Beat to Death: the Beat Generation's Impact on Neal Cassady
The Beat Generation is one of the most influential movements in American literature. The lives of these writers are just as fascinating as their stories and poetry. The most important members and contributors were writer Jack Kerouac, poet Allen Ginsberg, and their best friend, lover, and muse Neal Cassady. These three men, as well as others along the way, would redefine the roles of men in a post-World War II America as well as create a new image for the country. Arguably, it was Cassady who was the catalyst for this movement, but he hardly wrote a word. He came to New York from Denver, where his past was fabricated and unbelievable, to have Kerouac teach him how to write. Cassady, the conman, wanted to learn from Kerouac and then from Ginsberg. He was immortalized in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as Dean Moriarty, the rebel from Denver, who always chose adventure over responsibility. Allen Ginsberg wrote him as a “secret hero” in his most famous poem “Howl” (Ginsberg 136). Both Kerouac and Ginsberg idolized Cassady but for different reasons. Cassady himself is an enigma, his entire life story a fabrication. He grew up on the streets of Denver, stealing cars and hustling. He was also an altar boy and a father of three, and even tried his hand at writing with his unfinished autobiography The First Third. With the help of Kerouac, he managed to make his life into what would later be the embodiment of the Beat Generation. Kerouac made him seem far more adventurous than Cassady perhaps really wanted to be. Ginsberg, on the other hand, drew upon Cassady’s sex life in his poetry, focusing on Cassady as a sex symbol. Both interpretations took a heavy toll on Cassady as he attempted to keep up with the demands of those who had read On the Road and “Howl.” For the rest of his life he would try to uphold the standards imposed on him by his friends and the youth of generations to come. The impact of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Cassady can be seen in every aspect of the writers’ lives. The standards they set for Cassady became the standards they themselves had to live up to and die by.