Synopses & Reviews
Another autobiographical novel from Kerouac, The Dharma Bums, encompasses the ideals of freedom set forth by Whitman and Thoreau, with Buddhism thrown in for good measure. Focusing on the friendship between Ray Smith (modelled on Kerouac) and Japhy Ryder (Gary Snyder), the Buddhist sub-theme is evoked in Smith and Ryder's wish to introduce the concept of Dharma to others. Acknowledged by Kerouac scholars to be a more mature work than On the Road, The Dharma Bums is called "perhaps the most representative expression of the Beat sensibility in a work of fiction" by Sue L. Kimball in "Critical Survey of Long Fiction."
"Kerouac can describe a simple supper of pea soup and wild mushrooms, or even a spartan repast prepared from those little plastic bags of dried food carried by seasoned mountaineers, in a way to make your mouth water.... In his often brilliant descriptions of nature one is aware of exhilarating power and originality..." Nancy W. Ross, The New York Times Book Review, 10/5/1958
"Whatever one may think of the soundness of his philosophy, which at the moment seems to be Zen Buddhism, Jack Kerouac is a writer who cannot be charged with dullness. The Dharma Bums is as disorderly, ungrammatical, and readable as his On the Road, and while it contains less gaudy misbehavior it offers a better alternative to the gray flannel suit than the prisoner's uniform." Phoebe Adams, Atlantic Monthly, October, 1958
One of the best and most popular of Kerouac's autobiographical novels, The Dharma Bums is based on experiences the writer had during the mid-1950s while living in California, after he'd become interested in Buddhism's spiritual mode of understanding. One of the book's main characters, Japhy Ryder, is based on the real poet Gary Snyder, who was a close friend and whose interest in Buddhism influenced Kerouac.
About the Author
Jack Kerouac(1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.