Dharma Bums

Buddhism and Sexuality in Jack Kerouac's “The Dharma Bums” College

The Beat Generation has always been associated, and rightfully so, with themes connected to sexuality. Beat writers were, and still are, famous for advocating sexual liberation and free love, being open about their homosexuality when that was the case (like Allen Ginsberg did for all his life), and much of their literary production is filled thoroughly with erotic experiences. All of this inevitably clashed, or merged, with the Buddhist faith that most of the Beats came in contact with, for different time spans and definitely with different results. The relationship between Buddhism and sexuality can be observed in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums, published in 1958. The novel's protagonists are Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder, based on Kerouac himself and his dear friend and writer Gary Snyder (who had largely introduced him to Buddhism), on a semi-fictional journey of self-discovery in the wild. The two have completely opposite approaches to sexuality: while Ryder has embraced it fully, Smith cannot find a way conciliate it with his commitment to Buddhist faith. Throughout the book there are several hints of the duality that troubles Smith, and the difficulty he encounters in trying to reconcile his religious side with his...

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