Comparing Society in The Dharma Bums and The New American Poetry

1286 Words 6 Pages
Mass Society in The Dharma Bums and The New American Poetry

One of the best ways to fully understand an era is to study its literature. The printed word has the incredible capacity to both reflect and shape the hopes, fears, and ideologies of the time. This is very evident when reading literature from 1960's America, a turbulent period in the history of our country. While the authors' styles are very different, there are definite thematic patterns and characteristics evident in many of their works. For one, there is a prevalent concept of the unenlightened masses. This concept serves as a foil for the enlightened few often represented as the main characters and more specifically as the authors themselves. There also
…show more content…
Lamantia also has a poem entitled "Man Is In Pain"(155, Poetry). Allen Ginsberg in his poem "Sunflower Sutra" portrays the masses as sunflowers in a dirty railroad yard. And finally, Jack Kerouac in his book The Dharma Bums portrays the masses as "sedentary bums"(86) and as "millions of the One Eye"(104).

All of these images of mass society have a tone of despair and depression. People are shown to be weary and confused, having lost the passion for life. Brautigan and Barthelme seem most concerned with the concept of a class struggle; their masses are poor and bitter. Kerouac is more concerned with the lazy masses that are brainwashed by television and suburbia. The only hopeful view of the masses comes from Ginsberg who sees a beauty in people that he feels is often covered and masked by the ugliness of society.

Going along with the concept of mass society is that of an "American Dream". The masses are shown to be questing for some vision or goal that the writers believe to be unrealistic and futile. Kerouac's masses are living the stereotypical American Dream, with 2.5 kids in their nice little suburbs, watching television and chugging along in their middle class lives. Yet they are unfulfilled, missing the much larger dream in life. For Brautigan's
Open Document