm"(1993, 41). This double image transmutes into Maggie and Jack himself. Ecce homo! Ma ggie, Jack, and the fellaheen become the grotesqueness of Jesus, his mutilated body, destroyed by human sin, embracing the depravity (grotesqueness) of the human condition and the potentiality (perfection) of redemption. Maggie, the horrific female, is subsumed into the gentle masculinity of the crucified Christ. This configuration is not the strict social life of the Renaissance grotesque as Bakhtin presents it but a rendering of the grotesque as a generative form pulling the supernatural down into the natural realm.
The passage positions Kerouac as a self-perceived outcast who cannot participate in the American dream of economic plenty, someone so marginalized, and fatalistically so, that he huddles outside the economic spectrum. This is a terribly bleak vision of the immigrant future and a sharp criticism of American political and economic beliefs. It also prompts us to question the processes by which a culture stratifies itself, certain subsets nurturing amongst other subsets feelings of inferiority through institutional practices (such as church doctrine) to maintain the hierarchy However, legitimate as it may be, Jack's critique of American culture is somewhat disingenuous. Unlike the fellaheen, he has chosen to opt out of the dominant culture and can move back into it whenever he desires, a pattern in Kerouac's fiction for which he is legitimately criticized. Ironically, he is his most vocal critic, his narrators chastising themselves for lacking the strength to live as a fellaheen. But despite such self-awareness, he affirms his and his nation's own whiteness, i.e., the freedom to move at will, each time he rejects the fellaheen, which must be denied if others are to survive.
To this point, Maggie Cassidy reflects the narrator's polarized consciousness: his desire to distinguish himself as a white male from all other human beings and his need to eschew belief in the supremacy of the white male. However, the novel argues that both are possible, and may even work in concert, because of the African presence. This dynamic is revealed in the book's most dramatic episode, the 30-yard dash that Jack runs against an African-American male from nearby Worcester North High School. Significantly, the meet appears in the text soon after Jack contemplates killing Maggie. Social codes and his feelings for her prohibit direct attack, so he must find a surrogate whipping boy. The young man is John Henry Lewis, a name that evokes the fellaheen railroad worker of folk legend, John Henry. Throughout most of the episode, however, he is called "the Negro" or "the colored boy."
The track episode appears to be an amalgamation of two high school meets in which Kerouac participated in January 1939.The Lowell team competed against Worcester North on January 14. Kerouac set the pace for a team victory by winning the 30-yeard dash, but he did not compete against an African-American runner. No African-Americans attended Worcester North at the time, and Kerouac's opponents in the dash were white students from Lowell. The second event, Lowell v. Worcester Commerce, was held on January 7 in Lowell. The Commerce team, which beat Lowell, included one African-American, Matthew Jenkins, a junior who ran the 30-yard dash, soundly beating Kerouac who placed third.  These events as Kerouac restructured them transform his defeat by an African-American into a victory signifying personal and cultural aggrandizement. Understandings of manhood, success, acceptance, and the future are all worked out by demonizing, glorifying, and humanizing this young black runner.
Jack fears being beaten by a black man, an event that would signal Jack's inferiority. He also wants desperately to protect his white city from invasion by the black foreigner, likening himself and Lewis to "warriors of two nations." To this end, his father encourages him. Emil Duluoz calls Lewis a "bastard" and denigrates him with racial stereotypes--"they're supposed to run like damn streaks! the antelopes of Africa!," instilling in Jack the mandate that he must beat back the terrifying presence of the dark continent, prove his manhood, and by implication legitimize his birthright as Emil's son and an American. Jack participates in this thinking, imagining Lewis as a grotesque lion with a reptilian head and "venom tiger eyes" (1993, 97, 101).
The race itself is a Homeric feat. Like Ulysses, Jack wins with physical skill and cunning. He beats the gun, just barely and legally (he believes) and just enough to fly past Lewis. As he does, he takes ownership of him, thinking of him as "my Negro, my Jim," an act of psychological enslavement created by fear of the black other. As slave master, he beats "his Negro," he recalls, not with muscle (or the body) but with the mind (the not-body) (1993, 103), emerging as a world conqueror, even surpassing, as his father tells him, the triumphs of another black man and national hero, Olympic gold-medallist Jesse Owens (1993, 111).
The process obliterates the life-threatening grotesque, maintains the status quo, and glorifies individual achievement. As the African presence, Lewis embodies the enslavement and degradation from which Jack must run if he is to escape Lowell. Then too, as the grotesque as cultural symbol, Lewis personifies the threat of anarchy, the destruction of the known social order, and the immanent breakdown of the separation of the individual (white) ego from the body of low (black) culture. A subpart of this dynamic also amplifies sexuality, the competition metaphorically suggesting that white male conquest of the white woman, that is, Jack's power over Maggie, is propped up by his conquest of the black man.
But the narrative resists the false ideology of separating the body from the world. Although Jack says that he legally beats the gun, a reader might suspect that the white youth had an unfair advantage. We also know that Maggie does not witness the race; she's across town at a dance with another man. Without her presence and knowledge of his victory, Jack's defeat of Lewis fails to defeat Maggie. In addition, the implied narrator denies racial essentialism, acknowledging that his youthful concept of race has been fed in part by the "circuses and unclean magazines" (1993, 98) of popular culture. "[Y]our exotic is just a farmer," the older, wiser narrator tells his younger self, "he goes to church ... has a father, brothers as well as you ..." (1993, 103).
If the book were to stop here, we could declare that the African presence as literary device envisions the real lives of African-Americans. It doesn't, however. The narrator returns John Henry Lewis to the status of a channel for self-expression, likening the runner's physical gestures to those of early bop musicians. Lewis becomes the older Kerouac's personal iconography, the embodiment of revolutionary, hip, and ultra-modern art. The image of creativity, rebellion, and heroism in the face of social denigration is more positive than that of the slave, but it is still romantic racism dehumanizing Lewis. As such, it illustrates what Morrison sees in the tortured conclusion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the simulation and description of the parasitical nature of white freedom (57).
Kerouac sustains his literary meditation on white and black in the remainder of the novel through memories of the disintegration of Jack's relationship with Maggie. Three key scenes emerge: Jack's 17th-birthday party, the Horace Mann prom, and the couple's last meeting in 1943. Elements of the grotesque dominate each, but it is the birthday party that incorporates the carnival aspect of the grotesque as one of the most powerful critiques of dehumanization. A form of spectacle commemorating official celebratory days, carnival sits on the border between art and life and is shaped by patterns of play, such as laughter, clowns and fools, equalization, and temporary liberation from prevailing truth and established order (Bakhtin 1984, 7). The party, taking place on March 12, the cusp of winter/death and spring/life, encompasses all of these. There's game playing, gift giving, drinking, sexual foreplay, and the raucous sounds of French joual mixing with English. Everyone is in high spirits except Jack who cannot a ccept Maggie's flirting with his friends and father. He becomes a jealous anti-clown, his illusions--personal, social, and relationally bound--barring him from renewing life with Maggie through spectacle.
To illuminate the process, Kerouac used phenomena in his own life, two newspaper photographs documenting his party exposing them as devices by which culture constructs restrictive templates of self identity. The camera, as Kerouac shows us, is used to manipulate a reality grounded not in objectivity or an a priori essence but in the narratives we use to make meaning--and thus the self. Aware of this, Jack refuses to smile for the camera, but the resultant images are no less false. In The Lowell Sun, he looks like "a moronic ...unnamably abnormal beast of a boy" surrounded by family members sentimentally arranged to protect him. In The Evening Leader, he stares at the world like a "Greek athlete hero with curly black locks, ivory white face" (1993, 142). Neither is an impartial reflection of reality nor a purely subjective impression of reality. Both represent a self based on a complex tapestry of public discourses prescribing masculinity, each reflecting identities recognizable to Jack. Together they speak t o the fluid and fragmentary nature of subjectivity.
Upon seeing the photos, Jack prefers classical beauty to the grotesque because it better suits his dream of wealth and fame. But he also senses that the classic image is falsely grounded in ego and isolation, thereby prohibiting him from enjoying life-affirming carnival and acting like his pal Iddyboy, another French-Canadian youth who without Jack's dreams of masculine greatness punctuates the party with a cry of "lifeloving girlhugging fence-crashing hungry satisfaction ..." (1993, 143). Iddyboy's outburst is a trademark signal of Kerouac's affinity for the fellaheen. It compels him to seek time and again those who defy the determinacy of a future structured through economic success, family, and dour regimentation--those with "the biggest laugh" he'd ever heard. Carnival, after all, doesn't happen just once; it must be ritually repeated.
Awareness is no guarantee of action, however, and Jack's failure to embrace carnival signals his decision to leave Lowell and Maggie to seek his future at the Horace Mann School where he's to play football and prepare to enter Columbia. His first night in the city, he contemplates what he calls his "post-Iddyboy" future, an idiomatic expression for post-grotesque, post-ethnic, and post-Maggie. He sees himself as an "American Super Dream Winner, Go Getter, Wheel," wearing a snow-white scarf, conversing in white dialogue balloons, and married to a sexy blonde of "starry perfection." The whiteness of American masculinity and superiority introduces his ultimate fantasy: his desire to rewrite the history of two dark worlds--Africa and Spain (1993, 166-68). It's not by chance that his vision unites sexual and economic success and dominance over the African. In the American imagination, these are necessary for freedom and selfhood, concepts built upon the systemic and institutionalized belief in the inferiority of women and people of color, especially African-Americans. But it is also significant that Kerouac places himself in a cartoonish, Hollywood scenario, thereby sustaining his critique of the dream as shallow and artificial.
The conclusion of the book relentlessly pursues the shattering of American whiteness. The process is set in motion when Jack invites Maggie to his spring prom. Kerouac's telling of the event accurately portrays the commodity driven character of middle-class dating in the late thirties and early forties. He bluntly recounts that wealthy white fathers buy the accoutrements of beauty so their white daughters can be "purchased," or dated, by white men (1993, 180). Maggie and Jack, described as darker-skinned, contrast sharply with the sophisticated city couples whose class is encoded in color: masculine whiteness by the urbane language of Horace Mann's Jewish crowd, feminine whiteness by powder and jewels. Plainly, Jack and Maggie are out of their league, and, equally as plain, the whiteness of Jack's chosen world is false.
The text fails to present a meta-discursive analysis of how language perpetuates patterns of domination, but the brief linking of whiteness and Jews suggests that Jewish whiteness is a construction like other forms of race and that Jack harbors feelings of inferiority and resentment toward Jews. The text also hints that Jack's own non-whiteness, a bright red face created by his egotistical misuse of a sun-lamp, may be false as well, a sign that he remains ambivalent about both his white and non-white identities.
Unable to fully use his own body to confront oppressive cultural formations of identity. Jack claims Maggie's naturally tawny body as the symbol of social and racial inequity. As Jack explains in perhaps the book's most perceptive passage, Maggie can't compete with the Horace Mann women because the interplay of class and color keeps her from knowing "it was done or how to do it or how to know [emphasis mine]" (1993, 180). Forms and practices of knowledge are denied her. The union of class, race, and ethnicity creates a glittery white costume masking natural "blemishes and freckles" (1993, 180) and exists as the pinnacle of a human hierarchy only because others are denied access through disadvantage and ignorance, falsely led to believe that their economic and racial/ethnic identity imply innate moral deficiency and personal failure. Whiteness becomes a class charade; race is nothing more than class in fancy dress.
Maggie intuits this and urges Jack to return to Lowell. But her speech, less that of a working-class Irish girl than it is Kerouac's own language, is laced with a rush of lyrical images and elliptical syntax characteristic of Jack's self-reflexivity. Appropriating her mouth, creating her voice, he prophesies his own future: "O Jacky come home have Christmases with me"; if not, "[y]ou'll burn yourself out like a moth jumping in a locomotive boiler looking for light" (1993, 184). The warning goes unheeded. As the narrative advances three years, we learn that Jack has left school, is working in a Lowell parking garage while waiting to ship out with the merchant marines, and has become mean-spirited. He meets Maggie and tries to have sex with her, but he's too drunk to perform. The scene, a pathetic reversal of the earlier one in which he imagined her body as a fecund text from which he can become everyman, signals the falsity of his decision to privilege the white, middle-class, masculine world. He is left bere ft. Life, the dark woman, laughs at him and walks away.
The Subterraneans and Tristessa
Despite the grim conclusion of Maggie Cassidy, Kerouac held onto the possibility of finding the dark woman. Rather than succumb to the role of passive, cynical spectator, he retained a more romantic belief in the power of self-agency and the dream of a classless America. In The Subterraneans and Tristessa, this vision is strengthened as the white American woman fades into the background, replaced by the fellaheen woman and race mixing. This focus is especially noteworthy considering that Kerouac wrote both books in the early fifties, a time when anti-miscegenation laws still existed in more than fifteen states. Even California, the setting for The Subterraneans, had not overturned its law until 1948 and upheld a firm invisible social code against interracial relationships, as did the rest of the country.
The Subterraneans is a gnarled and naked confessional centered on the intersection of race, class, and personal autonomy. It is more complex and self-aware than Tristessa, a short, bifurcated story favoring elliptical lyricism rather than self-reflection. But both share themes and formal structures, including first-person narrators who are again thinly veiled avatars of Kerouac, now a middle-aged writer riddled with self-loathing and disenchanted with the narrow-mindedness of white, middle-class, post-war America. Each narrator appears plagued with "sin," and while the specific sin remains unclear, it is evident that each believes his gender, race, and ethnicity to have left him much for which to atone. He is faced with a choice: elect a life of hatred and self-disgust or act to redeem himself and his nation. Each chooses the latter, acting on the critique of American culture that is the legacy of Maggie Cassidy by taking to the road in search of a new home and a new woman.
Leo Percipied settles with Mardou in the Beat underground of San Francisco; Jack Duluoz meets Tristessa in the slums of Mexico City. As the stories unfold, the fellaheen woman becomes the conduit through which the narrators find respite from obligation, regimentation, routinization, and inequality, acting as a metaphor for democracy, offering the gift of personal and social progress though the image of the embracing lovers. Love is not enough, however, to transform both the narrator and America. Leo and Jack cannot move beyond the nuanced consciousness with which Jack Duluoz concludes Maggie Cassidy, and they ultimately disconnect from the embrace to reestablish the supremacy of the white male and his predominance as a writer, in the process acting out Kerouac's understanding of the self as both fluid and centered.
Initially, Mardou and Tristessa represent the covenant of social regeneration through the social body, acquiring this power through membership in the "low" culture of the grotesque. Ostracized from family and friends, rejected as inferior because of their race and sex, they live on the borderland with deviants, clowns, and the unwanted. Their very bodies are the badge of membership. Mardou's is black and small, wracked by drug and alcohol use, psychic breakdown, male violence, and sexual excess. Tristessa's is even more distorted. Her Aztec ancestry is the brown veneer for a sarcophagus of rotting flesh housing the bones of a woman so addicted to morphine she can barely walk or talk. Their faces are dark flat screens upon which Jack and Leo envision a panorama of fellaheen images signifying equality and freedom.
Both women project a freakish quality, and a reader may have difficulty thinking of them as "grotesque" without substituting the term "freak. "This slip is not inappropriate. "Freak" has a contemporary social dimension relevant to Kerouac's use of the grotesque. The tradition of the freak as monster has a long history in European culture, but freakishness, radically democratic and open to individualistic self-appropriations of class, race, ethnicity gender, and sexuality, is a distinctly U.S. style of social dissent, manifesting itself most distinctly in the fifties as the Beat underground and then finding full form in the 1960's (Russo 1994, 75). This tradition of freak encompasses both the "freak of nature" and the "freak of culture." Mardou and Tristessa are born to the narrator as "freaks of nature," physically different from what he has known. Because they are part of the Beat culture ("beat" as Herbert Hunke used it, meaning "beaten down," and "beat" as Kerouac defined it, signifying "beatific"), they are also "freaks of culture," lonely, despised, and misunderstood by a society that denies them a legitimate place at its table. Relegated to the periphery, their beauty and humanity are visible to only a few truth seekers, in particular, the Kerouacian narrator who thrills at the sight of "actual" freaks, women unlike any other he has every seen, envisioning himself as them or in solidarity with them. Through their excesses--their criminal behavior, sexual promiscuity, flips, vulnerable child-like bodies, even the strangeness of Mardou's intelligence--Kerouac builds the body of his own mind, one so "criminal" that he cannot reveal it except through feminine masquerade.
Of the two, Mardou is the more complex and therefore her role as grotesque social body more complicated. Intelligent, well read, independent, perceptive, feisty, and physically strong, she is as tangible as Leo, and he respects her as much as he does his male friends and heroes who have suffered and endured. He perceives her as a redeemer, a young, "cool," black subterranean symbolizing his entry into San Francisco's intellectual, jazz-oriented avant garde. This "coolness" is a modern version of the stereotype of black women as exotics: Mardou as a beautiful yet distorted female blends elements of the masculine and feminine, the forbidden and the desired, into an exciting curiosity. When he begins to date her, possessing her body and appropriating her "otherness," he joins a younger, hipper group, shedding a self that he defines as aging and isolated; a dumb "Canuck" who can barely control the English language, his sexuality, or his huge ego; a marginalized ethnic racist with no self confidence. In this resp ect, Leo fetishizes Mardou's blackness, not in the sense defined by rigorous psychoanalytic theory but rather as a magical device that will transfigure him into his vision of the essential American.
As much as he would like to decenter whiteness and replace it with blackness, however, he remains a white male seeing others from this standpoint. His entry into the hip underground is conditioned by at least a slim tether connecting him to the white world of his ethnicity and the fantasy of the White American Woman. From the moment he meets Mardou, he whitens her. She reminds him of a white girl he knew in high school and about whom he had sexual fantasies. He also finds charming her new bop generation language which he describes as part "Negro highclass," part white, educated, beautiful rich girl language (Kerouac 1958, 10). This speech, also fetishized in her tiny, crooked front teeth through which she makes a "gleeful little shniffle" (1958, 37), establishes Mardou's race and sex as a magical bridge of carnivalesque rebirth between white and black cultures.
Consistent with this connection is the code whereby he enters the underground: he must establish himself as a sexually dominant white male. He first competes for Mardou with two white male friends, Julian Alexander (Kerouac's friend Lucian Carr) and Adam Moorad (the poet Allen Ginsberg). If he wins her love, he has defeated them (1958, 19). Second, he competes with a black male, effecting a defeat as grand as young Jack Duluoz's defeat of John Henry Lewis and Jesse Owens--he beats the black bop genius Charlie "Bird" Parker. Leo achieves victory through parasitic subordination and humiliation of the black man, remembering Parker "distinctly digging Mardou several times" (1958, 19) at a club where they go to see him perform. Leo notes that Bird's look is not challenging, but the explanation implies that in his own mind a battle has taken place, and the white man has won, wresting away the black man's property: the body and love of a black woman. Leo, however, can't live as this kind of oppressor. Highly consci ous of America's history of racial conflict--and of his own uneasy position as a white man in a racially divided society, he experiences racial guilt which he struggles to placate. Quickly erasing his domination of Bird, he images him as a gentle god with the power to foretell the demise of Leo's relationship with Mardou (1958, 20). While still a dehumanizing act (Bird as god is just as much a mechanism for Leo's new identity as is Bird the defeated lover), the image assuages racial guilt and restores to Bird a kind of power that the latter denied him.
Leo is well aware that by dating Mardou he breaks a social taboo, one so powerful that even some of his hip friends, such as Adam, choose not to violate it. The consequences are high. White America has long perpetuated potent romantic narratives founded on racial prejudice, and Leo has a great deal invested in such narratives. If he marries Mardou, his dream of living the Faulknerian life of a great white gentleman writer in the South will be destroyed. So will the romance of his own family. His mother, to whom he is deeply attached and for whom he feels responsible, will reject a black Cherokee daughter-in-law (1958, 62). So too will his sister and her Southern husband, with whom Leo may have to live. Unable to give up these particular dreams, he is, nevertheless, brave enough to break the taboo in part because of the benefits accrued by being with Mardou. Not inconsequentially, one of these is the opportunity to deal with his "race problems." In this respect, Kerouac's use of Mardou's body, the physical si gnifier of the human creation of (dis)privilege, functions as an intimation of human regeneration and social progress, a personal example of the larger civil rights movement gaining momentum in the fifties. His acceptance of her body, which an apartheid-based society has designated grotesque, as well as all else that constitutes her, professes faith in the human power to overcome prejudice and recognize our common human face.
Most dramatic is the way Leo deals with his fear that blacks are sexual mutants, manipulating the grotesque image of the regenerating social body to illustrate its more modern alienating form. For example, he imagines that her genitals are "a black thing . . . hanging" (1958, 63), a grotesque illusion with its hint of the hermaphrodite that repulses him. He confesses his fear, and although his articulation of it brings her pain (and, admittedly, to many readers as well), the risk pays off. She allows him to examine her, and by challenging the stereotype, they destroy the myth of black biological inferiority, concluding that black women are not pernicious (1958, 63). Unfortunately, Kerouac fails to treat black males the same. Those few who appear in the narrative are described as sexual perverts who expose themselves to Mardou (1958, 45-46). These images remain unexamined, standing as a grave injustice to black men in general and underscoring the cultural practice of hiding prejudice in the guise of "unbiased " reporting of someone else's experiences. But to his credit, Leo remains sensitive to Mardou's race-based experiences, enabling her to teach him about the perverse webbing that binds gender, skin privilege, and social codes of behavior.
Unbeknownst to Mardou, however, Leo also relies upon her body, voice, and personal history to achieve a complex dissolution of his consciousness producing a fusion with all life forms and a sermon on the condition of the American fellaheen. Reporting stories Mardou has told him about her past, he creates sub-narratives tightly woven throughout the central narrative of their affair. The sub-narratives are composed of Mardou's quoted speech, Leo's third-person paraphrases, and his own rhapsodic improvisational monologue. At times, the voice he creates for her is distinctly Kerouacian. As in Maggie Cassidy, Kerouac makes little effort to distinguish the vocabulary and syntax of the female from his own. For instance, when Mardou wonders why anyone would want to harm her, it is unquestionably Leo's (or Kerouac's) poetic voice shaping this fear: "I quaked when the giver creamed, when my father screamed, my mother dreamed--I started small and ballooned up and now I'm big and a naked child again and only to cry and fear" (36). This is not to negate Mardou's feelings of vulnerability. Rather it underscores the tendency of the narrative to displace the dark female with the narrator's own psychological state. This predisposition produces a doubling effect, confirmed when Leo realizes that he and Mardou are so alike that she is his sister (1958, 71).
Critical to this process is Leo's understanding that since Mardou never knew her parents she grew up with "no belief and ... no place to get it from" (Kerouac 1958, 22). Mardou, however, projects beliefs with each word she speaks, so it is not difficult to infer what Leo has done: interpret her past to license himself to write his own version of her history. Her oppression and liberation become his, and he is free to play with them at will. His imaginative encounter with her body comprises a metaphysical journey highlighting the impermanence of self and other. This theme dominates the narrative. Mardou as individual gives way to Mardou as racial and historical concept, warping into Mardou as surrogate male of color and then Mardou as white male Canuck Leo. The result is what Toni Morrison calls dehistoricizing allegory: the civilizing process as vast and indefinite, something "taking place across an unspecified infinite amount of time" (1958, 68) thus excluding history, both personal and cultural, as a proce ss of becoming.
Two passages illustrate this most clearly, both relying upon forms of the Romantic grotesque locating regeneration in a space both private and sublime. In the first, Leo focuses on Mardou's accounts of her history and suffering. As he listens, her contorted frame grows into "the background for thoughts about the Negroes and Indians and America in general but with all the overtones of 'new generation' and other historical concerns" (Kerouac 1958, 27). Situating the hipsters of the fifties against the huge canvas of the oppression of people of color in the United States, he contemplates the significance of the new underground and his own place in it. Mardou dissolves into the panorama of the American West, framing Leo's vision of the horror of white America's destruction of its own dark people, the nameless "wraiths of humanity treading lightly the surface of the ground so deeply suppurated with the stock of their suffering you only have to dig a foot down to find a baby's hand" (1958, 29). Pulling himself out of the reverie, he refocuses on the immediacy of her small body, the momentary destruction of time and space, through vicarious terror and redemption, bringing them closer together.
Leo depends upon this process which we see again when he retells Mardou's story about a shop where she encounters a man in a wheel chair surrounded by animals. The story delineates the life-affirming grotesque transformation down into the not human and the subsequent generation up into the spiritus mundi. Most of the passage appears as choppy verbatim quoting of Mardou, the twisted language an analogue of her physical and psychic grotesqueness. Punctuating the narrative are long asides in which Leo improvises upon the story. The first parenthetical contains a magical point of liminality portending a mystical denouement: Mardou passes through a doorway into a room filled with caged birds. She wants to stand in the cool green jungle of the story and communicate with the birds through their "birdy terror, the electric spasms of their ... squawk, lawk, leek" (Kerouac 1958, 40-41). Mardou's proximity to their life-filled mouths prepares her to talk with the man, which facilitates her connection to the ethereal ex panse of human wisdom. At this point, she ceases to exist as an individual for Leo who in response spins out a rhapsodic vision of her as a holy Negro Joan of Arc, who on a fine Easter day, the promise of resurrection in the air, mutates into the city of San Francisco, its history and multi-cultural citizenry. Her blackness, and thus her martyrdom, becomes a mystical force balanced with the whiteness of the city. Together, they empower Leo to call forth the specter of her father, a fellaheen shadow of himself (1958, 44). The possibility of social reformation, the destruction of the barrier between Leo and the world of the oppressed, the eradication of his and his nation's racial guilt, becomes actualized truth for him.
Two years later, living in Mexico City and writing Tristessa, Kerouac remained transfixed with this concept of truth. It is not insignificant that the narrative, highly confessional with little plot or character development, is set outside the United States in a place where racial distinctions appear less prevalent. Jack's Mexico City is the heart of fellaheen country, a land cut off from the social hierarchy dominating the United States. In On the Road, he calls Mexico the place where we "will finally learn ourselves" (1979, 280), and in Tristessa, one of those lessons seems to be that since America has failed its own people a classless society is possible only where the illusions of black and white blend and are negated by brown.
Tristessa, presented as the brown fusion of Maggie and Mardou, the amalgamation of Billie Holliday, Ava Gardner, and the Viennese actress Louise Rainer (Kerouac 1960, 8), embodies this exotic ideal, which is rooted in the grotesque negation of the pristine and sanitized. Everywhere he looks, Jack sees the despised and deviant. All live on the streets or in tiny, filthy rooms. Tristessa's home is no different. It's littered with garbage and inhabited by her pimp El Indio, her sick sister, a dove on the mantelpiece, a cat, a hen, a rooster, and a howling Chihuahua "pooch bitch" (1960, 14). The mouth and the genitals form the center of this grotesque world. The kitten mews and pees; the dove makes leery human teeth-grins; the dog yelps in heat; the cock screeches; the sister moans and vomits; El Indio jabs needles into gaping holes in his arms; and Tristessa pleads for sex. It is a hellish zone into which the refuse of the "straight" world has been poured, and Tristessa's body is the dark hole around which the debris swirls, including Jack himself. Jack gives himself up to the dark vortex, believing that in the very pit of human misery there resides the truest form of human life. At first, he perceives it as a "golden movie" of his own creation, an illusion of no substance. But by giving himself up to it, accepting its "inside-outness," he opens the way for rebirth through the destruction of illusion. Participation in the social world is possible because he can imagine Tristessa's hellish room not simply as dark, desperate, and evil but tinted with Rabelasian comedy, especially self mockery and animal/human transfusion.
The latter is expressed most consistently through Jack's association of Tristessa with the kitten in her room whose tiny, flea-bitten body encapsulates her goodness and suffering. As Jack thinks about and cares for the kitten, he does the same for Tristessa. The boundaries between her body and the kitten's vanish, the distance between Jack and Tristessa melts away. But he also mocks himself as a clown whose silly earnestness and naivete convince him to make friends with all these creatures with whom Tristessa lives. He negates his own high-mindedness in a comic scene in which Tristessa's rooster and hen are metamorphosed into a cartoonish human couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gazookas. The "Mr." chuckles and yells; the "Mrs." wears an adjustable hat draped over her beak (Kerouac 1960, 20). In both cases, animal, woman, and man become consubstantial, the shade of death mutating into birth. Life and joy pour in.
These visions hold all that the Kerouacian narrator has searched for, but couldn't find, in other places and with other women, and in one of Kerouac's most exalted examples of grotesque metamorphosis, Tristessa transcends them all, rivaling Christ himself. Struggling to make Jack understand that she prefers friendship to money, she pantomimes sex by crudely pumping her loins in the air. The act is a sign of sterility, a sad reminder that the only love she has known is that of a man who "give[s] it to her in the bed" (Kerouac 1960, 53). But as Jack watches, her pathetic gesture emerges as an image of the Annunciation. Standing with her legs spread, her vagina covered by her skirt but implicitly open to the world, Tristessa extends herself to the spirit of life which fills her being and radiates out from the crown of her head in the shape of innumerable hands (1960, 57). At that moment, she is a bod-hisattva and an angel.
This passage, typical of Kerouac's maneuvering of the female body throughout his fiction, illustrates his inability to sustain the earthly exuberance of the Renaissance grotesque and his tendency toward the Romantic lyricism of spiritual fulfillment. Pulled by the forces of a Catholic mentality and his study of Buddhism, his narratives resist the physicality of the body, and thus his own humanity. Of special repugnance is his sexuality which for both Jack and Leo is a prehistoric, masculine menace to themselves and others. The tendency to seek escape from the body and sexuality is channeled primarily through images of Mardou and Tristessa as the Virgin Mary. The dark woman is elevated into the realm of classical perfection where she exists as the very source of the mysterium tremendum, the pure and suffering Stabat Mater weeping at the sight of her crucified son. But this same fantasy also magnifies and sustains her grotesqueness. Even in virginal glory, Tristessa and Mardou remain pastiches of female ideals holding within themselves the destruction of the sublime. Their otherness, as black and Mexican, drug addict and psychotic, as womb and vagina, is so antithetical to the classic, asexual female iconography of the Virgin Mary that the narrator is repulsed by them. The fantasy of the Madonna imparts but momentary salvation, and he is left imprisoned and isolated, cut off from any woman with whom he can establish community.
The fragility of Kerouac's connection to the social body of equality is underscored by his manipulation of Tristessa's behavior after her apotheosis. At this point, she declares them nothing, pointing a finger at Jack and saying "you." Kerouac records a phonetic representation of her Hispanic accent that renders "you" as "Jew." In other words, you/Jew who are outcast, you/Jew who are despised, you/Jew who are condemned to wander the earth in search of a home. Jack faces himself as the dark-skinned Jew and sees "two empty phantoms of light ... ghosts in old haunted-house stories ... white and not-there" (1960, 57). This white nothingness is a specter of self-negation, the emptiness of not only the calm Buddhist mind but also the white Catholic self who fears damnation and annihilation. In this sense, Tristessa becomes an extension of Jack's psyche, an expression of his abjection, his self-loathing, and his condemnation of American culture.
Such darkness cannot long withstand the light of day. In both books, the blurring of the body politic, the fluidity and fragmentation of the grotesque, the possibility of equality and democracy itself, terrifY the narrators, threatening their desire for a unified self and the cultural milieu in which that self exits. The white, masculine writer faces extinction if he sustains identification with the freak and female. The dark female must be obliterated if the narrators are to be reborn and to survive.
In The Subterrnneans, Leo begins the process by returning Mardou to that which he had initially feared: the evil black female. Leo knows it's wrong, but he can't stop himself from thinking of her as a "Negress" thief, a sexual deviant bent on destroying all men (Kerouac 1958, 104). The sad irony here, which Kerouac recognizes, is that Leo's identity as a white male depends upon the demonization of the black woman. As long as she remains human, he remains enslaved. His fear of her, which he correlates with emasculinization, is so exaggerated that at one point he compares them to characters in Tennessee Williams's "Desire and the Black Masseur," a grisly story about race and sadomasochism. Leo identifies with Anthony Burns, the white, child-like homosexual in the story who, as a way of atoning for feelings of inferiority and racial guilt, becomes erotically addicted to beatings by a nameless Negro masseur, who harbors free-floating hatred of all whites. The masseur, whom Leo likens to Mardou, finally kills Bur ns, eats his flesh, and then drops a bag filled with his bones into a lake (1958, 68).The significance of this allusion cannot be underestimated. Leo, by transforming Mardou into a nameless, faceless, black man of unrestrained brutality, eradicates all that is real and good about her, exposing his deep fear that white heterosexual masculinity will be annihilated through intimacy with a black woman. He will die if he does not subdue this dark "unnatural" presence, if he cannot find a way to return to the asexual and isolating world of white masculine work (1958, 57).
The destruction of Mardou as an object of love is completed in the comic pushcart episode which begins with a nightmare Leo has in which Mardou cuckolds him with his friend Yuri Gligoric (the poet Gregory Corso). In the dream, the whole world, including the living and the dead (Kerouac 1958, 85), surrounds their bed where Leo lies naked, stinking fish heads besieging him and gigantic big blue flies biting him. Yuri and Mardou make love, and Leo wakes up just as he hits Mardou and tackles Yuri. The images of alienating grotesqueness, especially his battering of Mardou, foreshadow the night when Yuri steals a pushcart, uses it to taxi them home, and leaves it in front of Adam's apartment. Comedy quickly erupts. Adam and Leo over-react, lecturing each other in self-impressed style on the morality of the act, and slapstick breaks out as they throw their keys at each other. But in this case, comedy does not produce social transformation. The dream and the pushcart theft trigger in Leo deep feelings of jealousy Hi s fear, an extension of his fantasy that Mardou is a sexually perverted destroyer of white men, compels him to push her away He unjustly blames her femaleness and blackness for his own inadequacies, until she and Yuri finally "make it together," the coupling of their bodies signifying the final betrayal. When Leo learns about the cuckolding, his own body becomes terrifying: "the lower part of my stomach sagged into my pants or loins and the body experienced a sensation of deep melting down-- going into some soft somewhere, nowhere--" (1958, 148). Mardou's body of betrayal renders Leo's own body a parallel grotesque and their relationship impossible.
In Tristessa, Jack's relationship with the fellaheen woman is doomed long before he ever meets her. Metaphorically, the text suggests that democracy and self improvement cannot be achieved in a place apart. The farther one goes from the social body of one's origin, the farther one gets from meaningful progress, certainly from the symbolic fecundity of love. Tristessa's sordid history; especially the abuse of her body, signifies that she is incapable of loving any one. Jack has no control over her addiction which destroys her mind to the point where he likens her to an Aztec witch threatening to kill him. His deification of her and his belief that he loves her are worthless anodynes, and as she becomes more maniacal, her body begins to implode. In Part 1, she has convulsions, and in Part 2, her entire body particularly the lower stratum, becomes ghastly: her arms covered with cysts and one leg completely paralyzed (Kerouac 1960, 65). She eventually collapses, her head crashing against the ground, blood trickl ing out of her nose and mouth. The head, carrying the essential grotesque orifice of the mouth, moves downward past the womb and anus to the very ground from which the body springs.
The collapse is unquestionably a symptom of the physical death that she carries within her body. Symbolically, this linking of life and death signals the Renaissance rejuvenation of the social body and/or the Romantic transcendence of the individual into the sublime. Jack now rejects both. Tristessa doesn't literally die, but he manipulates her body so that in a metaphoric sense she does die, or more accurately, he kills her. First, he observes that Tristessa "has no body at all, it is utterly lost in its skimpy dress." Then he reports that Tristessa declares that she doesn't want love (Kerouac 1960, 91). The combination of his vision and Tristessa's words effectively negates her presence. Orifices through which the world can enter the body no longer exist, since the narrator has obliterated the body through his presentation of it. Jack cuts himself off from the social body promising redemption, freedom, equality and communal acceptance.
Jack and Leo finalize their escape from the redemptive body of the female by transforming themselves into a grotesque. Each becomes a freak of the freaks, a paranoid and hypermasculinized buffoon who abuses and abandons his love, condemning himself as unworthy and berating himself for not loving them enough. Returning to self-loathing and passivity, he falls into the role of a spectator watching his own orchestration of his own destruction. The pattern is introduced in Maggie Cassidy when Jack as a callous merchant seaman attempts to force sex on Maggie who rejects him. It is extended in The Subterraneans and Tristessa as the narrator is rejected by the freaks themselves, who in turn, pursue and torment him: Mardou and Yuri have an affair, and Mardou chooses independence over Leo. Tristessa also rejects Jack for another addict, choosing impotence and drugs over love.
But unlike Maggie Cassidy, which leaves Jack with only his own disgusting behavior, The Subterraneans and Tristessa present the narrator's freakishness as a self-constructed device for change and growth. Each concludes with the narrator newly formed as an agent of creation: Leo goes home to write the story of his love for Mardou, and Jack heads to Sicily and Arles to rewrite the legend of his life. Both are left alone in the freak show audience where they view the female as a celluloid sideshow, the illusion of freedom and equality which they look upon with a certain degree of sadness and guilt and then discard. With relief, the white male narrator takes off his mask as woman of color and exposes the face of a new man. With all its blotches and blemishes, inadequacies and infirmities, it's by no means perfect. But it's all he has. And it's enough with which to write a book.
Grace is Associate Professor of English at The College of Wooster in Ohio. She is the author of The Feminized Male Character in 20th-Century Literature (1995) and the coeditor of Beat Women and Beat Writing (forthcoming).
(1.) For example, the 1705 Virginia "act concerning servants and slaves" stated that no negroes, mulattos and Indians or other infidels or jews, Moors, Mahometans or other infidels shall, at any time, purchase any christian servant, nor any other except of their own complexion" (Rothenberg 1998, 102). In 1938, the Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled that "Negro" was the only definition of color and that Filipinos were not colored but white (Fuchs 1990, 140).A much less visible form of the mercurial definition of "white" appears in Al Hinkle's account of finding Allen Ginsberg a job on the railroad in San Francisco in 1952: "They wouldn't hire Allen as a brakeman at that time because they wouldn't hire any Jews as brakemen. At that time there was, actually, in the union, a clause that you had to be white--and that [didn't] include Jews, too" (Gifford and Lee 1994, 165). For a comprehensive discussion of the legal construction of race, consult Lopez (1996).
(2.) In correspondence with me, Gerald Nicosia explained his sources for this: When I did my interviews in Lowell in 1977-1978, many of the French Canadians and others told me of the pejorative use of the term "les blancs negres" to refer to French Canadians, though I gathered the term was more in use early in the century, when the French Canadian ghettos were more clearly defined. ... Part of that came from the fact that the French did not generally push their kids academically, toward college, etc., as the Greeks and Irish did, but took the lowest-paying, backbreaking jobs, like blacks in other big cities. Also, some of the French neighborhoods really were run-down, trashy tenements, which could easily suggest an inner-city ghetto. On top of that, many of the French had language problems, ... and I was told that French people would often be teased about their inability to pronounce the word "three," (t'ree). (Nicosia 1998)
(3.) Evidence indicating that these are the two meets includes Kerouac's specific reference to Worcester North as the team against which young Jack's team was competing and his use of "WC" for the race results as reported by The Lowell Sun reporter. See The Lowell Sun (1939a, 13), and (1939b, 15). Information about the Worcester North in-door track team came from Lynn Couture, library media specialist at Worcester North High School, and from Northern Lights, the Worcester North High School yearbook (1939). I obtained information on Matthew Jenkins with the assistance of Theresa Davitt, Worcester Historical Museum librarian, who consulted Caduceus, the Worcester Commerce yearbooks (1938-40), as well as The Commerce Mercury (November 10, 1938, and January 13, 1939).
Bailey, Beth L. 1998. From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Fuchs, Lawrence H.1990. The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture. Hanover: University Press of New England.
Gifford, Barry, and Lawrence Lee. 1994. Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Kerouac, Jack. 1958. The Subterraneans. New York: Grove Press.
___. 1960. Tristessa. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
___. 1979. On The Road: Text and Criticism. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: Penguin Books.
___. 1989. Lonesome Traveler. New York: Grove Press.
___. 1993. Maggie Cassidy. New York: Penguin Books.
___. 1994. The Good Blonde and Other Stories. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press.
Lopez, Ian F. Haney 1996. White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York: New York University Press.
Lowell Sun. 1939a. 9 January, 13.
___. 1939b. l6 January, 15.
Morrison, Toni. 1993. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Random House Books.
Nicosia, Gerald. 1994. Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. Berkeley: University of California Press.
___. 1998. "Re: Kerouac Questions." Personal e-mail. 10 April.
Rothenberg, Paula, ed. 1998. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Russo, Mary. 1994. The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity. New York: Routledge.
Williams, Tennessee. 1985. "Desire and the Black Masseur." Tennessee Williams Collected Stories. New York: Ballantine Books.
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|Author:||Grace, Nancy McCampbell|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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