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 begin a new life and "tramp with a rucksack and make it the pure way" (Kerouac 77). Ray's admiration and respect for the solid, permanence of nature's mountain, untainted by material want, runs an unexpected parallel to corporate America's admiration of the wealthy upper class. Ray's resolution to "make it the pure way," however; clearly signals his objection to materialism.
Beginning with the exclamation from the backwoods-apple-pie-waitress who serves Ray, Japhy, and Morely breakfast the morning they start the climb, "why I wouldn't [climb Matterhorn] if somebody paid me a thousand dollars," Ray is constantly reminded of materialistic corporate America's grip on society (Kerouac 51). Ironically, the strongest reminders of corporate America come from the third member of their climbing party, Henry Morely. With a noble madness far more admirable than any of the suits in the upper middle class, Morely's idiosyncrasies echo suburban material desire. The reader is introduced to Morely standing in a sea of impractical extravagances that he wishes to bring on the climb, including Chinese chop suey and an air mattress. Later as Ray revels in the thought of the meditations he can "get into in the intense of Nowhere," he...