Dharma Bums Summary and Analysis
by Jack Kerouac
The time has come for the mountain-climbing trip that Japhy and Ray discussed in Chapter 3. Ray, apparently, is much less knowledgeable - and somewhat less enthusiastic - than his friend. Japhy has to explain that it is freezing cold in the mountains at night, that they must not carry too much food, and that after climbing the mountain they will be too tired to crave alcohol. Though somewhat skeptical, Ray shrugs off his concern and simply converses with his friend as they head over to his shack. Japhy says that he has "played yabyum" with Princess twice more since Thursday; he seems quite willing to "satisfy the Bodhisattva." He also talks about his youth, his job as a fire lookout, his mountain-climbing adventures, and the romantic lifestyle of a logger. According to Ray, the eccentric Japhy is a stellar figure who is under-appreciated on the college campus - which, after all, is nothing but a "breeding ground" for a sort of conformity that Japhy himself mercilessly derides.
After they get to Japhy's shack, the duo head over to Henry Morley's house down the street: he has the car. Morley, though a mountain-climber, wants to bring an excessive amount of unnecessary junk on the trip, including an air mattress, a pickax and canned food. At last, Morley gets ready, and they start off on their journey around 10 p.m. According to the protagonist, Morley is an "actual madman." Ray recounts several stories about him, and comments on his quirky, nonsensical conversational style.
The drive is enjoyable, but eventually the three men stop at a bar in which a slew of hunters are gathered, eagerly awaiting the start of deer season the next morning. The hunters ask Ray, Japhy, and Morley if they have seen a deer; indeed, they have. Ray reflects on the event, and also Japhy's reluctance to drink away the money they saved by buying cheap dried foods. Now, though, the alcohol has made Ray and Japhy mellow (Morley does not drink), and Japhy tells Ray about his dreams to visit his childhood home in Oregon as well as Japan. Japhy's Buddhist leanings cause him to be ireful toward the hunters, but Morley-before going off on a discursive tangent-professes to be "neutral."
They leave the bar, and at two in the morning, Morley pulls over so everyone can get some rest. Ray, in an extremely optimistic mood, spreads out his sleeping bag and looks forward to an enjoyable, meditative rest. Unfortunately, though, Morley has forgotten his sleeping bag and only has his air mattress; they must now share the three sleeping bags as blankets, much to Ray's irritation. Moreover, his friends' shifting keeps Ray awake all night. As he watches the sunrise, Ray wonders miserably "why [Morley] didn't just forget his dreary air mattress instead."
Henry Morley has a bizarre habit of yodeling at odd times - like, for example, the morning that opens Chapter 7. The three are freezing, but Japhy eventually gets a bonfire started that warms them up effectively. It is, the narrator remarks, a beautiful morning. He himself begins to yell Morley's yodel call - "Yodelayhee" - but switches to "Hoo" when Japhy explains that it is an authentic Indian way of calling in the mountains.
Although they eat the bread and cheese that Japhy has packed, it is unsatisfying, and no one protests when Ray suggests that they stop at a lodge for breakfast. Their waitress is shocked that they are not hunters, but climbers intending to brave Matterhorn Peak. Still at the restaurant, Ray indulges in his sensory perceptions: he comments the cool water with which he washes his face and the pleasant feel of it in his stomach; the scenery; his silent breakfast; the serious, sober hunters.
When they leave the restaurant, the men see Matterhorn rising formidably in the distance. Japhy, Ray notes, looks nostalgic.
In Chapter 8, Morley decides to scour the little town of Bridgeport for a sleeping bag in anticipation of a bitterly cold night in the mountains. While he is gone, Ray and Japhy wait lazily together in the hot sun and talk briefly with an Indian hitchhiker, whose lifestyle they idolize. Morley returns with the news that the best they can do is rent blankets at the lake lodge, which they do before unpacking and starting off on the trail.
Japhy loads up Ray's knapsack and demands that he carry it; Ray is satisfied with his "leaderly" attitude and poised, rugged appearance, which he describes in great detail after Japhy draws a mandala in the dirt for good luck. When Ray remarks that walking in the mountains certainly beats getting drunk, Japhy remarks cryptically that "Comparisons are odious;" everything is, after all, only part of the void. Ray finds this revelatory and the two friends affirm their gratefulness to have met one another.
Just as they are passing some construction workers and ready to start out on the mountain trail, Morley realizes that he has forgotten to drain the crankcase of the car. This is actually a very important task - it might freeze at night, exploding the radiator and leaving the trio without transportation - and so the guilty one has no choice but to hustle back and catch up with them later. At first, Ray is annoyed; then, he feels bad for Morley, but soon realizes that the man is apathetic anyway.
Ray is in extremely good spirits, even offering to carry the heavier pack, as he and Japhy talk about all manner of things. Ray truly admires Japhy, appreciating his conversation and comparing him to archetypal adventurers. He and Japhy discuss haikus as they admire the awe-inspiring scenery around them - trees, birds, flowers and the lake - and struggle to create poetry that is appropriately spontaneous and straightforward. Eventually they come upon a shady area where they wash their hair in and drink from a gushing stream. While Ray is full of energy, Japhy warns that he will soon tire out.
Ray and Japhy continue along on their trek in chapter 9, and Ray is impressed with what he calls the "immortal feel" of the trail and its exquisite beauty. It feels to him that he must have walked in these very woods in the past because they seem so familiar. He and Japhy are no longer speaking; it as if they no longer need to speak to feel connected to each other.
Eventually, the pair reach a beautiful meadow with a pond in it: from here on, Japhy explains, they will have to rely on "ducks" - marker stones placed by other climbers - to know where they are going for the rest of the long journey. While Ray wants to rest there in the gorgeous meadow, Japhy remarks that they are going to an even more deserted place. However, since they are both feeling happy and exhausted, Ray and Japhy rest a bit before beginning the five-mile climb up a pile of boulders. Ray notes the nimble ease with which Japhy climbs the rocks and tries to imitate it, but soon realizes that he can do much better creating his own path. Japhy compares the art of boulder climbing to Zen: "Don't think. Just dance along."
They climb for about three hours, following the ducks left by other climbers, as the creek that has been roaring beside them begins to lessen. The sun begins to redden in the sky and patches of snow appear among the rocks as they ascend. Eventually, the heartened friends climb up the side of a cliff where they reach the plateau in which they intend to camp. As Japhy makes what Ray feels is the most thirst-quenching and satisfying tea he has ever tasted, they discuss the solemn mountains and the huge rock by whose base they are sitting, which Japhy claims has been formed by a glacier. In keeping with the Buddhist philosophy they have been discussing, Ray explains to Japhy his method of praying - for friends and enemies alike - by envisioning their eyes and reciting that they are "equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha." Japhy is impressed; he believes that Ray's only problem is that the world has "vexed" him.
Morley, though, is not back yet, and Ray and Japhy begin to worry about him as dark creeps over the camp. At last, he calls: "Yodelayhee!," from what sounds like far down the mountain. Japhy meditates, eyes open and holding wooden beads, while Ray closes his eyes and falls into meditation. He has the sensation that the three of them are alone in the world and prays for his friends, again admiring Japhy for his simplicity in the midst of complex America. Eventually, the two call out to Morley to reassure him, confident that he is sensible enough to stay where he is for the night, and head back to the camp for supper. Indeed, Ray says, Morley comes back the next day, having slept in the beautiful meadow.
In Chapter 10, After Ray wakes up, he helps get kindling for the huge, warming fire that he and Japhy start. Japhy cooks the bulgur, tea, and chocolate pudding, creating what Ray feels is an incomparably delicious supper that they eat slowly with chopsticks under a vast net of stars. They clean the dishes and Japhy pulls out a star-map, declaring that it is exactly 8:48 p.m. Suddenly, Japhy compliments Ray for "waking him up to the true language of the country," which leads Ray to tell him an anecdote about his experience riding with a trucker. Similarly, Ray continues to admire Japhy's prayerful poise and especially his charity. His companion gives Ray the larger portion of the chocolate pudding, a set of juju beads, and sleeping space closer to the fire; and yet when the protagonist protests, Japhy merely claims that it is a privilege to give things away. Ray remarks that later, the two will continue to exchange small gifts that are often worn-down, more sentimental than gaudy.
As Ray falls asleep, feeling strong and thankful, he muses over Japhy's spirited plainness. He has no need for money; these surroundings, Ray thinks, are greater than anything that money can buy. Ray wakes up cold and damp in the middle of the night, but his dreams are pleasant. In the morning, the duo are also glad to find Morley about two miles below them, unharmed and climbing steadily. Eventually he is close enough to talk to them and begins rambling as usual, and the three men prepare to climb Matterhorn.
Despite minor annoyances (as, for example, having to give up his sleeping back due to Morley's forgetfulness), Ray's trip to the base of Matterhorn proves exceptionally fruitful and enjoyable. As a novice to mountaineering, Ray has the unique privilege sharing the trail with others who are not only veteran climbers but also good friends. In keeping with his unconcerned personality, Ray is not nervous about the climb and for the most part enjoys it with reverent appreciation.
The very fact that Ray and his intrepid friends have decided to undergo this journey puts them metaphorically "above" the "flat" and uninspired masses. To attempt to climb a mountain, especially one as formidable and daunting as Matterhorn, at once isolates and glorifies them. There is a certain amount of pride in being, as the hunters call them, "hopeless eccentrics"-in doing something that (as their waitress exclaims) most normal people "wouldn't do if somebody paid [them] a thousand dollars." The trio have effectively solidified their status as rebels. Ray remarks: "Japhy was considered an eccentric around the campus, which is the usual thing for campuses and college people to think whenever a real man appears on the scene - college being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity...while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, the find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization."
These chapters also help to develop Japhy's concept of frugality, largely by contrasting him with Henry Morley. The latter is error-prone and inefficient. His desire to bring unnecessary (and strangely synthesized) items on the trip puts him completely at odds with Japhy, who packs sensibly and wholesomely for the expedition. He carries so little food that Ray is initially concerned that it is not enough, and effectively brings what is only absolutely necessary for their trip. Ironically, Morley's attempts at providing "extra" comfort (as, for example, by bringing an air mattress) lead to discomfort, whereas Japhy's bare materials are superior to luxury items (his bulgur-and-pudding supper proves to be one of the best Ray has ever had).
Chapters 6-10 also clearly begin to showcase Ray's profound respect for, and even idolization of, Japhy Ryder. Before they begin to climb Matterhorn, Ray maintains a degree of disbelief, and even tacit superiority, toward the younger man, as evidenced by the fact that he does not believe Japhy's claim climbing a mountain will rid him of the desire for alcohol but "says nothing." Later, Ray is pleasantly surprised to finds that Japhy was right all along. He is further impressed by Japhy's cooking skills, mountain knowledge and prayerful poise. And the two friends establish an almost spiritual connection when they are walking along contentedly together in perfect silence, as if speaking without words. Soon, Ray thinks to himself that "The world ain't so bad, when you got Japhies."
Ray particularly admires Japhy's strength and masculinity, describing him as "elfin but vigorous," deep chested and broad-shouldered. In fact, Ray is happiest not when he is competing with Japhy but following him, literally and figuratively. He seems enamored with his friend's dominance: when Japhy orders him to carry some bags, Ray remarks that "he was being very serious and leaderly and it pleased me more than anything else." Ray's respect for Japhy is in fact so close to adoration ("I suddenly realized it was a kind of blessing in disguise Morley had forgotten to drain the crankcase...") that it seems, at times, almost homosexual. Considering the confusion over Kerouac's sexual behavior and orientation, the idea is perhaps not so far-fetched. Japhy and Ray, after all, are like grown children and the author reputedly remarked that boys love each other in the way that lovers do.
A final theme present in Chapters 6-10 is the omnipresent drive for spontaneity. Ray and Japhy recognize that the best haikus are sharp, clear, brilliant, and completely impromptu. Furthermore, according to Japhy climbing the mountain requires not forethought and planning but simply a willingness to press ahead, finding footholds as one goes. He tells Ray that "the secret of this kind of climbing...is like Zen. Don't think. Just dance along." Ultimately in-tune to this idea, Ray soon recognizes that he does best not imitating Japhy but rather finding his own path, musing that "you just can't fall when you get into the rhythm of the dance."
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- Dharma Bums: Essays
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- Jack Kerouac: Biography
- Dharma Bums Summary
- About Dharma Bums
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-21
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 22-25
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