‘The Words I Put in your Mouth: The Sexual Politics of Rambling and Direct Style in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa’

Harma, Tanguy. 2014. '‘The Words I Put in your Mouth: The Sexual Politics of Rambling and Direct Style in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa’'. In: 14th International Language, Literature and Stylistics Symposium (ILLS). Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey 15-17 October 2014. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper will examine how Kerouac’s instrumental use of rambling and direct styles impacts the novella Tristessa (1960). I will decipher how the juxtaposition of such styles plays out the relationships of power at stake in the narrative, especially between the male-narrator (Duluoz) and the female-object of the book (Tristessa).
In the 1950s, Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) determined the stylistic features of what was to be called ‘spontaneous prose’. It is defined by critic Benedict Giamo as a ‘stream of consciousness that join[s] with the torrential flow of experience, [with] its sheer energy and rushing enthusiasm, natural rhythm, musical phrasing (when spoken), richly detailed imagery, and sonic jazz improvisation’ (Kerouac: The Word and the Way, 14). It is this stylistic device that is extensively used throughout Tristessa by means of an autodiegetic narrator (Duluoz), as I will show in the first part. The voice of the I-narrator will be identified, essentially, as a rambling style, which includes a set of stylistics (ellipses, punctuation, loose syntactical structures) that are idiosyncratic of Kerouac’s writing. The character of Tristessa, however, is treated differently, as the second part will investigate. As her voice is mediated and processed through direct (or indirect) speech by the narrator, her subjectivity dissolves; the narrator may therefore manipulate and abuse her voice at will for his own purposes.
It is this discrepancy between the narrator’s flux of consciousness on the one hand, and Tristessa’s occurrences on the other, that grounds the sexual politics of the novella. I will decipher the ways in which Tristessa’s direct speech in particular results in a process of objectification and othering of her persona; in fact, Tristessa does not belong to herself but to the narrator’s vision. I will show in a last part how she corresponds, ultimately, to a fantasy: an exotic, sexual fantasy devised by – and for – Duluoz, the US-born, white male I-narrator of the novella.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Kerouac; Tristessa; spontaneous prose; stream of consciousness; rambling style; direct speech; objectification; fantasy.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


16 October 2014["eprint_fieldopt_dates_date_type_shown" not defined]

Event Location:

Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey

Date range:

15-17 October 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 May 2016 13:22

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2017 09:10



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