Julianne Bi.


Towards the end of the novel, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe, we gain an understanding of why one should “never trust a Prankster.“ Kesey’s fantasy, using LSD to take him ‘furthur’ has swept through the nation just as a red tide sweeps through the ocean. The red tide described in Chapter 23 is one in which a single unicellular dinoflagellate, Gymnodinium brevis, multiplies and “explodes into one vast immortal Group.” This overpopulated toxic group kills countless marine creatures. This related to Kesey and his role in the LSD movement that has swept America. Kesey an individual, represents the single harmful dinoflagellate. He began as the “unspoken” leader of The Pranksters, after sharing with the group, his fantasy of using LSD to open his mind and take him ‘furthur.’ This destination is very ambiguous and no one knows exactly what it is they are getting into, however the number of people in the LSD fantasy multiplies, eventually exploding into one vast immortal Group of American crazies. Kesey can’t even stop them.

Kesey gained his power quicker than the Beatles gained power over their crowd at their concert in Chapter 15. At this concert he criticizes them when their lack of knowledge for “what to do with the power,” leads them to a quick and significant loss of power. Ironically he finds himself in a similar situation by the end of the novel. Upon his return to the United States, he recognizes that its time to use his power and redirect the journey, so that its destination is “beyond acid”- “We’ve reached a certain point but we’re not moving any more, we’re not creating any more, and that’s why we’ve got to move on to the next step” (379). By the time he realizes this however it is too late. The dinoflagellates/American crazies have multiplied out of control and are immortal. Just as the creatures of the ocean become “suspended in the mucus,”(313) America becomes suspended in a LSD fantasy. In the end both the ocean and the nation are left lifeless.

In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe, we see a repetitive importance placed on the idea of obtaining power or control. In particular, Kesey, who attempts to be nonchalant about his role as leader, proves through many of his ideas and actions that he is very aware of the power that he possesses and uses in various ways. The Pranksters initially refer to Kesey as simply Kesey or the Chief. At this early point in the novel, his role as the Chief is still limited and a sense of equality is maintained among the group members. This feeling of equality between the group on Perry Land fades for some of the members when Kesey begins to “organize the trips, handing out the drugs personally”(61). The acid has become “Authorized Only.” One groupie comes ‘out front’ and articulates this new sense of inequality that he/she feels- “We used to be equals. Now it’s Kesey’s trip. We go to his place. We take his acid. We do what he wants”(61). Once The Pranksters begin their journey on the bus, Kesey camouflages his role as leader by referring to himself as the non-navigator or the non-leader. In Chapter 10-Dream Wars, it is Kesey who creates the game “Power,” in which the winner earns thirty minutes of absolute power and can make the others do whatever he or she wants. The power in this situation is luck of the draw, giving some of the pranksters a temporary sense of power and control, which is no way meaningful outside of this game. Kesey is not going to easily give up his power and his role as leader throughout their journey. As he said himself- “Everyone is going to be what they are [...and...] what we are, we’re going to wail with on this whole trip” (73). Kesey wails with his power and leadership position, using it to redirect “the flow” of the Unitarian Church Conference, interfere with the momentum at the Vietnam Day Committee, and throughout the journey to pull everyone he comes in contact with into his movie. By the end of the novel we might predict that Kesey will be able to pull off his fantasy of “beyond acid,” becoming superhero-like with more power than ever; however this is not the case. At the graduation he dresses as Captain America, a superhero, which is ironic by the end of the chapter when his movement “beyond acid” abandons him, leaving him in failure and alone in the room in his white leotard, completely powerless- a non-superhero.

After reading Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac, I was reminded of Gary Snyder’s poem Mid-August at Sourgdough Mountain Lookout, from The Portable Beat Reader. In both the poem and the novel the mountains represent achievement and isolation of the individual. In Dharma Bums we get a sense that there are three stages or levels of achievement that one must go through in order to become a true Buddhist. We also see that the mountains are viewed as symbols of these levels of achievement. At the bottom are the conformist Americans and the less spiritual, whereas at the top you find the most spiritual people like Japhy. Japhy leads Ray through these stages or levels of achievements. When Ray is not able to reach the top of Matterhorn this suggests that he has not yet reached his last stage in becoming a Buddhist. Once Ray becomes enlightened Japhy begins to pull away and let him find his own way through his final stage, by encouraging Ray to become a firelookout for the summer as he once was. Ray journeys up Desolation Mountain where he will complete his last stage, living alone and in isolation, allowing him to truely embrace his Buddhism.

Japhy represents Gary Snyder, the author of the poem Mid-August at Sourgdough Mountain Lookout. In his poem Snyder provides the reader with a vision from high up in the mountains where he is working as a firelookout, like Ray. Looking down he sees the cities where his few friends live and what he describes as a “smoke haze.” This gives us the feeling that he has found clarity, peace, and spirituality high up in the mountains away from the “smoke haze,” which may represent a conformist society which values materialism. It may also represent people who have only reached the first stage in finding their spirituality. Snyder, however, has reached a higher level of spirituality represented by his being at the top of the mountain.

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