Ariel Gre.


In the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, everything that happens to the Merry Pranksters is seen as a metaphor for life. Everything that the Pranksters do becomes significant on a grander scale. In the book, the use of LSD is very prominent. Kesey, the ringleader of the Pranksters, believes that taking LSD will break through the barrier that is put up in one’s brain. It is referred to as a reducing valve, and the LSD can break it down. Along with the idea of breaking down barriers in the brain, Kesey is also trying to break social barriers in America. He desires to be the force that pushes people to go against the grain; to keep pushing the envelope a little further, and Kesey wants to be the person to pave the way. “Somebody has to be the pioneer and leave the marks for the others to follow”(30). Kesey and the Pranksters are constantly going against the grain of American society. One more modest example is when the Pranksters dress in uniform coveralls symbolizing the American working class. Personalizing their uniforms represents their choice to not be apart of that common class. One interesting thought that I have about the book is that even though it was not a novel, it definitely read like one because everything came full circle. In the beginning, Kesey is looking for the thing that will open him up, that can break down the reducing valve without being a drug. So the Pranksters go on a long journey experimenting, and testing their theories of intersubjectivity, and synch, and then finally realize that LSD is not the answer. The underlying theme in Kool-Aid, Junky, and The Dharma Bums is a search for meaning in life WITHOUT the help of drugs. It is interesting that much of the time, the protagonists in these books are heavily reliant on drugs yet they are searching for a way to relieve themselves from them…

While reading The Dharma Bums, I couldn’t help but become a little annoyed with Ray Smith’s character. Part of me really enjoyed his desire to do well in the eyes of others, but it just got to the point where I thought, “you’re 30 years old, and your seeking the approval of a college student”. I understand that Ray wants to find enlightenment through studying Buddhist teaching, however it seems as though is was not willing to take the full plunge into Buddhism. He had the ability to adapt well in foreign situations, for example climbing Matterhorn, but he never takes things to the next level; he is still clinging on to his ideals and beliefs of his life before Japhy Ryder. When Japhy and Ray are climbing Matterhorn and they are about to reach the top, Ray gets scared to let go of the rock he is perched against. This image so strongly represents Ray’s fear of letting go of his old life, before Japhy. Japhy moves on without him just as he does at the end of the novel when Japhy goes to Japan. Ray comes from an all-American, Christian family where he is expected to take a particular path in life, just like his brother-in-law who says he is sick of Ray just “hanging out” instead of getting a job. Ray’s form of rebellion against his family when he goes home for Christmas is spending every day and night outside meditating with the family dog. While he is out there, be becomes one with nature and everything is catering to him. While I was reading this section, I couldn’t stop thinking that he was a little crazy. Especially when he discovers the remedy for his mother’s coughing. However, at the end of the novel I do feel as though Ray reaches his own enlightenment, free from Japhy, and he can be grateful for everything Japhy helped him with, yet without being reliant on him. Ray is fully capable of reaching his own destiny and, I think, it was a very felicitous ending for him on Desolation Peak.

In this day and age, I don’t think it would be possible for another type of beat movement to arise. If one were to seriously take a minute out of their fast paced day, they would see that the values in America have drastically changed since the time of the Beats. There is no more shock value in America; everything has either been done or seen before. Today, people need to live in a tank of water for a week just to get attention, but there is no sincerity behind it. How is living in a tank of water going to bring anyone happiness? Being apart of the Beat Generation wasn’t just having the label. Rather it was being apart of an actual revolution, or at least an attempted revolution. Here is an example: during the Beat Generation people were trying to find the meaning in their lives by taking drugs, experimenting with religion, or through music, namely jazz. But today the only thing anyone cares about, besides America’s weight problem, is money. Everything is based around it. When a person wakes up in the morning to go to work, they are thinking about money. When one takes a lunch break, a time to enjoy themselves, they are thinking, “I wonder if I can cut my lunch time in half and clock in early to make 30 extra dollars today”. No one is thinking about themselves. It may sound egocentric to say, but people need to be a little more selfish if they truly want to be happy. The Merry Pranksters were ultimately happy with their lives because they took the time to learn who they were. They had the power to be out front with everything, and not be embarrassed about their true identity. Today, everything is kept indoors, and under the table, and unspoken for fear that someone or something might be criticized for being real. In The Dharma Bums, Japhy Ryder was a true beat because he followed his own path. If you were to look around our college campus, you would not see many, if any, Japhys. Hating MTV and boycotting its music is not the same thing as hating something real, important, and trying to change it.

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