James Co.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test has an interesting juxtaposition of the failures of Ken Kesey in his persistent struggle to achieve a greater mental freedom. Initially, Kesey is the All-American collegiate that Mom would be happy to see at the dinner table. His first desire after graduation from University of Oregon is to be a Hollywood movie star. In his first failure, Kesey’s aspirations are crushed and his new urge leads him to Stanford and eventually acid. His initial failure to become the stereotypical movie star led Kesey to a life that made him more of a star than he ever could have been on the big screen. His star achieved legendary status, all this in no small part due to his inability to make it in Hollywood. But, like all stars, his was destined to fade sooner or later, and like the athlete who plays one season too long, Kesey did not “retire” at the top of his game. When something’s going so well, it is difficult to realize when it is time to hang up the cleats for good. Kesey’s realization came too late, and although you cannot categorize his entire Merry Prankster career as a failure, it is difficult to say otherwise about his last attempt to rekindle the magic. When something is going well, it is difficult to reciprocate, especially if it is being forced as Kesey did in their last ceremony.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman states that the greatest day for a teacher is when his student surpasses him. The essence of this statement is that the teacher has instilled in his student such a passion for learning that his ideas extend further than what the teacher has taught, that he is creating his own ideas. The relationship between Japhy Ryder and Ray Smith is similar to the relationship Whitman espoused in Leaves of Grass. Ray stood in the shadow of Japhy for almost the entire novel, blindly following the ideas of Japhy. When one admires someone the way Ray does Japhy, it is understandable that he follows. Ray hitchhiked across the breadth of the United States to tell Japhy about his enlightenment only to be absolutely denied any acknowledgement. It took this denial, a rebuff from the teacher, for Ray to step out of the tremendous shadow cast by Japhy and to find his own path. Granted, Ray doesn’t stray too far from Japhy, but he undoubtedly gains a sense of independence and of his own self, not just his own self created through Japhy. Thus, it is evident at the end of the novel that Japhy has gained a certain sense of respect for Ray much like the teacher that realizes the student is developing his own thoughts.

Like so many other teenagers, Jack Duluoz, the main character in Jack Kerouac’s Maggy Cassidy, faces the question of how to come to grips with the emotional rollercoaster that is first love. As I’m sure the majority of the members of our class have felt, it is never easy to reconcile the feelings associated with the first person that drives you wild. This person, whomever he or she may be, becomes, unfairly to whomever else you walk down the relationship path with, the basis of comparison. No matter how far back in the past, the relationship is viewed with an idylic purity that might have not even existed. Jack romanticizes Maggie to the point that he is afraid to consummate their relationship like he had with the New York City prostitute because subconciously he fears that all the ideas he had about their love might turn out to be false. Even at the end of the novel, as a jaded young adult, there still is a barrier that prevents him, although artificially in the form of alcohol or inability to put on the condom, from achieving something that he desired deeply but subconciously was afraid of. While being “poised at the gate”, it’s almost that Kerouac specifically did not want them to have sex because it somehow would destroy all that is pure about first love. It is similar to how when remembering the past, we tend to view things in a more positive light than how it actually occured. Somehow it might be better off that way.

Next Page »