Danielle Ma.


After reading and reflecting on the books we have read in this semester, I have found there to be a common theme of yearning for achievement. The three books that represents this theme the most are The Dharma Bums, The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, and Maggie Cassidy. Although triumph is not evident in the books, the want to succeed in something ties these works of literature together. In The Dharma Bums, written by Jack Kerouac, Ray Smith is in search for peace of mind in order to graduate from his natural suffering state to read nirvana. The novel takes the readers on an adventure with Ray searching for his enlightenment. Ray finds peace of mind through experiences and meditation. In the novel Maggie Cassidy, also written by Jack Kerouac, the protagonist, Jack Duluoz wants to overcome adolescence. He searches for ways to grow up quickly, leaving his school boy days behind. Falling in love with Maggie Cassidy and discussing marriage at sixteen allowed him to mature quickly. Not only the talking about getting married, but the confusing and elaborate feelings he felt towards Maggie forced him to group up quickly. In the Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, a nonfiction work of literature by Tom Wolfe, takes readers on a journey with the Merry Pranksters on the road to achieve graduation from the acid test. The graduation was a plan for the Merry Pranksters to be able to get into the peaceful state of mind they could achieve on drugs, except without using drugs. They failed the test, the book ended with the line “We blew it!”.

Having Pancho part of the Merry Pranksters enables the readers to discover how Kesey’s lead allows the others to accept him as part of the group. Pancho wants people in the group to give in to his negative energy and give him a reason to feel like he does. The way that the group accepts Pancho with his negativity without letting them affect themselves is by letting him do his own thing without doing it themselves. This is proven in this example:
“‘Why should I take your bad trip?’
-without looking up, as if what he is saying has something to do with this diamond medallion here or this border of turtles and palms-
‘Bad trip!’ Pancho screams. ‘What do you mean, bad trip!’”(161)
Although Kesey rejects Pancho’s offer to take his trip, he allows him to do what he wants. Because of Kesey’s way of handling it, the Merry Prankster’s could all follow his way of dealing, which allowed them to have their experiences without feeing obligated to participate with the way they felt they wanted to. Free living was the motto that Kesey pushed on the Pranksters to follow and respect. Pancho was a vital person in the story because he illustrated the right to freedom.

Ray Smith is more concerned with becoming the “perfect” Dharma bum than actually respecting the reasons behind the beliefs the lifestyle entails. Buddhism is about charity, among other features, and Ray is more concerned with the process than the meaning behind the act of giving to another selflessly. In the beginning of the novel The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, Ray is on a train making its way to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles and encounters a Dharma bum. Ray is stunned to learn about the life the man leads. He names this man the little bum of Saint Teresa because the bum carries a prayer of Saint Teresa. Rays curiosity allows him to discover that the bum has lost track of the years since he has been home. Ray figures that after seeing how the bum lived his life, he should offer the bum some of his delicacies. “The little bum was sitting cross-legged at his end before a pitiful repast of one can of sardines. I took pity on him and went over and said, ‘How about a little win to warm you up? Maybe you’d like some bread and cheese with you sardines. (4)” Taking pity is not the same as charity, but Ray does not realize the difference between the two.
Japhy Rider, a man Ray epitomizes as the perfect Dharma bum also gives away his tangible belongings to others, but he is charitable not taking pity on others. When Ray and Japhy are hiking up Matterhorn, Japhy has a backpack full of things that be brought to get by hiking in the mountains for an extended period of time. He gives away his shoes and shares his food not because sympathizes for Ray, but because it is his nature to naturally show compassion for others without making them feel as though Japhy is helping them out.

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