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Sal Paradise was an Italophobe.

Sal Paradise was an Italophobe.

Joseph Sciorra (December 7, 2007)
Jack Kerouac

A little piece of drivel by Jack Kerouac begs the question, What's Italian-American about On The Road?


I made a pilgrimage this week to the New York Public Library to see the exhibition “Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On The Road.” As a once ardent devotee I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in the Holy Grail of Cool and American fiction, the Scroll, the original manuscript of On the Road t

yped on a series of ten-foot-long rolls of architectural tracing paper. It greets the visitor like the Holy Shroud of Turin, laid out across the exhibit gallery until it hits the opposite wall, there connecting with a mounted photograph of a road and its yellow dividing line.  

The exhibit is basically a “book on a wall,” thick with diaries, manuscripts, photographs and other ephemera that only a true disciple could appreciate.   It’s organized in eight sections and it was in the second section entitled “Early Life, Influences, and Writings” that explored his Roman Catholic Québécois childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts and his literary influences that I came across an interesting item pertaining to Italian Americans.
Unlike many of his Beat cohorts, Kerouac was politically conservative, as well as being anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant. In journal entries from the 1940s, Kerouac dismissed newspaper and newsreel accounts about the plight of Jews under Nazism, and “enthusiastically endorses,” in one such entry, the pro-Nazi sentiments expressed by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. (His mother’s anti-Semitic diatribes against poet Allen Ginsburg, also on display in another section, are frightening.)
In the same display case, is a single sheet of typed paper labeled “Panegyric for Joe DiMaggio written in Italian accent and broken syntax” circa 1941. It’s less a praise poem and more an example of Kerouac’s “occasional mockery of Italian-Americans in his works, journals, and diaries (though one can also find occasional sympathetic remarks) [that] reflected bigotry that he learned from his father and mother, who resented immigrants in general,” according to the exhibit label.
A hearsay to Di Maggio. HESSA OUR JOE NOW!

Lesta spring when da Yanks isa loss-a foist place
Who’s da ball play’ is blame-a for make such disgrace,
And everyone tell him: “ I broke-a you face!”
Giuseppe Boccigallupo Scozzafava Mannaga l’America DiMaggi! 
But , joosta dis week when they take–a de lead
Hey, sport, tell me who’sa da Push’em Up Keed? 
Joosta look on da sport page, paesan,’ and you’ll read: 
Giusseppe (sic) Angelo Mussolini Garibaldi Vittore Emmanuel Di Maggi!
by Ike Hurd.

We are told, Kerouac and his father’s “hostility” towards Italian-Americans was exacerbated by the former’s football coach at Columbia University, Italian-American Lou Little (originally named Luigi Piccolo) who repeatedly benched Jack.
Kerouac’s Italophobia is interesting in light of the fact that the main character of his breakout novel On The Road is Italian American. As the label copy asserts, Salvatore Paradise, the book’s first person narrator, is an ethnic stand-in for the “Canuck” author. I’d be curious to know if there is any literature that explores the role of “Italian-American” in Kerouac’s great American novel.


Postscript (12/18/07):  I have since found Brendon's Nicholls insighful essay "The Melting Pot That Boiled Over: Racial Fetishism and the Lingua Franca of Jack Kerouac's Fiction," MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.3 (Fall 2003), which points out the relationships between the assimilation of the Québécois-American author and his racial desires or a gendered, sexualized America.  Nicholls points out that Sal Paradise is a "displacement" of the author's own ancestry (see above) in discussion of a passage from On the Road about the character's identification with various workers of color.  Nicholls answers his own question: "In what 'way' can Sal, an Italian-American, be said to be Mexican? I would suggest that the answer is more easily arrived at by examining Kerouac's myth of ancestry than by reconstructing textual evidence afforded by the novel" (534).  Is that all that can be said about Kerouac's problamatic relationship with Italians and himself vis-à-vis his fiction?

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Nice article your way to write article showing that you are professional in your field.


I've never read his work but I will. Well, his unlove to the Jews and Italians and immigrants can be explained with the time he lived in. You know it is even strange that notwithstanding this fact he became a famous writer. If it was now any sign of being a racist or antisemit would never let your career develop. Well, it is really interesting why the writer didn't like Italian-Americans. Was it only because of a coach? Well, it seems to me a lot of people do not like them because of their mafia. Remember the film Godfather. I believe it is not just a film but it describes relationships between Italians. I like the music from this film a lot. I've found some tracks at music SE . I like the music and I like the film but I wouldn't like to have such neighbours.

Well, it seems to me a lot

Well, it seems to me a lot of people do not like them because of their mafia. Remember the film Godfather. I believe it is not just a film but it describes relationships between Italians.Daniel Damm70-285

Excellent job over again! I

Excellent job over again! I am looking forward for more updates .

Kerouac, French-Canadian Immigration, GF of Beat: John Fante

"Overpopuation at home and the diminishing size of agricultural plots that had been divided and subdivided for generations finally induced French Canadians to start emigrating in the 1830s, although most left Canada between 1860 and 1900. The approximately 300,000 emigrants settled for the most part in the mill villages and factory towns of New England, although scattered communities developed in New York and the upper Midwest."

Although French Canadians are grouped with the first wave of immigrants to the U.S. (the so-called "old immigrants") in the Dinnerstein & Reimers book , there was in reality fierce and widespread prejudice against them by the pre-War-of-1812 immigrants already here (17th & 18th century immigrants that were overwhelmingly English in origin). The reason for the prejudice was mainly religious: Roman Catholics were unwelcome, and in some areas violently repelled. Catholics had no legal rights in some colonies, for instance they could not be witnesses to a court case. The French Canadians endured horrible working conditions in New England mills, often with entire families including children as young as 5 working beside mother and father, grandparents, and uncles and aunts. They lived in dismal slums with vermin disease and filth a part of their daily existence. The Italians that came later, came for largely the same reasons as the French Canadians: overpopulation, decrease of available arable land, lack of industry (i.e., work), and would experience similar horrors working in the NYC garment industry and trying to survive in the gruesome tenements of the Lower East Side. When immigration from southern and eastern Europe began to swell (2,045,877 Italians arrived in 1901-1910 alone), and threatened to overwhelm the "native" population (i.e old-stock immigrants), a huge backlash ensued. The same ugly prejudice the French Canadians had endured at the hands of the prior English immigrants, they now heaped on the heads of the newly despised. Or rather, the French Canadians joined the chorus of old-stock immigrants as they chanted bigotry and hatred at the newly arrived: the Italians, Poles, Slavs, Jews, Russians, etc.. Of course, later these ethnics would become assimilated and add new layers to that chorus of dissonance.

I have no idea what Kerouc was thinking when he modeled the hero of "On the Road", Sal Paradise, on an ethnicity he obviously had a low opinion of. Was he trying to capture some aspect of the exotic Other that he felt was a part of his own American experience, but had been lost through assimulation? I recall reading about his pride in his French Canadian language and culture and how he wore it like a badge of honor growing up around American bigots. I really can't figure Kerouc out. He's a huge ball of contradictions. He loved Jazz and many aspects of African American culture but was also a blatant racist. There was a time when I read Kerouc avidly but that's long past. I find myself reading the immortal works of John Fante (ok, he was Italian-American, I'm a little biased:-) over and over and over. Finding new subtlety and richness each time. Fante was one of the "grandfathers" of the Beat movement, and is criminally neglected by both the American mainstream AND "underground" press. Read "Bricklayer in the Snow"(2), a masterfully written short work of his. It's essentially a tribute to his father, and it sketches a profile of an Italian man of that generation so keenly that, those of you who can remember grandfathers or fathers from that era (born late 1800s-1930s) will have you laughing, crying, and shouting, Fante speaks the Truth! Long Live Fante!

1.Dinnerstein & Reimers, "Ethnic Americans." New York: Columbia, 1999. 25.

2. Fante, John. "Bricklayer in the Snow." "THE WINE OF YOUTH." New York: Ecco, 2002.

Kerouac - Italophobe - show me


Thank you for your contribution to this discussion about Kerouac. I found it interesting, informative and thought provoking. However, if I may, I will take issue, as I did with Joey Skee in my 1/20/08 comment, regarding Kerouac being “Italophobic”, when you say: “…an ethnicity (Italian) he obviously had a low opinion of.” Since I wrote my 1/20 comment I have read “On the Road” and I am less convinced that he was anti-Italian. I think a stronger case than Mr. Skee has presented has to be made before one can embrace such an ethnically repugnant characterization of an individual.

This is not to say that he never made negative comments about Italian Americans. I have just finished reading the biography of gangster “Sammy The Bull Garavano” who became famous for providing evidence resulting in the conviction of gangster John Gotti. How can any moral person not be appalled by the values and behavior of the Italian Americans described in that book. However, though I’m appalled and say so, I am not anti-Italian. Similarly, if I find humor in Italian behavior, that does not make me anti-Italian.

Again, I’m not making a judgment one way or the other about Kerouac’s attitude about Italians. I’m saying that those who do are intellectually obliged to provide a more comprehensive set of facts and compelling logic.

Tom Verso

Thanks, But I Still Think Old Jack Was Anti-Immigrant

Let me preface this by saying thank you for your positive remarks, and for responding to my post. Ok, now here's where I disagree...

"How can any moral person not be appalled by the values and behavior of the Italian Americans described in that book. However, though I’m appalled and say so, I am not anti-Italian."

Finding someone's behavior morally repugnant and yet remaining neutral towards that person's ethnicity is surely what all civilized people should strive for. I don't see how that fits Kerouac, though. I can understand that you find the poem funny. I had a few laughs too, but it reminds me of the old saying that takes this basic form: I can make fun of my uncle's funny accent, but if someone else does, I'll go knock his teeth out. If it was a Southern Italian who wrote that poem, Toto (! :-) for instance -- no problem. But Kerouac? Nope. No matter how much I admire Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs, my "offended meter" is going to go off the charts if they write such a poem. Is Kerouac to be saluted for making some light-hearted jabs at an ethnic group he found morally repugnant? (That's the only way I can read what you were implying).

I understand your argument that based on your reading of "On the Road", and your reaction to the poem (i.e. that it was harmlessly humorous) that there is not enough evidence here to accuse Kerouac of anti-Italian sentiment.

"I’m saying that those who do are intellectually obliged to provide a more comprehensive set of facts and compelling logic."

I think the logic was pretty compelling: Kerouac's parents' were anti-immigrant, Kerouac made numerous racist remarks during his lifetime, Kerouac wrote a poem clearly making fun of Italian immigrants, ergo Kerouac had at least SOME anti-Italian attitudes. Of course, we'd have to go to the Kerouac's journals themselves and read first-hand what Jack wrote to develop a solid thesis, but for now, I stand by my opinion. I base my opinion on little bits here and there I've picked up over the years on Kerouac, the journal entries that JS describes above, and the poem itself. For me, all that I've just listed is sufficient evidence for me to stand by my opinion. I think that my experience with reading various sources over the years regarding Kerouac's behavior and statements gives the poem enough context for me to find it offensive. I am certain that Kerouac had anti-immigrant and racist attitudes. Perhaps they were subconscious, and perhaps he would have vehemently denied having them, but they certainly emerged from his subconscious. After all, it's hard to erase how you were raised. It's all in there, waiting to emerge, in a slip of the tongue, or a moment of drunkeness.

Perhaps I'm a little less tolerant of this stuff because I entered the New York school system in 1970 speaking only Italian. Believe me when I tell you: I experienced A LOT of discrimination: from "Mayflower" whites (teachers, principals) and even other ethnic whites (Poles, Irish) who made sure to try to remind me daily that as an Italian I wasn't "truly" white but just another kind of "n" (I'm sure you can guess what that word is). Those daily battles in the classroom and on the schoolyard with those racists are still fresh in my mind and when I read stuff like that poem it makes me angry.

i understand where you are coming from......

Hi I am scots-irish-italian. But i grew up in italy until iwas 4 or 5 and entered the British school system so i encountered a lot of prejudice too and was pilloried constantly through my school days.

Although my looks aren't important i trained as an actor and took a scots irish stagename to try and screw with the system a bit( depending on what i wear i could be be from any where in europe but i am quite pale skinned).I speak italian fluently.

Actually going to teach drama and english as a foreign language in Italy in a few weeks. Oh woe me....but one day i'd like to get involved in the hiatus of american filmmakers and finally trade in on my background when no one will employ someone like The son not of immigrnats but of a migrant worker.As a TEFL teacher /actor having got my belongings ransacked and stolen in Spain and Italy and refused paperwork and bullied and extorted out of money in Poland the issue of paper( resulting probably in work is a big one!

Basically the findings of research such as Salvatore J. La Gumina’s WOP: A Documentary History of Anti-Italian Discrimination in the United States is interesting.

The whole premise of W.O.P is that it meant 'without out papers' and that it is lost on most of the english speaking world just how undocumented workers such as Mexicans (in America) and Albanians(in Europe) share a lot of parallels. So italians in America although more discriminated against that in other parts of Europe need to assert themselves i feel much in the same way as the Irish have done post Troubles Britain. On the equal opps paperwork it should be 'italian' not 'white' that they fill in inorder for them to stop becoming the 'patsy' for these jibes of being the most 'bigoted' and 'racist' towards blacks.

"Keep those cards and letters coming folks"

Thank you. That was an excellent summary of the issue. I certainly cannot disagree with anything you wrote. Great dialogue! Seemingly, we can have a meaningful discussion about the issue on without posting dissertations, as one commenter suggested. However, let me return to the original question I raised about “On The Road” that lead to the ethnic issue. As I understand it, “On The Road” is an autobiographical work. And, the protagonist/narrator (presumably representing Kerouac) Sal Paradise is a very positive (albeit bohemian) figure of an Italian American from New Jersey (no less). To me, I find it incredulous (subject judgment) that someone who is anti-Italian American would represent himself biographically as an Italian American – it’s a contradiction, is it not? Also, on that same note, albeit a minor one; as I noted, the picture of Kerouc on this blog is very 50’s Italianesque. This is to say, again, his hairstyle, the collar of his shirt up and the prominent T-shirt was a popular style with Italian American males in the early 1950’s – suggesting, if not an affinity for Italians, certainly not repugnance. Why would one try to look like people whom they find negative? In short, if we had no more information about Kerouc than “On The Road” and that picture, would be conclude that he was positive or anti-Italian? If we conclude positive, then how do we reconcile the contradiction of an anti-Italian projecting and embracing positive Italian images? I find this interesting. Do you have any thoughts?l

Check, check, and double-check

Yup. All your observations are right on the money. It appears that Jack most certainly DID have an affinity for Italians, BUT it reminds me of the sort of affinity that some white kids have for black culture. They oftentimes assume the postures of black culture but (of course) cannot access the deeper experience of being black. It's like they want to have some of the aura that they think surrounds the so-called black "exotic other", but deep down, the mechanism of racist thinking is unchanged. I don't think that Kerouac was as superficial as the kids I'm using in my example, but I do think that his attraction to Italians was because they represented something "outside" the mainstream at that time. They were perceived as "dangerous" , "different", "exotic", and those were precisely the sorts of things that a (somewhat) mainstream white kid of his day would want to emulate in his rejection of mainstream values. After all, isn't that what the Beats were all about?

sciorra's picture

literature +

Thank you Italo-Griko and Tom for continuing the conversation on Kerouac.

Reading one novel by an author is not going reveal everything about his beliefs. Literature addressing Kerouac's life and artistry are readily available for further research. Lit crits have read his works for negative yet complicated issues regarding blacks and women. See linked articled in my 12/18/07 postscript. Kerouac biographers note that the author was anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and an Italophobe. See exhibit wall text listed above for just one simple example. is a blog not a site for posting a dissertation-length treatise.

Kerouac - Italophobe??

Being literature challenged, I have never read Kerouac and the other ‘beats.’ Therefore, I can neither accept nor reject your characterization of Keroiac being an “Italophobe.” However, your posting brings three thoughts to mine: First, I find it intriguing that an Italophobe would make the main character of his pyridine and most famous work (i.e. Salvatore Paradise / “On the Road”) an Italian American. What makes it even more interesting: I thought it was generally accepted that the novel was autobiographical (i.e. Sal is Jack). Would this not be an extraordinary thing for a person to characterize himself as an ethnic that he hates/fears (“phobic”)? I will definitely have to overcome my literature aversion and read this fascinating contradiction.---Second, again not being familiar with Kerouac, taking the Joe D poem out of context and treating it as a unique entity, I (110% Italian American by nature and nurture) thought the poem was hilarious. It gave me a real laugh; I read it a number of times; and, when I showed it to other Italian Americans, who consider Joe D one of their heroes, they also thought it was very funny. This raises the philosophy of aesthetics question of whether or not a work of art should be evaluated in the context of the artist repertoire and social milieu, or per se? ---I recall a teacher showing a film by a German film maker (Lonnie?? something I can’t remember her name). It seemed like a good film to me; certainly nothing in it was obviously morally objectionable let alone reprehensible, yet the teacher told us that it was a terribly immoral film because it was Nazi propaganda. I made the point that if we knew nothing about the biography of the filmmaker or its social context, the film would not be objectionable. That was the last time I ever said anything that remotely could be construed as not hating Nazis. One of the great lessons I took away from my school days (similarly, Mussolini – I might add).---Third, building on the second point, I have often wondered if we live in an age that is overly ethnically conscious. I think we have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. In “radio days”, as best as I can tell from the history of radio, some of the greatest comedy was ethnic: e.g. “Molly Goldberg” and “Amos and Andy.” I still for the life of me can’t understand why “Amos and Andy” are so racially judged (especially given the way African Americans are portrayed comedicly in film these days). They were really funny guys. I hope that does not sound anti-Semitic or racist. More to the point of Joe D – In the late 50’s/early 60’s there was a stand up comic from Long Island (Pat Copper) who built his career on Italian routines similar to Keroic’s poem. He was very popular with Italians. The first time I hear him, he did a thing about his mother’s wooden cooking spoon that caused me to laugh so hard I almost had a hernia.---In sum: thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking piece. I’ll definitely have to get a copy of “On the Road.” Oh yes- one other thing (sorry-I do have away of going on); that picture of Keroic you included in the blog post…his facial features, the lock of hair hanging on his forehead, the open shirt; if the collar were pick up a bit on the back of his neck he would have been very much at home on my block - he could have had been cast in ‘Mean Streets’ (i.e. he looks very Italian American ). Ciao for now! Tom Verso

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