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Kerouac and Barthelme’s Rebellion Against Corporate America

Jack Kerouac and Donald Barthelme’s Rebellion Against Corporate America

Oh America, home of the red, white, blue, and green. Green as our greenest grass. Green as our forefather George on a one-dollar bill. You too can work your way up our market-economy mountain to your own little green house. Climb the corporate mountain to provide for your wife in her little green dress. With the green beneath your feet, reach for the gold in the sky. Oh America, this mountain is rich. As many Americans eagerly began and continued their climb toward the financial stability the Sixties promised, a counterculture of writers and thinkers emerged seeking to climb their own mountains, to tell their own story of the climb the way they understand it. For Jack Kerouac, the story was The Dharma Bums, where a man discovers himself in the mountains’ minimalist, Buddha-like grace. Donald Barthelme borrows America’s market-economy mountain of materialism and attempts to reclaim it in his prose poem, “The Glass Mountain.” Through their respective mountain narratives, Kerouac and Barthelme fight a personal fight against the raging currents of corporate America.

Jack Kerouac’s mountain in The Dharma Bums comes to represent what Kerouac, or rather the main character Ray Smith, conceives as the ideal standard of living. During Ray’s climb of Matterhorn with Japhy Ryder, Ray looks at Japhy with a particularly illuminating realization,

[W]hat does he care if he hasn’t got any money: he doesn’t need money, all he needs is his rucksack with those little plastic bags of dried food and a good pair of shoes and off he goes to enjoy the privileges of a millionaire in surroundings like this. (Kerouac 77)

Ray then resolves to beg…

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…nt stories, Jack Kerouac and Donald Barthelme both participate in a personal rebellion against corporate America through their writing. Today, it is difficult to determine what the influence of their rebellion was on corporate America. We can be certain, however, that their resistance of corporate America brought them to a greater understanding of themselves and their surroundings. Not only do Kerouac and Barthelme provide an illuminating glimpse at the transformation of corporate America in the twelve years between the dates the writings were published, but they also allow us a unique look at America’s mountains through their eyes.

Works Cited

Barthelme, Donald. “The Glass Mountain.” Taking It to the Streets. Ed. Alexander Bloom. Wini Breines. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1976.

Cultural Shift through the Eyes of Ginsberg and Kerouac

Cultural Shift through the Eyes of Ginsberg and Kerouac

Brothers of the San Francisco Beat scene, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg lived in the midst of a consumer cultural revolution, patriots of a forgotten mindset. While the regional characters of the nation were quickly being homogenized by television, Kerouac and Ginsberg wrote poetry and prose that both captured and contemplated the moment. They were contemporaries, sharing the same circle of friends and drawing from the same influences but produced works seeking divergent means to the same conceptual end. Kerouac wrote with an enlightened nostalgia, fascinated with preserving a form of the pioneer spirit of individuals and tall tales in the midst of cultural change, while Ginsberg’s poetry directly criticized the shortcomings and decay of society; neither author completing the picture or the message, leaving something for the other.

American culture of the mid nineteen fifties and early sixties is described with disgust and rejection in both Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s works. They bore witness to and documented a rich, variant culture homogenized and sterilized by Dial television ads and The Saturday Evening Post. Beat calls to rebellion and cancerous grey images show America on the decline and readying for revolution. In Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums, Japhy’s ideal revolutionary rejects the new developments of American culture, ” refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production, and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume…”(97). Their America was a land of mass-marketed uselessness. At a time when stores across the nation carried identical products, and everybody saw the same three channels of television, the sparkle of regional character started to evaporate. Kerouac paints his Dharma Bums as the heirs of Whitman, poetic thoughtful wanderers. Ginsberg also used Whitman to link the past to the present in the poem “A Supermarket in California”, asking the bard “Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely. / Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

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