Critical Lens Essay on an Alexander Solzhenitsyn Quote

      Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "Literature transmits condensed experience from generation to generation. In this way literature becomes the living memory of humankind." Literature holds the history of the world. Whenever an author records his writing he allows his readers experience, in a way, all he learned throughout his life. All of humanity's past has been recording in print for future readers to learn and gain knowledge from. I do stand in agreement with Solzhenitsyn myself. Books contain knowledge from past generations and cultures that may very well be the only surviving information on these past eras. Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac and Night by Elie Wiesel both captured their generation within the covers of their books. Kerouac's Desolation Angels is a semi-autobiographical work based on Kerouac's life experience but narrated from the perspective of Beat generation poet Jack Duluoz. Duluoz lives a relatively easy life floating from place to place that he obviously takes for granted at times. In contrast, Wiesel's autobiography, Night, recounts his terrifying experiences in several different concentration camps during World War II and the hard work and suffering he lived through to save his own life.

      Kerouac recounts a generation with no guide lines; a generation that was fresh out of universities and eager to explore the world and capture it in poetry and literature. It was Bohemian-America for Jack Duluoz (main character as well as part of Kerouac himself) and his Beat-poetic cronies. Kerouac was fond of using intense imagery to describe Duluoz's surroundings. He captures in vivid detail what his character's life was like and he allows the readers to experience it for themselves. Kerouac is able to let the reader feel how his generation lived and breathed. In following Duluoz's life in picturesque scenes he has sustained a piece of his generations' life forever. By writing Desolation Angels in the first person perspective of Jack Duluoz, the reader walks down the highway with Jack (and Kerouac) as he hitch hikes his way from Washington to San Francisco to reunite with his fellow "Dharma Bums." These Dharma Bums, who represent actual Beat poets and friends of Kerouac's, are immortalized forever – whether in a positive or demeaning manner – in his writing. Setting played a large role in Desolation Angels as well. Duluoz traveled from a remote mountain top location in Washington, across America, down to Mexico, and even traveled by boat to Europe and the Middle East. Duluoz had friends across the world and he was always able to scrape up money or find a "pad to crash at" no matter where he was. What may seem like a difficult life to the ordinary person wasn't one for Duluoz. He always had somewhere to go and someone to stop for him on the shoulder of the highway to give him a lift to the next town or state. He has ingrained in the minds of his readers what the Beat generation was actually about. He has established that through the opium haze and marijuana smoke, the Beat poets were about life. Kerouac has instilled himself for eternity in literature because of Desolation Angels' accounts of the workings of the Beat generation.

      Elie Wiesel's autobiographical work, Night, is quite the opposite of Kerouac's stream-of-conscious Desolation Angels. Wiesel writes of his harrowing experiences in concentration camps so that his readers, years and generations later, will never forget what occurred during Hitler's reign. Wiesel narrates his story – in the first person point of view – as it happened to him when he was just a young teenager. Through realism he recounts the terrible train ride to Auschwitz, the smell of burning human flesh from the furnaces, and his determination to stay alive during the final liquidation of his camp before the liberations. No euphemism was ever used in the pages of his book. Wiesel made sure the reader was aware of every terrible thing that happened inside the barbed wire fences. He needed to make sure that his piece of history was never forgotten. The mood throughout Night is extremely morose, however, there is always an under-current of hope. Wiesel never lost his will to survive even when he watched his father die or when his faith in God was extinguished. While there were many men who gave up and let themselves die, there were many more who knew that it was important to stay alive. They had to make sure the world was always aware of what the Jewish race suffered through. Wiesel did just that when he published Night for the entire world to read. Before Wiesel and his family were deported, Wiesel then only thirteen, worshipped God passionately. His study of the Cabala took up most of his free time. After witnessing the mass murders in the incinerators, the hangings of men and children, and the disgusting conditions of the cattle cars used to transport the Jewish people, Wiesel's tone when he wrote of God changed completely. He could no long give thanks to a god who would allow such cruelty to take place in his world. Wiesel's faith was broken because of a tremendous event in world history and through his book his readers can become more familiar with the impact the Holocaust had on the lives of the people who survived.

      Whenever an author writes, he captures the history of his generation in his words. In this way, they pass down their experiences and knowledge to future generations. Both Kerouac and Wiesel wrote of their generation, the experiences they had during it, and the knowledge they gained because of it. Kerouac's character Duluoz – an extension of Kerouac himself – lived a precarious life of poetry, hitch hiking, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Wiesel who had to fight for his life so he could be a free man again was very different from Duluoz who took for granted, at times, how easily and carefree he lived. Both these men captured the experiences of their generations and cultures fro the future generations of readers to learn, gain insight, and pass on to the next generation what happened in the past. Desolation Angels and Night both uphold Alexander Solzhenitsyn's statement, "Literature transmits condensed experience from generation to generation. In this way, literature becomes the living memory of humankind."