A Beat Memoir Essay

1063 words - 5 pages

Johnson constructs this bitter-sweet and lyrical memoir from her relationship with aspiring Beat writer Kerouac in 1957. Johnson re-creates her memoir from the confessional perspective she wishes to be heard, and she mentions Robert Lowell to emphasise this confessional element .The author “is behind the text, controlling its meaning,” using “intentionality” (Anderson, 1988, p2). Also Johnson uses her text as catharsis and as “self-defence” in response to Kerouac’s writings. (Lee, 2000, p.98) to reclaim the power she had relinquished to Kerouac.
Johnson selects a bleak passage from Kerouac’s novel Bleak Angels, to illustrate his “woman hatred”: “For that lumpy roll flesh with the juicy ...view middle of the document...

Johnson does more than tell, she uses double subjectivity to let the reader understand the two Joyces, the naive one who “put on a lot of eye shadow” (p.127) to attract Kerouac, and the ‘other’ older woman who is “wondering all the same if it was true” (p.131), as the reader may be. Johnson demonstrates the “crucial link between author, narrator and protagonist,” (Lejeune in Anderson, p2). All three co-exist in the text, but none can be the real Johnson because, as Mandel argues, autobiography “pretends to be the whole life of the author” but “is a construction” (1980, p.570).
The author’s view of herself and Kerouac are narrated as separate strands: “as our paths converged in Howard Johnson’s we’re looking for different things.” (p.128). Johnson sets up the dichotomy of the battle of the sexes as “a funny game where I knew you weren’t supposed to blink, no matter what.” (p.130). This creates sympathy with the female reader as Johnson’s memoir is that of ‘Everywoman’ who do “not mind what he does” (p.133) and have “no wishes of my [their] own.” (p.129).
Johnson also celebrates the excitement of the late fifties, emphasising outsider Glassman’s “expectancy” (p.262) although she realises that “as a female she’s not quite part of this” as for Kerouac “women are all portrayed as spoilsports.” (p.260). This feminist text reflects with a tone of sadness a young girl who “never managed to explore as completely as I longed for” because in the 1950’s women bore the burdens of free love “on the abortionist’s table in the white room ...” (p.133) and Glassman’s mantra of “FLY NOW: PAY LATER” (p.129) is shockingly true for women but not for men.
Johnson employs a bitter-sweet tone, with humour tinged with sadness. The stray cat she rescues is symbolic of the untameable Kerouac, the cat “spends his days on the windowsill longing for the street ... vengefully spraying shoes” and trying to “pry the window open” (p.130).
Glassman viewed herself as “very small in that apartment” (ibid) reminiscent of “... everydayness ... bacon and eggs in the morning or the middle of the night,” (p.131) emphasising her...

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