Wednesday, September 17, 2014

They Used to be Adventurers, Now They're Just Pathetic

First and foremost I think Kerouac makes a distinction between bums and hobos and yet they are in essence the same people. They've just changed. He characterizes hobos as wanderers, seeking solace, celebrated in towns, and people that enjoyed experience. He named famous hobos like Benjamin Franklin, Jesus of Nazareth and Buddha. But he also names the reason for the change from hobo to bum, Kerouac blames propaganda and police for turning an American icon into something to be ashamed of. "In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation," (Kerouac 2977). There is a hostility against police officers that I had a little trouble understanding until he described his own experiences hoboing, running into police that didn't understand his plight and didn't offer any type of assistance beyond their judgments. The last line of the essay really sums up his feelings about what had changed things in the world of the traveler, "the woods are full of wardens" (Kerouac 2982), men were no longer allowed to roam free. There were always eyes watching, judging, and stopping them from truly exploring the world and being totally alone. Kerouac believes this police presence and over bearing nature chased nomadic hobos to cities and created the modern day bum. Even the word is less pleasant than hobo. He describes bums in a more pathetic sense, even though the hobo also relied on the help of strangers often to eat and get by the bums out stretched hand is seen as something to ignore and create tension and unease. 

Is Kerouac just romanticizing a time in his life by creating a distinction between being a hobo and a bum? Did police really perpetuate this negative stereotype of a nomadic way of life or was  the transition of hobo to bum more of a cultural change? 


  1. In a way he is probably romanticizing, but the way he described things, it does seem being a hobo in his day was much different than a bum today. Hobo then seems mysterious, like a journeyman that chose the lifestyle. Nowadays a bum is not thought of that way at all. I'm sure there were many reasons for the change, police and society probably being high on the list. I think as time went on it went from people choosing to do it, to people have to do it, and those that had to were more likely to cause problems so it got a negative connotation.

  2. Definitely some romanticizing. A big part of it also stesm from Keroac (and others') CHOICE to live the life of these "nomads" thinking that every person out on the street had chosen that life and preferred it. How many people became homeless and never recovered after the Depression? Where they troubadors, choosing to cast out the material world? How many of the men, women, and children living on the street would give anything for the tiny apartment he had in New York or his mid western home? It reminds me of The Swimmer actually, this man who think's he has or will discover something new. This 20th Century man who is still in love with the idea of being an explorer in a world or cars, radio, and national news. Kerouac met a similar end to Neddy, sad and drunk, caught in the tide of a culture he made for himself. Before them, men's purpose came from wars and how much land or slaves the owned, in the modern cities and the shadow of age setting in, they tried to create a new outback; something new to find and claim. They didn't realize until it was too late that there was nothing like that left.