Visions of North America. Space and travel in the narratives of Henry Miller and the Beat Generation

2017 edition

Lucía Puebla

The aim of this investigation is to trace the role of spatiality and travel in the narratives of Henry Miller and the heirs of his spirit, the members of the so-called Beat Generation, especially Jack Kerouac. Both authors shared a harsh critique on the consumer society of the United States and of the Western culture in the twentieth century, greatly influenced by philosophers such as Oswald Spengler and Friedrich Nietzsche. As a manner of resistance and rebellion to the established order, Miller and Kerouac decided to go along on trips around United States and portray their experiences in their novels. Travel would mean, eventually, an acute awareness of the inner self and the external circumstances. The road and the road trip take a fundamental role and allow the implicit criticism to all what the authors think was wrong in North America: dehumanizing industries and technology, adulation of money, a passive commodity consciousness, lack of consistent social values…  With their raw depiction of reality, they exposed and unmasked the myths related to the imaginary of the United States: American Dream, American way of life, self-made man,land of opportunities…

Placing together two novels such as the unknown Henry Miller’s The air-conditioned nightmare (1945) and the famous On the Road (1957) allows figuring out the synergies between the two literary figures. With a particular use of the language, attempting to incorporate the argot and the language from the streets and innovative narrative forms, both writers succeeded in breaking the narratologic conventions and renovating the literary scenario of the times. They also broke with the conventions of the traditional travel writing and they inaugurated a new genre, protest road literatures. There are no more idyllic and bucolic representations of far-off, mythical lands, but a penetrating portrayal of the native country, full of reflections about its conflictive history and its unstable present.