desperation and compassion in Jesus’ Son

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Introduction. Last week we began reading the surreal and often ravishing collection of stories by Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son. The stories use an unnamed narrator, usually referred to as “Fuckhead,” to explore how a man that struggles to live a normal, adjusted, and healthy life, can at the same time be capable of the most piercing of insights. While the stories follow a rather traditional addiction-narrative arc (from use, to abuse, to bottoming out, to sobriety), Johnson’s uncommon use of language catapults the stories into another category altogether. In each story, Johnson seems to be exploring an interesting connection between desperation and compassion—that is, it seems the most desperate and challenging moments in the stories yield the most insightful or moving moments of the book. I think of how near the end of “Emergency,” for example, the narrator describes suddenly understanding how “a drowning man might feel a deep thirst being quenched;” or similarly how in “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” after hearing a woman scream upon hearing the news that her husband has died, the narrator says “It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it.” These types of epiphanies or insights, perhaps, help the reader to sympathize with a somewhat unlikable narrator—someone who lies and cheats and steals.
Write a 4-5 page double-spaced essay on the theme of desperation and compassion in Jesus’ Son. How do the stories explore and elucidate this theme? (every argument you make must conclude the text evidence from the book).

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