Mountains are significant in the writing of Jack Kerouac and Donald Barthelme as symbolic representations of achievement and the isolation of an individual from the masses of the working class in industrialized capitalist American society. The mountains, depicted by Kerouac and Barthelme, rise above the American landscape as majestic entities whose peaks are touched by few enduring and brave souls. The mountains of Kerouac's The Dharma Bums symbolize personal freedom and accomplishment through achieving a connection with nature distant from the constraints of materialism and a polluted industrialized American society. Barthelme's "Glass Mountain," however, envisions a mountain removed from nature as a modern skyscraper office building, an edifice that embodies the degradation of an emerging American society in the 1960s that is in search of "the American Dream" through material or monetary gains. "The Glass Mountain" remarks on the movement of Americans away from nature, religion, and humanity as they look to false golden idols (the golden castle at the top of the mountain) for inspiration to be successful, while Kerouac's The Dharma Bums emphasizes a return to nature and devout religiousness to inspire virtues of charity, kindness, humility, zeal, tranquility, wisdom, and ecstasy (p. 5). The top of the mountain, for both authors, represents a fearful ascent from the masses of the working class huddled in polluted cities in order to achieve a heightened state of knowledge and success, but both explorers fall short of true fulfillment because they are never far removed from human flaws of greed, excess, and materia...
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...est of the world from the top is better than actually doing it. The mountains also represent the struggle of the lower classes in American society to achieve wealth for the sake of happiness and fulfillment. What Americans seeking wealth do not realize is that the top is a lonely place, devoid of the longing for material possession that keeps them going in life. The thrill of climbing the mountain, or the corporate ladder, is always more rewarding than looking down from the top to see the ugliness of the city below and regretting that they must return to this ugliness of competition and greed in order to sustain their own pitiful human existence.
Barthelme, Donald. "The Glass Mountain." The New American Poetry., Allen, Donald, ed. Berkeley, Ca.: U. Calif. Press, 1999.
Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin., 1976.
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