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Title: Tristessa  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody, Book of Dreams (novel), Novels by Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


This article refers to the short novel by Jack Kerouac. For the Smashing Pumpkins song, see Tristessa (song)
First edition
Author Jack Kerouac
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Avon
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 96 pp
OCLC 24871127
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3521.E735 T73 1992

Tristessa is a novella by Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac set in Mexico City. It is based on his relationship with a Mexican prostitute (the title character). The woman's real name was Esperanza ("hope" in Spanish); Kerouac changed her name to Tristessa ("tristeza" means sadness in Spanish and Portuguese).

This novel has been translated into Spanish by Jorge García-Robles, of Mexico City.

Allen Ginsberg, in describing the book, wrote, "Tristessa's a narrative meditation studying a hen, a rooster, a dove, a cat, a dog, family meat, and a ravishing, ravished junkie lady". In "Tristessa", Kerouac attempts to sketch for the reader a picture of quiet transcendence in hectic and sometimes dangerous circumstances. He chronicles "Tristessa's" addiction to morphine and impoverished life with descriptions tinged with elements of her saintly beauty and her innocence.

Early in the novel, Kerouac attempts to communicate his Buddhist beliefs. These beliefs become entangled as a metaphor in the unfamiliar culture and language that Kerouac tries to grasp and make contact with in the story.

The contrast between the initial reaction that the reader may have of the impoverished, marginalized life of Tristessa and the self-destructive nature of her addiction contrast with the beauty of Kerouac's descriptions. Also, as a part of the study of the life of a junkie, is the character of Old Bull Gaines - Bill Garver, in real life, a long-time friend of William S. Burroughs and other writers of the Beat Generation - who serves as both dealer and healer of Tristessa when Jack is unable to be what she needs.

Character Key

Kerouac often based his fictional characters on friends and family.[1][2]

"Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work." [3]
Real-life person Character name
Jack Kerouac Jack Duluoz
Bill Garver Old Bull Gaines
Al Sublette Al Damlette
Esperanza Villanueva Tristessa


  1. ^ Sandison, Daivd. Jeck Kerouac: An Illustrated Biography. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. 1999
  2. ^ Who’s Who: A Guide to Kerouac’s Characters
  3. ^ Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. London and New York: Penguin Books Ltd. 1993.

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