Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mad Men: Don Draper, Jack Kerouac, and the Divided Mid-century Self

I know that this is the second Mad Men post in a week, but there's only one episode left, so I won't be writing about it much longer. ("Doesn't this woman have any work to do?" you may be asking.  "Oh, wait--that's why she's procrastinating.")

Does he remind you of anyone?
I'm thinking of a parallel between Don and  Jack Kerouac, whose On the Road the spirit-Bert quoted to Don in a recent episode: "Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"

For Kerouac, all that endless travel always led back to his mother, as Joyce Johnson writes about so beautifully both in her memoir Minor Characters and in her biography of Kerouac, The Voice is All.   

According to Johnson, Kerouac's drive to write and to create, to find a voice that could fuse the parts of himself--thinking in the joual French of his French-Canadian parents and writing in the English of the Beats that he would pioneer--was part of this restlessness.  Haunted by the death of his older brother, Gerard, when he was a child, Kerouac was on a continuing quest for some authentic voice that would admit perfection and ecstatic vision to be expressed through language. This and his insecurities led him through some self-destructive behavior, to say the least, including involvement with numerous women and heavy drinking. Oh, and he is drawn primarily to dark-haired women, leading him to tell the blonde Joyce Johnson (then Glassman) that he doesn't usually go for women of her coloring.

Sound like anyone you know? Does this mean that Don will be trying to get back to some state of origin, despite knowing that, as Thomas Wolfe, a great influence on Kerouac, put it,  "You can't go home again?" Don can never get back to his mother, although that doesn't stop him from trying to recapitulate the homecoming experience.  What Kerouac knows/knew is that even if you can go back physically, emotionally you never really can.

I'm not trying to trivialize Kerouac's achievement by comparing it to advertising, by any means, or trying to draw an exact parallel.  But if Weiner and company are trying to capture some essence of the mid-century man and the divided self, they couldn't have chosen a better model. 

Just as an aside: wouldn't you like to see the ending be what the writer over at Vox thinks might happen, the Mother of All Don Draper Pitches?


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I cannot even imagine what's going to happen. I was thinking of Run, Rabbit (which I hate, btw) during these last few episodes and wondering if there would be some parallel's with Updike. I have not read the rest of the Rabbit series. I didn't like the character nearly enough -- not as much as I like Don Draper. And I don't know if "like" is the right word for it. I feel like I understand Don more than I understood or wanted to understand Rabbit. Have you read that series? What do you think?

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

(Ye gads -- sorry for the typo. I assure you -- I know how to use an apostrophe.)