Alex Da.


Most of the Beat writers put forth a great deal of effort toward finding “the final fix” (Burroughs 128), whether it be Yage, acid, a sexual experience or religion. In Junky, Burroughs realized that junk was isolating him rather than bringing him closer to other people, which explained why he wanted to travel south to discover the hallucinogenic drug, Yage (127-8). In Maggie Cassidy, Jack Dulouz was looking for love, and at the end of the novel, a sexual relationship with Maggie. He saw this as a means of completing his relationship with a girl he truly loved (Kerouac 193-4). Kerouac’s character, in The Dharma Bums, was looking for enlightenment and meaning to his life through Zen Buddhism. He believes spending time alone on the mountain as a fire lookout will help him reach enlightenment (234-44). Finally, the Merry Pranksters in Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test seek enlightenment through the use of LSD as a way of achieving interconnectedness. Even though they manage to understand each others thoughts silently, they have a difficult time understanding the outside world.

Though all search for this ultimate enlightenment, few reach it, as they are only looking for meaning in their lives. Possibly they are all seeking maturity in some form or another. Jack Dulouz hopes he will reach it through a sexual relationship with Maggie Cassidy and Ray Smith believes he will reach it through spending some time on a mountain peek alone with only his thoughts to keep him company. Overall, Ray Smith is the most successful in understanding himself. He finishes the novel by saying “‘I owe so much to Desolation [Peak], thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I learned all’” (Kerouac 244). The Pranksters are unsuccessful, as the last words of Wolfe’s work are “‘We Blew It!’” (411), meaning they could not reach the level of enlightenment they hoped to. Either way, the search for “the final fix” remains important to all of these characters, all looking for some sense in a confusing world.

“‘We [Writers] are all trapped in syntax,’” (Wolfe 153) Ken Kesey asserts in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, explaining that writing has boundaries, while other forms of expression (mainly moviemaking and tripping on acid) appear boundless. Kesey’s distaste for boundaries are most evident in the way he behaves toward the Pranksters and in his appearance at the Unitarian Convention “Shaking the Foundations” (Wolfe 185). Kesey acts not only as the Pranksters’ leader, but also as a man who “took great pains not to make his role explicit” (Wolfe 126). That is, he talks in a vague, cryptic language to the Pranksters, and rarely behaves as one would expect a leader to.

Kesey gives up writing because it requires one to explain a feeling or emotion in words, which in turn limits the exact way that certain feeling or emotion affects someone. Furthermore, the Pranksters’ journey seemingly becomes a kind of religious movement because of the way one cannot describe what it is like to be a part of it. Tom Wolfe states, “There was something so…religious in the air, in the very atmosphere of the Prankster life, and yet one couldn’t put one’s finger on it” (126), himself unable to convey the emotions evoked by this experience.

Describing emotion versus truly feeling and expressing emotion is also explained during the Unitarian Convention. When Ken Kesey steps all over the American Flag, the Turkish minister Paul Sawyer understands that Kesey’s goal is to “not just describe an emotion, but to arouse it, make them experience it” (187). This becomes a prevalent theme in the novel, because each of the Pranksters is very individualistic and each has their own “thing” that makes them unique, thus making that “thing” difficult to put into words. When Kesey walks all over the flag, each person observing experiences their own emotions, and reacts in their own way, rather than being limited by an explanation of what emotions one should feel. Writing is too limited for Kesey’s colorful mind because it becomes hard to organize one’s emotions into something linear; therefore, it is better to film a journey and let the viewer feel whatever emotions come.

Food is integral in shaping the experience of both Japhy Ryder and Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums, as it seems to make everything these men do just a little bit better. There are countless mentions of delicious food throughout the book, and at the end Ray even comments, “Japhy was always so dead serious about food, and I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody’s food money to blow their heads off anyway” (217).

This motif comes to symbolize conformity and non-conformity in the novel, as Japhy always prefers to take dried cereal and dried fruits and vegetables on his intense hiking excursions (16-7), symbolizing his avant-garde taste in food and his taste for the outlandish. On the other hand, Ray wants a Hershey bar badly at the end of the novel (212), symbolizing his taste for all-American food. When Japhy actually gets three Hershey bars for Ray, it represents Japhy’s acceptance of the way Ray practices Buddhism, though it may be different from the way he chooses to practice. Throughout all the journeys Ray and Japhy make up different mountains, they always pack the same, organic food: salami, cheddar cheese, and “Ry-Krisp crackers” (209), and it shows the way particular food is associated with their outdoor quests.

Most of all, food, in The Dharma Bums, signifies the importance of sharing and friendship. The importance of food in both the lives of Japhy and Ray symbolizes a common bond between them. Ray cooks for Japhy at the beginning and Japhy reciprocates at the end by buying Ray food, thus proving their equality and camaraderie. On all their trips, they share the food brought, Ray always commenting on its deliciousness. Food is mentioned so much throughout Kerouac’s narrative that one cannot help but notice the important role it plays in the lives of both of these men.

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