Dharma Bums Summary and Analysis
by Jack Kerouac
A big party is planned at Sean Monahan's before Japhy leaves for Japan, but neither Ray nor Japhy is particularly looking forward to it because they are tired of partying. During the planning period, though, Japhy's sister Rhoda shows up with her fiancÃ©, a well-dressed Chicago man; Japhy is invited to the reception after the wedding. This "first meeting" is scandalously improper: Japhy and Rhoda talk about her future husband's sexual prowess and Japhy purposefully overloads the kerosene stove so that it explodes inside. Japhy tells Ray that he thinks the marriage will not last because Rhoda is too wild for this middle-class man; he thinks that "he oughta marry her" instead.
Seeing Rhoda and her husband-to-be ignites in Ray some feelings of loneliness because he does not have his own girlfriend. Despite his best efforts, the protagonist cannot completely banish lustful thoughts from his mind - especially with so many women around Sean's house all the time. He recalls one night when he was very close to being intimate with a beautiful girl, only to be interrupted by Sean and Joe Mahoney. He also remembers times when he will close his eyes in parties and see pure white emptiness, when he does not feel lust.
At the end of the chapter, Ray thinks of Japhy: his hardboiled insistence on keeping the axes sharp and the kerosene lamps functioning, his wonderful homemade Chinese dinners, and his occasional frustration at not being able to find Ray, who often goes outside and meditates. Once, Ray says, he was so still during meditation that two mosquitoes landed on each of his cheeks, but left without biting him.
Chapter 27 opens a few days before Japhy's farewell party. He and Ray get into a fight. They head to Skid Row to get cheap haircuts and clothing when Ray suddenly feels a strong urge to drink. Feeling very happy and optimistic, Ray buys some alcohol and shares some with his friend. Japhy, though, warns Ray not to drink too much because they are going to a lecture and discussion at the Buddhist Center after shopping. Ray could care less about the meeting, though, despite the fact that everyone is expecting him; and only wants to get intoxicated; he gets angry when Japhy comments that he drinks too much.
As they continue shopping, Ray buys even more alcohol, in spite of the fact that his friend is disappointed and frustrated with him and his lack of adherence to true enlightenment. Instead, he keeps trying to force Japhy to drink as well, even claiming that Japhy could not have written a poem he composed without wine. In a final, stubborn gesture, Ray ultimately stays at Alvah's college and further inebriates himself rather than going to the Buddhist lecture: he is determined not to get sick so he can "prove something to Japhy."
The chapter ends with a very surprising twist: when Japhy returns, he is drunk, and admits that alcohol seemed to be the focus of the meeting. Ray claims that after his companion acknowledges the value of his lifestyle, they never fight again.
Chapter 28 focuses on Japhy's farewell party. At first, Ray is unenthusiastic about it, but he loosens up after drinking some wine.
Ray describes the party in detail. Inside, where he spends most of his time, girls are dancing to jazz music while he and his friends use cans as percussion instruments. Outside near the fire, Rheinhold Cacoethes - the man who thinks Ray drinks too much, according to Japhy in Chapter 27 - comes to the conclusion that he is the only "real" poet left in the country. When someone mentions Ray, he is a bit scornful. Meanwhile, couples sneak up to the hill together to share kisses and serenades.
Many interesting people show up at the party. Henry Morley arrives, as much an incomprehensible enigma as ever, but soon leaves as no one will talk to him except Japhy and Ray. Another notable guest is Japhy's father, an extremely wild and energetic man who dances madly with girls in the living room; Japhy's parents are separated. All of Japhy's girlfriends - Polly, Princess and Psyche - are there, but Ray cannot receive affection from any of them. Psyche and Japhy, it turns out, have gotten into a fight, but when she tries to storm away from him her car gets caught in a rut. The legendary and cool-headed Arthur Whane hangs around the party "meeting as many people as possible." He is calm and unfazed even when talking to Alvah and George, who, like Japhy, are wandering around naked.
At the end of the night, most of the men are sleeping in sleeping bags inside the shack; Ray, as usual, is outside, feeling fortunate. At Bud's request, Ray goes to look for girls at the main part of the Monahan house, but everyone is asleep or has left. Drunk, Ray shouts into the lightening sky even as he begins to feel angst about the brevity and superficiality of human life.
Chapter 29 opens on the third day of the party as Ray and Japhy sneak away to their California trails. Japhy is heartened as he plans future hikes and expresses his intention to write a continuous poem on a scroll, filled with valuable information. As they climb higher, Japhy even fantasizes about setting up a "tribe" in the hills of California and creating "the Dharma Press" for the detestable public.
Ray is more solemn and forgiving of the public; he recognizes the unjust suffering in the world and wonders why God-or Tathagata-created a world full of pain. He believes that death is a reward. Japhy and Ray also disagree about Christ: Japhy is a fervent Buddhist who is scornful of Christianity, but Ray admires Christ's teachings of love.
The conversation shifts to Rol Sturlson of Chapter 3, who is currently in Japan, and then Japhy's future in the East. He believes that "East'll meet West anyway," dreaming of a rucksack revolution, as they trek through the rustic Marin country that eventually leads to a thick redwood forest. Japhy complains that the people sponsoring his trip to Japan do not truly understand the raw essence of the trip, which he is thoroughly looking forward to; nevertheless, he will miss California.
After hiking up largely unknown trails for a while, the two companions stop in an amphitheater they find near the highway, which, Japhy thinks, is as empty and gladdening as Ray's future destination: Desolation Peak. Ultimately, they end up at Potrero Meadows camp-empty since it is not yet the weekend - and sit down to a delicious supper of pea soup mixed with bacon, along with fresh-picked mushrooms in rice. That night, Ray dreams that Japhy will become a tough, enlightened Chinese hobo in the future.
Subsisting on efficient, high-energy foods that Japhy packed, the duo hike to the beautiful Laura Dell camp and then onward via a grueling, hilly trek to the beach, where they buy wine and enjoy the coastline. Japhy is certain that "something good" will come out of their peacefully euphoric existence, but is becoming increasingly sad about leaving California behind.
In Chapter 30, Ray and Japhy begin to trek back to Sean Monahan's. Their route is extremely variable - sometimes smooth and paradisiacal, at other times steep and unforgiving - and Ray compares it to life. And yet despite Japhy's reassurances, the only thing that the sugar-starved, exhausted narrator can think about is how much he wants a Hershey bar.
By the time they arrive back at the shack, Ray is weary and only wants to sleep, but Japhy insists on going to the supermarket for dinner despite his fatigue. Along with the groceries, he brings Ray Hershey bars and a bottle of his favorite wine. It is Japhy's last night in California, and a sorrow weights the atmosphere in the little shack. A bit later, the Monahans come up the hill to say farewell to their friend. The scene reminds Ray of Buddha's sorrowful departure from his family.
The next morning, Ray gives Japhy a going-away present, which he accepts wordlessly: a tiny piece of paper on which he has printed "May You Use the Diamondcutter of Mercy." Psyche, meanwhile, breaks down and forgives Japhy; they have one more passionate lovemaking session before she has to be literally thrown off the boat. Everyone is sad, but despite Warren Coughlin's prediction that Japhy will never be seen again, Ray has faith that he will come back to visit the friends he loves.
Chapters 26-30 reveal additional information about the characters of Ray and Japhy. In some ways, they are extremely different people, but it is clear that they truly value each other's company. The sheer number of people sad to see Japhy leaving suggests that his life really does have the sort of worth that Ray has been professing for the Dharma Bum lifestyle throughout the novel.
One of the primary differences between Ray and Japhy lies in their interpretation of Buddhism. Throughout the novel, Ray has proven that he is a compassionate soul who really does believe that everything is essentially "the same." Here again the two friends get into an argument about Christianity. Japhy remains scornful of the religion and insults Ray's opinion of it: "Oh, don't start preaching Christianity to me." In many ways, though, it is unsurprising that Ray finds Christianity valid. According to the protagonist, Christ-like himself-was "all about love." And Christ, like Ray, was also misunderstood and treated poorly by many people in the world. In essence, he represents a sort of archetypal "Dharma Bum." For this reason, it is very interesting that Ray's farewell gift to Japhy asks him to use "the Diamondcutter of Mercy," considering that Ray is actually probably the more "merciful" of the two. Of course, it has been shown that Ray is particularly fond of Japhy's charitable nature and has learned much from him, which may explain his cryptic message.
Another contrast between Ray and Japhy's life is the recurrent theme of sexuality. At this point it is clear that both Bud and Ray do have some sort of desire for womanly contact; it is Bud, after all, who suggests that those still awake late into the night at Monahan's party "go down see how many gals are left!" Ray's problem is cast into a new light as he actually tries to secure himself a female companion. He comments that "I saw [a girl at Monahan's] was lonely because Psyche was there and Japhy wasn't hers so I want over to grab her by the waist but she looked at me with such fear I didn't do anything. She seemed to be terrified of me." Thus, while Japhy has more women than he can handle, Ray is stuck without anyone. That Ray's frustrated jealousy of Japhy does not preclude their friendship reveals something about his character.
Chapter 27, as seen from the omniscient eyes of the reader, is also a bit dark despite all of its humor. Ray's alcoholism, which other characters (include Japhy and Cacoethes) notice, is probably a reflection of Jack Kerouac's own chronic drinking problems. Alcohol, for which Ray reports having an "overwhelming urge," turns him into a boisterous and irresponsible person who carelessly ignores Japhy's reasonable request that he stop. Furthermore, Ray drinks copiously in order to impress Japhy: "I felt sad and drank too much and was dizzy. But I was determined not to pass out and stick it out and prove something to Japhy." Especially considering Kerouac's alcohol-related death, this chapter is particularly revealing and emotional.
A final and very interesting point to be made revolves around Ray's surprising and insatiable desire for a Hershey bar as he and Japhy head back to their houses from the beach. Hershey bars, being very standard pieces of chocolate, are almost certainly far too "bourgeois" for true Dharma Bums. And yet the concept of pragmatism comes into play: because Ray wants a Hershey bar, it is "okay" that he wants a Hershey bar. Most importantly, Japhy remembers his friend's request and honors it, despite the fact that he has always been vehemently opposed to such products. Thus the simple gesture of buying a candy bar becomes a symbol of the friendship that will continue to endure between Ray and Japhy.
Dharma Bums Essays and Related Content
- Dharma Bums: Major Themes
- Dharma Bums: Essays
- Dharma Bums: Questions
- Dharma Bums: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- 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
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-30
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-34
- The Beat Generation
- Related Links on Dharma Bums
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources