Electric Kool-aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. Novel Analysis
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Author: Tom Wolfe. The grounds on which Thomas Wolfe created this documentation of the Merry Pranksters is that he attempts to re-create both the mental and physical atmosphere of their adventure and exploration across America. 4) Specific evidence in supporting the aforementioned thesis can be found in the Authors Note section of the book but also in the writing style used to develop this masterpiece.
Writing in a basic journal style, Wolfe documented the extraordinary life style lived by the Pranksters through personal experiences with them as well as transcribing their adventures that were captured on both film and tape. 5) Tom Wolfe, with his journalist style of transcribing the current events, seems hard-pressed to be categorized into a specific group of historians, but he can be most noticeably associated with the New Left. This is because The New Left dealt mainly with the social and economic movements of the 1960and 70s, and the Psychedelic movement Wolfe documented so well was definitely a social movement of the infamous 1960s. 6) Tom Wolfe grew up in the land of Richmond, Virginia. He eventually graduated from Washington and Lee University, and later received a doctorate in American Studies from Yale. Besides being a novelist, Wolfe has worked as a reporter for the Springfield Union, The Washington Post, and the New York Herald Tribune.
Some of his writings have also appeared in New York Magazine, Esquire, and Harpers. 7) The available information on Wolfe only affects his point of view in that the reason for his meticulous work can be found in his outstanding academic work in American Studies and diligent work as a journalist. This novel, which originally started out to be a novel discussing Ken Keseys (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest) life as a fugitive wanted for drug possession living in Mexico, from there developed into this journal of Keseys band, the Merry Pranksters, and their tripped out adventures. 8) One of the most outstanding features of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is the simplicity of it to read. The journal style writing Wolfe used allows the reader to be absorbed into the LSD fantasy world the Pranksters were living in.
Also, Wolfes meticulous attention to detail adds to this effect and carries out his thesis of re-creating the atmosphere in which these acidheads existed. 9) Although it provides and interesting documentation through the use of journal form writing, Wolfe probably failed English class due to the multitude of fragments and disregarded sentences. (This may have also been a trippy effect, too.) Another disappointment is in the authors note; Wolfe tells how much of the book was written through the use of viewing film. It takes away from the first hand experience developed and slightly challenges the authenticity of the material. But, its only a disappointment if you actually read the authors note. 10) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a must read, but not in lieu of it being a well-developed literary masterpiece. With extreme care, Wolfe has brought to light the drug and hippie experience of the 60s, bringing it back for anyone who was caught up in the movement and currently cannot remember any part of it.
Wolfes ingenious note taking of the entire ordeal can cause a spark in the mind to recall the times and the controversy that went with this fascinating part of American history. But, to the younger generation, this book could be utilized as a tool against the use of drugs, and the damage it carries. Although most likely not the intention Wolfe had, his work carries the banner of LSD will mess you up. All in all, its a four star book from a personal aspect on the often misconstrued, drugged up past of the sixties.
Comparing and Contrasting Kerouac’s on the Road and Wolfe’s the Electric Kool-aid Acid Test
“Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad, only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script” (Wolfe 159) As author Tom Wolfe mentions in his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, people tend to lack freedom in their lives, as they have unknowingly let themselves become trapped by a hypothetical script. A script, just as Wolfe and fellow author Jack Kerouac with On the Road has provided for audiences, ventures into their lives dealing with a search for freedom. The two writings share several other similarities dealing with journeys, explorations, personal figure by the name of Neal Cassady, and the way they chose to write true events in a story form. The stories and their writers were anything but the same, however, as they both belonged to separate groups with different ideals. Wolfe wrote about the Merry Pranksters while Kerouac’s writing followed with that of the Beat Generation’s. The Pranksters set for New York, Kerouac set for the west. The Pranksters followed a man by the name of Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac followed a man by the name of Neal Cassady. Though with different purposes, both decide to take on a journey. Keeping in mind their similarities and differences, we will ultimately tie in their goals in searching for the freedom they believed one had to search for by going against the traditional ideals that Americans held at the time.
Author Jack Kerouac wrote of his own adventures from a road trip in the late 1940s to 1950. The road trip was meant to emphasize a search for an identity and freedom with the involvement of drugs, sex, alcohol and other unconventional views in its times. His views were similar to that of the Beat Generation, which he was a part of. They were a group of authors who wrote of American culture in the 1950s and 60s and were responsible for paving the way for the hippie movement with their rejection of standard American values. They support those that decide to go against what was mainstream. As Kerouac puts it in his novel, he is in favor of those that “are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” (Kerouac 4). The “mad” or crazy people are the ones after freedom. As mentioned before, they helped the “hippie” movement and in the 1960s came the Merry Pranksters. The Pranksters are associated in Wolfe’s book as a group of people who, like hippies, supported the use of hallucinogenic drugs. They often took LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) and marijuana and were happy to provide these drugs to anyone who was interested. Although both groups shared the common ideal of accepting what American had seen as eccentric, they were vastly different. The Beat Generation made it clear that they were against what America at the time tried to censor. They opposed America. The Merry Pranksters, however, still leaned on the country’s help. Whenever a member had a “bad trip,” they’d leave them behind. Knowing the privilege that the group had as Americans, they knew that members who were kicked out would be okay simply because they were American. They relied on the system which the Beat Generation avoided. They were further seen as more of a joke than the Beat Generation and this is made apparent in Wolfe’s book when he writes “Alpert looks the bus up and down and shakes his head and says, ‘Ke-n-n-n Ke-e-e-esey…’ as if to say I might have known that you would be the author of this collegiate prank… We have something rather deep and meditative going on here, and you California crazies are a sour note” (119). Ken Kesey, the leader of the Merry Pranksters, was there to see Timothy Leary. He instead got to see Leary’s associates who opened them with closed hands and referred to them as a group of crazy people.
In that group of crazy people was a man by the name of Neal Cassady. He is associated with both the Pranksters and the Beats and although both groups were from different generations, he was there as a form of an assembly. In the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, he was merely described as one of Ken Kesey’s (the group leader) best friends and the driver of the bus in which the group takes a journey in. The author recognizes Cassady. “I remember Cassady. Cassady, Neal Cassady, was the hero, ‘Dean Moriarty,’ of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road” (29) As Wolfe puts it, he plays a bigger role in Jack Kerouac’s novel. The “hero” is the fascination of On The Road’s protagonist Sal Paradise. He often tells Sal of his freewill and because of this, Sal decides to search for his own freedom. Moriarty (Cassady’s character) often traveled across the map of America, loved and dumped all the women and wives he had, and drank and took drugs because Sal believed this was how he searched for his freedom. Sal become Moriarty’s follower and like Moriarty, Ken Kesey was followed by the Merry Pranksters. While at Stanford, he volunteered for a drug trial provided by the CIA and discovered LSD. The narrator too followed Kesey as a reporter, fascinated by a promising new writer after the success of his novel by the name of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The author admits that one of the reasons he wrote about Kesey was because of the way his group seemed like a new religious movement. The group viewed Kesey as a sort of “Jesus” figure and the few that disagreed stayed behind. The Pranksters shared the love of drugs because instead of individuality, they praised thinking as one and believed drugs helped produce that result. Ken Kesey then decides to head to New York. The group buys a bus, decorates it and names it “Furthur.” The author claims “the trip had a dual purpose, one was to turn America on to this particular form of enlightenment, the other was to publicise [Kesey’s] new book, Sometimes a Great Notion” (Guardian). Moriarty and Sal went for freedom, Ken Kesey went for enlightenment. These were their motivations.
Motivation is “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something” (Merriam-Webster). What did they desire? Kesey wanted enlightenment and Dean and Sal wanted freedom. What were they willing to do? Travel across the country. Sal started out in New York and made his way to the West Coast in San Francisco where Dean was. He was seeking not only for new material to write as he was a writer but also wanted to be with Moriarty because “somehow in spite of our difference in character, he reminded me of some long-lost brother” (5). After having to waste every penny on transportation and hitchhiking, he finally meets Dean in Denver and he decides to take Sal out. He then goes partying with Dean and another friend. He later arrives in San Francisco and desperately seeks a job to which his an old college friend helps him with. He works as a guard in the shipyard barracks. After being tired of San Francisco and ruining his friendship with his college friend, he heads back to the East. He hitchhikes and eventually waits for a bus where he meets a gal. They hit it off and get intimate. Thinking that they’re in love, they attempt to hitchhike to New York with only thirteen dollars. He takes several jobs in Mexico and eventually is wired money from his aunt. He later realizes that on this trip, he only spoke to Moriarty for about five minutes. Although they barely spoke, Dean is the reason why Sal took on these adventures. Tom Wolfe tags along with the Merry Pranksters. They begin in California and are on their way to New York. In Northern California, the “Further” bus is pulled over by a state patrol officer. He lets them go while he tries to believe that they’re only part of the carnival, helping Kesey and the group feel invincible. They become sleep-deprived from the doses of drugs that they’ve been taking and one of the members begins to finally “lose” her mind. They make it to New Orleans, having escaped many police conflicts. In a “Blacks Only” segregated beach. The African-Americans later joined in, helping the group feel even more invincible. During this trip, another member loses her mind. They later arrive in New York and are disappointed. Kesey is then even further disappointed when he doesn’t get to meet with Timothy Leary, an advocate of drug use, so they head home. Along the way, they find people who are interested in joining them and the bus. Kesey sees this as the near future. The future including people who will become interested in their ideals. They befriend a gang by the name of “Hell’s Angels.” Each group respects the other and soon after, ministers become interested in Kesey and he speaks for them and a group of listeners. Soon after, in Berkeley, he also speaks for a Vietnam rally. A pregnant member heads back home and one of the members who had previously “lost” his mind decides to get help for his problems. During this time, Kesey makes the “Acid Test” in which “parties in which LSD-laced Kool-Aid was used to obtain a communal trip.” (Wikipedia) They hold several of these tests until Kesey is arrested in Mexico.
Both Sal and the Pranksters encountered a set of adventures throughout America. As part of the Beat Generation, Sal wasn’t afraid to seek for freedom through drugs and alcohol amongst other more unusual matters. As the leader of the Merry Pranksters, Kesey wanted to seek enlightenment for America by also using strange matters. The Beats, however, wanted for the American standard to change and allow a more fair view to rights involving drugs, sexuality, religion, race, amid others. The Pranksters enjoyed their LSD and relied on their privileges whenever someone “lost” their mind by being unable to handle the drugs and lack of sleep within the group. They felt invisible and seemed to care more for those that belonged within their group. As Wolfe put it in his book, “you’re either on the bus or off the bus” (96)
Tom Wolfe’s Description of Lives of America’s First Astronauts and Pilots (the Right Stuff)
Tom Wolfe’s the “right stuff” is the story of the lives of some of America’s pilots and its first astronauts. These men include pet Conrad, Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Gus Grisson, Wally Shirra, Alan Sheppard, Gordon Cooper, Scot Carpenter and Deke Slayton. Some of these men were at the time the known test pilots. Tom Wolfe turns each of these nine men into a separate and individualized hero. Chuck yeager and John Glenn are probably the most memorable of the nine pilots in The right stuff.
Chuck Yeager is the world’s greatest pilot and first man to break the sound barrier. The story, told by General Yeager himself, has the perfect balance of humor and action. Chuck Yeager was born in 1923 in West Virginia. He was known as the fiercest pilot; he could wax anyone in a dogfight regardless of who had the better plane.
John Glen was an all-American Marine pilot Glenn was a religious family man who was ready to do anything he could for his country. He became the poster boy for America’s Mercury project.
Yeager and Glenn are two fine examples of American heroes of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the Right Stuff, Wolfe presents these men in such a way that the excitement they started to arouse again.
In several instances, Wolfe uses the this story to reveal parts of character ‘personality or to show his influence upon others. One example of this occurs when Wolfe mentions that the voices of airline pilots are modeled after the voice of Chuck Yeager. This interesting short story introduces Chuck Yeager characteristics very well this important because it made the reader to be aware who Yeager really is.
Wolfe also uses his interesting short story to set John Glenn apart from the rest of the pilots. The astronauts of the mercury project were required to do four hours of exercise per week. John Glenn far exceeded these guidelines. But according to Wolfe, most fighter pilots, at least those who have the right stuff, put exercise very low on their list of priorities. This is an important point because Glenn wasn’t a typical fighter jock. He was very different John Glenn was very different.
Another way of comparing this astronaut by revealing details about their personality. For example, Chuck yeager is asked about how he feels about being left out of the mercury project. Inflating his own ego, yeager mentions his own accomplishments by saying “they gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, to fly the X-1 and the X-1A, and that’s more than a man could ask for, besides, I have been a pilot all my life, and there will not be any flying to do in project mercury. “Well, a monkey’s going to make the first flight” (105). These comments are important because they show Yeager’s belief that he is America’s best fighter pilot no matter what the other pilots with the right stuff have accomplished.
John Glenn on the other hand different from Yeager and the other Astronaut. At the first press introducing the astronauts, the seven brave men are asked about how their families feel about the Mercury Project. The first six astronauts including Yeager are unsure of how to answer this question, and they find ways to avoid it. But not Glenn. He has the perfect answer. He says, “I don’t think any of us could really go on with something like if we didn’t have a pretty good backing at home. Really “(94). This statement of John Glenn show how he respect family and even though fighter pilots are not suppose to talk about family and religion or exercise more than they have to. Glenn was definitely different from the other pilots. The thoughts and opinions of other people are also important in presenting the Mercury astronauts as heroes.
This is especially important in Wolfe’s development of John Glenn’s character. Glenn puzzled his fellow astronauts. During the press conference, after Glenn’s speech on family it shows that he think different from the other astronauts, no one from their group would really think a Wife’s attitude make about the opportunity they got in their hand. This thought shows from Chuck Yeager and the other astronauts’ perception of Glenn as an outsider. He did not follow the rules of those who had the right stuff.
John Glenn on his journeys to space, he was calm and act like there was nothing happen when he discover what appear to be fireflies floating around his capsule. John Glenn experiences three nights in the course of less than five hours, and he was temporary lost from the radio crew at the point he was thought to be a mortal danger, but Glenn show a little fear not much “the hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror; the first condition is reconciliation with the grave” (Campbell 356).
On the opposite end the Klapp’s theory of the “rebel hero” works well when applied to Chuck yeager, who, in Wolfe’s estimation, is “the most righteous of all the possessors of the Right stuff” (p.37). Chuck yeager volunteer for dangerous duty demonstrates heroism and courage by flying to space with two broken ribs. A lock of college degree disqualifies yeager from Mercury program completion. Yet his great vitality for life and rebellious spirit would not allow him to give up Yeager create a though of an independent test pilot merely “riding”.
In one incident, chuck was flying towards the sun and could not see his instrument panel. After regained his sight, he learned he had flown at too steep an angle. He plane went higher than it was designed to go, and chuck lost control. Ejecting, the rocket charge equipped to his seat hit him in the face plate of his helmet which was still feeding oxygen to him. H quickly caught fire and had to receive multiple skin grafts.
Tom Wolfe is a master of recreating the people and events of the mercury project. In the Right stuff he brings out all the excitement that each astronaut produced during the era. He uses this story to separate the characters and present each as an individual hero.