From (of all places) Rotten.com:
In fact, (Jack) Kerouac too styled his friend a hero, specifically the “new American Hero”. Recall that in the 50s and 60s, many young people felt smothered by the American Dream. Adult America was obsessed with living the Good Life, and with protecting the American way of life — rescued from the teeth of the depression, fought for in World War II — from communism. The role model they held up to their kids was basically: get a good job, get lots of stuff, impress the neighbors, have kids, drop dead. That was it.
Normal people just weren’t supposed to deviate from this goose-stepping road to nirvana. So it took an abnormal person like Neal Cassady to give young Americans a sense that life could actually be something worth staying awake for. Cassady’s rip, rolling ride through life, following the beat of his own inner impulses (captured in literature in “On The Road”), inspired young people to set aside their inherited mental programming and set out on a path of exploration – first calling themselves the Beat generation, and later the Hippies.
In that light, it’s easier to be charitable towards some of their behavior. It’s almost always mistake to judge previous generations by current standards. Abraham Lincoln, considered too progressive on racial issues in his time, would be considered the worst kind of racist today (and would be excoriated on the internet). So I’m doing my best to keep an open mind.
What still bothers me, though, are passages like this one:
It was horrible to hear Camille sobbing so. We couldn’t stand it and went out to buy beer…
“Camille” was Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s then three-months pregnant wife. It’s hard to imagine such calloused indifference, in any generation.
It doesn’t seem possible to have an unquenchable lust for life that doesn’t also include love for your fellow human beings.
(You will either be delighted or horrified to know that I do have two more Kerouac books on the way- thank you for the recommendations, V. Alarcón-Córdoba!- so there will be more ruminations on the Beats to come.)