A Walk on the Wild Side started as a revision of Somebody in Boots, but as it progressed, Algren transformed his serious first novel into a parody of the American Dream. Algren justified this on the grounds that, times having changed, he had to entertain readers. Moreover, disgusted by the triumph of materialism, he no longer believed that writing could change attitudes, only mock them. This apparently defensive response betrays a lack of confidence in what some critics considered to be a great idiosyncratic masterpiece of the absurd that prepared the way for such writers as Thomas Pynchon, Ken Kesey, Joseph Heller, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Dove Linkhorn is the last of a line of poor Texas rebels against authority. Illiterate but canny, Dove is a loser who is too innocent to feel like a loser. Incapable of recognizing society’s moral code, and so amoral, he does know when he has betrayed those who helped him. Deprived of any meaningful childhood, as Algren may have believed he himself was, Dove at sixteen wants two things, education and love, which he finds in Terasina Vidavarri. While trying to teach Dove the alphabet, she awakens his indefatigable virility, convincing him that he is a born world shaker. When she resists his later advances, he rapes her and flees, only to find he can escape neither his love nor his guilt for violating the reverence he feels for her.
In his subsequent adventures, he meets a cast of strange, but human, characters. He is as odd as the others, certainly, a wise fool, practically a cartoon figure. He learns the ways of the road from Kitty Twist; however, as so often happens in Algren’s works, the man lets the woman down. She gets caught during a robbery while he manages to escape, going on to sell...
(The entire section is 728 words.)