June 30, 2014
The Dharma Bums
by Kerouac, Jack
Jack Kerouac’s 1958 publication of The Dharma Bums is his much anticipated follow up to his groundbreaking 1957 book On the Road. Many consider the these two works companion pieces due to their detailed description of Kerouac’s journey across America and his eventful relations with some of America’s most influential “Beatniks” of the Beat Generation Era. However, where Dharma Bums separates itself from On the Road is in its vivid spirituality and Kerouac’s crazed infatuated search for the eternal soul.
The peripatetic Ray Smith, the main character sitting in for Kerouac, takes epic and spiritual journeys through the rugged American wilderness with his companions Japhy Ryder, a fictional version of naturalist Gary Snyder, and Alvah Goldbook, standing in for famed poet Allen Ginsberg. These three men’s presence in this book is truly pivotal because it shows the diversified lifestyles and outlooks held by the three mad Beat Generation giants, and because their roles in this book exemplify the vision and dream of the “Beat Movement.” This book is centered on the idea of returning humanitarianism to an uncultured and disconnected 1950s America.
Kerouac has prophetic visions and vibrations of future generations abandoning their television sets and so-called idealistic lifestyles, and seeing and feeling everyone packing up their rucksacks for a spiritual enlightening journey through the crossroads of America.
Kerouac’s Christian background comes to the forefront in some manner throughout the course of the book by him showing extreme compassion for individuals not only in his circle but also to those who are on the outside looking in. Kerouac’s search for spiritual enlightenment and eternal soul is powered for his search for Zen, a term Kerouac embraced in 1950s America before many even know what it actually was. Kerouac’s epic journey us and down the west coast with his rucksack on his back containing nothing but the bare essentials are laced with midnight meditations under the desert and woodland stars. The reader often finds Kerouac and his town companions embarking days at a time on spiritual mountain climbs through some of the most rugged woodlands in America. The final scene is absolutely beautiful. Kerouac sitting isolated atop Desolation Peak in deep meditation taking in the scenery and extending extreme gratitude for all the life that has been bestowed upon him.
Kerouac also gives an account of the Sixth Gallery Reading in San Francisco which he declares is, “The birth place of the poetry renaissance.”
If you are familiar with Kerouac’s works The Dharma Bums is a great piece to add to your collection if you haven’t already. If you aren’t familiar with Kerouac then this is a great book to dive into the great madness that is Jack Kerouac.
The Dharma Bums is also available as a downloadable audiobook
--Recommended by Jeremy Sexton, East Washington Library