restricted access Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend: The Mythic Form of an Autobiographical Fiction (review)
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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 499-501

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Book Review

Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend: The Mythic Form of an Autobiographical Fiction

James T. Jones. Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend: The Mythic Form of an Autobiographical Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. 278 pp.

The frontispiece of James T. Jones's latest study contains Jack Kerouac's own crudely drawn and previously unpublished diagram of personal relationships labeled "The Wheel of Life." This drawing, which combines the directional arrows and shape of a compass with intersecting x and y axes, shows a number of ever widening and ultimately unfinished concentric circles. The outer circles are filled with the names of Kerouac's friends, colleagues, and acquaintances--all of whom have fictional analogues as bit players in the massive body of work he referred to as the Duluoz Legend--, while the inner circles are reserved for intimates, childhood friends, and fellow writers--all of whom figure prominently in his fiction. His family members occupy the innermost circle and immediately surround the core that Kerouac has labeled "Me." This biographical wheel is an especially appropriate and telling symbol not only for Kerouac's heavily biographical fictions and poetry, but also for the radical new mythic reading of the Duluoz Legend offered in this trenchant, highly appropriate study.

With the recent Kerouac renaissance--which in the last five years alone has seen the release of a Fortieth Anniversary Edition of On the Road, a Twentieth Century Penguin Classics edition, four biographies, two volumes of selected letters edited by Ann Charters (Kerouac's first biographer), and a Charters-edited Portable Jack Kerouac--, it is only fitting that James T. Jones, the observant author of A Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac as Poet (1992), should provide critical comment. Just as this former book provided necessary geographical and even musical structures to Kerouac's then much-maligned verse, Jack Kerouac's Duluoz Legend offers an insightful and compelling critical form to Kerouac's prose.

There are three ways to read Jack Kerouac chronologically: biographical order, compositional order, and order of publication. By the time On the Road was released in 1957, Kerouac was in the enviable and rare position of having no fewer than half a dozen manuscripts he wanted to publish. The books were released out of autobiographical order due to Viking Press's desire for another road book (which they later received in The Dharma Bums), Kerouac's own dual frustration at attracting [End Page 499] a cult following instead of literary respect, and his inability to widely market his more experimental fictions such as Visions of Cody and Dr. Sax. His novels fall into two camps: the Lowell books, which chronicle his childhood and adolescence through his days at Horace Man Prep and Columbia, and his Road books, which relate his adventures on the road, his relationship with Neal Cassady and the members of the Beat Generation, his sudden fame, and his ultimate descent into alcoholism. This Duluoz (the fictional substitute for "Kerouac") Legend was Kerouac's attempt to make a grand scheme of his life, a fictional myth in the traditions of Balzac, Proust, and Thomas Wolfe.

While this approach has confounded and overly excited many critics and biographers, leading them to deal with Kerouac's life at the expense of his fiction, James T. Jones offers a compelling mythic context to the Duluoz Legend that not only provides the prose with a relevant psychoanalytic structure appropriate for autobiographical fiction but also illuminates Kerouac's craft as a writer (a neglected and mistreated subject due to the confused belief that Kerouac's self-professed "Spontaneous Composition" eliminated the possibility for revision altogether).

Jones uses Freud's discussion of Sophocles's Oedipus to observe Kerouac's fictional and real-life quests for literary and personal achievement in the wake of his older brother Gerard's death on Jack's third birthday, his problematic relationship with his father, and his disturbingly dependant life-long interaction with his mother. Because this careful and thorough biographical approach to Kerouac...