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The Beat Generation. Vulnerable Victims or Inviolable Individuals?

The Concept of Vulnerability in "Memoirs of a Beatnik" and "On the Road"

Essay 2011 13 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literaturgeschichte, Epochen


Vulnerability is often one-dimensionally viewed as the degree to which mishaps, pain and shame are allowed to enter into one’s life. However it is also the birthplace of creativity and basis for a feeling of self-worthiness. Thereby vulnerability creates authenticity[1]. There are various different definitions of vulnerability according to the field in which the term is used. The most commonly found dictionary definition states that “Vulnerability refers to the susceptibility of a person, group, society or system to physical or emotional injury or attack. The term can also refer to a person who let their guard down, leaving themselves open to censure or criticism. Vulnerability refers to a person's state of being liable to succumb to manipulation, persuasion, temptation etc.”[2] The liability to succumb, as to persuasion or temptation would be an interesting motive when looking at Memoirs of a Beatnik. The way the heroine gives in to temptation would make the novel – according to this part of the definition - a manifesto of vulnerability. Other sources claim that vulnerability is the key ingredient to sex-appeal[3], or that actors need to have a vulnerable element in their composition of character in order to be convincing[4]. However this last part of the definition seems too narrow for a solid basis from which the hunt for the Beat Generation’s vulnerability can set out on. The way in which vulnerability - emotionally or physically - occurs in the two novels Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane Di Prima and On the Road by Jack Kerouac will form the centerpiece of this analysis. Shame which can be considered a possible outcome of vulnerability is defined as the “fear of disconnection”[5] and disconnection of self is a strong driving force in both novels.

The Beat Generation itself is defined by the disorientation of its members, by their disconnection from the mainstream society at the time. The Beat Generation is branded by individuals who consider themselves and/or are considered outcasts of society, individuals who cannot or chose not to live within the defined realms of the ordinary mainstream society. Being “beat” meant to be ragged, ravished and worn down. The Beatniks were known for not accepting the world as past generations had handed it down to them and expressing this attitude by wearing “beat” clothing (like bums), living an extreme lifestyle (drugs, promiscuity, detesting conformist believes and values). The stereotype Beatnik is an intellectual loner, a hurt and disillusioned individual who is struggling to find answers and is longing to find a new way of living a worthy life.

The pain which the novel’s heroes both have to experience slightly differs from one another; the injuries they have to bear have their own distinct manifestations. Both psychological and physical attacks of the self are discovered. The fascination lies in the protagonists’ dealing with them. What is interesting about this is the fact that the female protagonist makes it much harder to identify moments of vulnerability than the male protagonist in On the Road.


[1] After: Brown, Brene: The Power of Vulnerability. Online-Lecture. August 10th, 2011.

[2] Wikipedia: Vulnerability. August 11th, 2011.

[3] Hoven, Niels: Why vulnerability is sexy. . August 10th, 2011.

[4] Bennet, Jason: Great Actors access vulnerability. August 08th, 2011.

[5] Brown, Brene: The Power of Vulnerability. August 10th, 2011.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
438 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Stuttgart – Institut für Anglistik
Beat Generation vulnerability gender



Titel: The Beat Generation. Vulnerable Victims or Inviolable Individuals?