Spencer Ba.


“East’ll meet West anyway. Think what a great world revolution will take place when East meets West finally, and it’ll be guys like us that can start the thing. Think of millions of guys all over the world with rucksacks on their backs tramping around the back country and hitchhiking and bringing the word to everybody” (203).

I believe that this quote embodies much of what “The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac, is about. Eastern ideals are expressed throughout the book, especially in terms of the Buddhist religion. The “revolution” that is being spoken of in the above quote is as Ray, the main character, states: “the Rucksack Revolution” (110). This revolution is one in which the Buddhist culture is embraced by those not privy to it’s ideals.

This “revolution” is a vision that Ray sees. It is one “of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making you girls happy and old girls happier…” (97). The idea is, essentially, that everything one needs is on their back – that to be completely content, the Eastern ideals need to be embraced into a Westernized culture.

This westernized culture that Kerouac writes is best described in terms of the “television viewer” conformity. In describing this sense of Eastern culture meeting the West, Ray says, “[…] there was a wisdom in it all, as you’ll see if you take a walk some night on a suburban street and pass house after house on both sides of the street each with the lamplight of the living room, shining golden, and inside the little blue square of the television, each living family riveting its attention on probably one show; nobody talking; silence in the yards; dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels” (104). This quote shows that this rucksack revolution is a way of avoiding suburban American conformities. The last line, “dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels,” shows that the person with the rucksack – the one embracing the revolution – is different from those that sit in their living rooms watching television like the mass populace. They embrace suburban living. Ray embraces the “rucksack revolution.”

There is a distinct symbolism of stars throughout Jack Kerouac’s novel “Maggie Cassidy.” These stars are surrounded by ideas of love, stillness, gentleness, holiness, and brightness. All the descriptions of stars are, indeed, exemplified in scenes where Jack Duluoz, the main character, is with two teenage girls that he has feelings for, Pauline and Maggie.

In the opening description of Pauline, Kerouac writes, “Pauline, brown hair, blue eyes, the great glistening stars in her lips—She too lived near a river, the Merrimack […] you could see the factories across the river” (40). This quote describes “glistening stars” within her lips, which shows that she has attributes of love, a type of gentleness, among other things. However, also in this line, Kerouac shows that there was something tainted within Pauline. She, like Maggie, lived near a river, but you could “see the factories across the river.” This location may show something different from the holiness “in her lips.” Later in the book, Duluoz is with his Dad and Pauline. The description of the scene is as follows: “And off we fly, into the bright dry night, stars above the redbrick snows are keen and clear…” (112). This stars being “keen” and “clear” is a way of describing his feelings for Pauline. He is “keen” of her for he it is “clear” to him, but it’s not love. Hence, something is still tainted within his feelings for Pauline.

Maggie is a different story. In the opening descriptions of Maggie there is a lot of star symbolism. Kerouac writes, “Still, and soft, the stars on the river run” (31), later commenting, “The Concord River […] now in the July midsummer the stars roll vast and shiny over its downward flow to the Merrimack […] Maggie is there …” (31). The stars are “vast” and “shiny”, perhaps suggesting the feelings that Duluoz feels. Kerouac furthers the imagery, “And at night the river flows, it bears pale stars on the holy water…” (32). This “holy” water is the medium for the stars. The next description should pique ones interest in that is directly refers to what stars are like: “A thought things up and down the street, deep, lovely, dangerous, aureating, breathing, throbbing like stars…” (32-33).

There is an interesting reference, though subtle, to stars in relation to Maggie: “Remember when your father works for the Citizen, for the Star? [...] I wished he could give me advice for Maggie” (66). In writing “the Star” as the newspaper, it is curious in that Kerouac could have titled it anyway he wanted to. He also followed the question by Duluoz says “I wished he could give me advice for Maggie.” This is perhaps a reference to the fact that Maggie either is the star that Duluoz is talking about or she has the same attributes as a star.

Later, the star comes into play when Duluoz says, “I never touched her in the prime focal points, previous trembling places, breasts, the moist star of her thighs, even her legs…” (74). Here, in juxtaposition to the “stars of her lips” that existed with Pauline, there is “the moist star of her thighs” with Maggie. The thighs seem, in relation to the lips, almost a more sensual or sexual place to describe stars. Perhaps Kerouac was intending for a distinction here. Also, one must note that there is a plural “stars” in describing Pauline, and a singular “star” to describe Maggie. This further suggests the idea that Maggie is “a star” or “the star.”

Later after seeing Maggie, Duluoz describes: “I walked home in the dead of Lowell night […] The billion winter stars hugging overhead like frozen beads frozen suns all packed and inter-allied in one rich untied universe of showery light, beating, beating, like great hearts in the non-understandable bowl void black” (78). The “billion” or “vast” number of stars refer to this endless number of “stars” or types of girls like Pauline that Duluoz could find for innocent teenage love. “The star,” the one that means anything to Duluoz, is Maggie. The “bowl void black” is the place in which these stars beat “like great hearts.” The teenage love is typical and “non-understandable.” He knows his love for Maggie. The last mention of a star in the book is a note of what becomes subtly clear thoughout: “Maggie is the star” (136).

In the end, Duluoz’s love for Maggie turns upside down and is unsuccessful beyond teenage feelings, emotions or desires. It creates the unique story of Maggie Cassidy, one of confused adolescent love. The bittersweet and awkward feelings the resound at the end of the novel prove that Jack Duluoz should have listened to his friend: “Zagg,” advised Gus seriously, “screw her then leave her take it from an old seadog –women are no good, forever ‘tis written in the stars…” (51).

What I am about to do might seem completely ridiculous, but in fact it is a realistic assessment of the times: January 17, 1956 and November 2, 2004 may seem like two completely irrational, unrelated dates. In fact, they are more similar than one might think. On January 17, 1956, Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem titled “America” while in Berkeley, California. On November 2, 2004, the soundtrack for the movie Team America: World Police was released. The theme song, “America F**k Yeah,” by Trey Parker, acts as a modern satire in the same way that Ginsberg’s poem did in the 1950’s.

Though not poetic in form, the song comments on much of what is wrong with America, largely as a result of media:

America…
America…
America, F**K YEAH!
Coming again, to save the mother f**king day yeah,
America, F**K YEAH!
Freedom is the only way yeah,
Terrorist your game is through cause now you have to answer too,
America, F**K YEAH!
So lick my b**t, and suck on my b***s,
America, F**K YEAH!
What you going to do when we come for you now,
it’s the dream that we all share; it’s the hope for tomorrow

F**K YEAH!

McDonalds, F**K YEAH!
Wal-Mart, F**K YEAH!
The Gap, F**K YEAH!
Baseball, F**K YEAH!
NFL, F**K YEAH!
Rock and roll, F**K YEAH!
The Internet, F**K YEAH!
Slavery, F**K YEAH!

F**K YEAH!

Starbucks, F**K YEAH!
Disney World, F**K YEAH!
Porno, F**K YEAH!
Valium, F**K YEAH!
Reeboks, F**K YEAH!
Fake Tits, F**K YEAH!
Sushi, F**K YEAH!
Taco Bell, F**K YEAH!
Rodeos, F**K YEAH!
Bed Bath and Beyond (F**k yeah, F**k yeah)

Liberty, F**K YEAH!
White Slips, F**K YEAH!
The Alamo, F**K YEAH!
Band-aids, F**K YEAH!
Las Vegas, F**K YEAH!
Christmas, F**K YEAH!
Immigrants, F**K YEAH!
Popeye, F**K YEAH!
Demarcates, F**K YEAH!
Republicans (republicans)
(f**k yeah, f**k yeah)

In saying “F**K YEAH,” the song becomes a satire on America as a nation through the repetition of the word. Like Ginsberg’s poem, the song repeats the word “America” as well. The purpose of this is to stress the term, and like the poem, it is basically addressing a “person” named America.

Ginsberg comments on the “Red Scare” and the paranoia that was eminent during the 1950’s because of communism (“Everybody must have been a spy. America you don’t really want to go to war. America it’s them bad Russians.” (42)). In the same way, this song acts as a modern commentary on the issue of terrorism (“America, F**K YEAH! Freedom is the only way yeah, Terrorist your game is through cause now you have to answer too”), a similar type of issue as is seen with new laws such as The Patriot Act that create a comparable sense of paranoia.

The commentary of media in Ginsberg’s poems also plays a large role: “Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine? I’m obsessed by Time Magazine. I read it every week. Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the candystore. I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library. (41)” In a similar, more direct fashion, the song approaches media, consumerism, and industrialization, by labeling the major companies of today: Starbucks, Reebok, Band-Aid, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, The Gap, Taco Bell, and Bed Bath and Beyond. The consumer, media-obsessed America buys into all these companies’ advertisement campaigns just as Ginsberg let his “emotional life be run by Time Magazine.”

The most unexpected “F**k Yeah!” in the song may very well be “Slavery, F**K YEAH!” This is because slavery is not something that most Americans still think is occurring today. Though Parker may have put it in the song as a joke, it relates directly with some of the ideas Ginsberg expresses throughout his poem. In his poem, he writes: “America I am the Scottsboro boys. (42)” Though this incident was not a direct relation to slavery, it does show the prejudicial actions that were taken against men as a result of slavery and for simply being black. Later in the poem, Ginsberg refers to America as “him” and writes: “Him need big black niggers.” Clearly this was a remark to grab attention, and perhaps that was Parker’s intention by including “slavery” in the song of mostly humorous ideas.

Though lacking the art of Ginsberg’s poetic form, the song “America F**k Yeah!” is definitely a humorous look at America in the 2000’s. It cannot be said that Trey Parker is a modern Allen Ginsberg; however, the song plays a strikingly similar role in conveying facts of what it means to be an “American.” The most remarkable thing is that a poem written by Ginsberg in 1950 can directly relate to a satirical song of similar subject written in 2004.

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