Alexandra Ba.


When discussing works from the “Beat Generation” is it easy to see that authors often classified themselves as members of the generation. They saw themselves as the pioneers and wanted others to see that as well. However, there are many moments in works from the Beat Generation where people are mentioned as being “beat” without even realizing it. In Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, the character Morley is a prime example of this. He was the ultimate Zen Buddhist, because he did not think about being Zen Buddhist—he was who he was and that is what made me perfect. Ken Kesey, in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe is the same type of person.
Throughout Wolfe’s book Kesey is depicted as a man on a mission to keeping going in life. He does not want to get into any kind of routine. He doesn’t want to identify with one type of person or classify himself in any way. In the very beginning of Acid Test Wolfe mentions to Kesey that what he is doing with the Bus is a lot like what is going on in New York City at the time. Wolfe writes, “ ‘you mean on the order of what Andy Warhol is doing?’ I said. …pause. ‘ No offense,’ says Kesey, ‘but New York is about two years behind’” (Wolfe 9). This interaction touches on the notion that New York City was all about taking a particular stand and sticking with it—they were all about holding up a specific reputation. Kesey did not care about that idea in the slightest. He did not want to be put into the same mold as Warhol, or any of the Beat writers, or any hippies. He and his Pranksters were the anti-group. In my opinion, to be Beat and to truly be what everyone was trying so hard to be at the time, one has to act like Kesey and Morley and separated oneself from what is expected. That is how to be a true pioneer of the Beat Generation.

The role of women in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums is very similar to the role of everything else in the book: unconventional. As a whole, the women in this novel take on a secondary role. Be it a lover, a sister, or even a mother all the women are put into a similar “untouchable” type role, thus there are few real “relationships” throughout the novel.
The first main woman that gets put into this category of unconventional and untouchable is Princess. Even though Ray lusts after her and she could turn out to be the love of his life, her role is not this in the novel. She is used as the central object in the midst of an orgy with Ray, Alvah, and Japhy. Regardless of her personal feelings or the feelings that the men may have towards her, she is used solely for the sake of practicing Buddhism. Furthermore, unlike what how the conventional women at the time would react, Princess thinks nothing of her role in these men’s lives.
The other woman that is important to look at when talking about unconventional women is Rhoda. Rhoda is Japhy’s sister, however it does not come across as such in the text. Kerouac writes, “ ‘you love her, don’t you?’ ‘you damn right, I outta marry her myself.’ ‘but she’s your sister.’ ‘ I don’t give a goddamn. She needs a real man like me.’” (Kerouac 186). There is a weird amount of sexual tension between Japhy and Rhoda that crosses the line of what society has deemed “appropriate” between siblings. This relationship between the two of them leaves Rhoda as an untouchable, just like Princess.
These two examples of women in Dharma Bums are significant, because they both show how a woman’s role in the novel, be it family or otherwise, is transformed from what is normal and expected into unconventional. By tying these girls into Japhy and Ray’s lives the ways that he does, Kerouac further demonstrates how far from conforming Ray and Japhy are in their search for Buddhism.

“Colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of the faceless wonderless crapulous civilization” (Kerouac 39)

An obvious theme in works by Beat Generation writers is that of straying away from what was becoming increasing popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Almost of writers from the Beat Generation touch on not wanting to conform to being a part of that suburban lifestyle. Jack Kerouac, being one of the foremen of the Beat Generation, mentions this is nearly all of his works.
In his book The Dharma Bums, Kerouac uses the character of Japhy Ryder to represent what the Beat Generation was trying to do. During the time when everyone was being told that the “right thing to do” was to go to college, graduate, marry young, and raise a two child family in the suburbs, Jack Kerouac and his group of people were trying to go the other way.
In this moment in the novel there is a clear rejection from this norm. Japhy’s character was explained to have been the weird guy on his campus at Reed, and did not want to fall into the same suburban trap. Instead, he wanted to go out on his own and far away from where anything was categorized as normal.
For Jack Kerouac it was not always literally about going deep into the woods as Japhy does, but this quote does depict the idea behind all of the Beat Generation work in general—in order to really deepen thought and understand the world one must leave what is expected and think for themselves. The message behind this quote is more than just that Japhy Ryder is an outdoorsman, but really that the Beat Generation writers themselves are all Japhy Ryder and they all had to do a little “stargazing” themselves.

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