Could you explain the most important themes, motifs and symbols in Joyce Glassman's novel Come and Join the Dance? Can you also explain how those are related to the characters of the novel?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Joyce Glassman Johnson's female perspective seminal Beat novel Come and Join the Dance presents the same central theme as do the male Beat novels, such as On the Road by Jack Kerouac, the chief icon of the Beat movement. Glassman steps away from the male perspective and tells the female Beat perspective; as she described it in one of her memoirs, Minor Characters: the female Beat writer, "she's not quite a part of this convergence [of "the exact centre of the universe" upon the Beat men]. A fact she ignores, sitting by in her excitement as the voices of the men, always the men, passionately rise and fall." Since Glassman gives this female perspective, an equally central theme is that of emancipation by participation in forbidden action and by speaking of participation in forbidden action. Johnson née Glassman explained this to Laura Barton in a 2007 interview for The Guardian (U.K.):

[It is] a tale of emancipation. "In the late 1950s, young women - not very many at first - left home rather violently," [Johnson] writes in Minor Characters. "They too came from nice families, and their parents could never understand why the daughters they had raised so carefully suddenly chose precarious lives. [...] I wanted to write [in Come and Join the Dance] the real way that the girls I knew were living. And it was at a time that there was all this incredible anxiety about having sex, that was the great breakthrough and adventure for a girl - if you could dare to have sex outside your marriage. And so it was about a girl who was in her last week in college and feels that nothing real has ever happened to her, and she decides to lose her virginity." (Barton, ''I never met anyone else like Jack Kerouac'")

Ronna Johnson's essay "'And then she went'" critiques Come and Join the Dance and identifies symbols and motifs as being:

  • women's excitement yet silence amidst men's voices
  • female subjectivity
  • female transformation from cultural norm objects, through that which was countercultural and forbidden, to acting subjects
  • self-expression in "cool" Beat style and tone of restraint
  • gender discourse
  • discourse on canonicity: male versus female dominance in English literary canon
  • symbolically, eclipse of the Beat female by "male hegemony" is eradicated (hegemony: domination of a group by another supposedly superior group)

Ronna Johnson sums Glassman's novel by saying that Come and Join the Dance challenges "masculinist discourses of Beat [through] its heroine's antiestablishment alienation, sexual autonomy, and subjectivity--[which are] attributes and privileges reserved for men ...."


Ronna C. Johnson. "'And then she went": Beat Departures and Feminine Trangressions in Joyce Johnson's Come and Join the Dance." Girls who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation edited by Ronna Johnson, Nancy M. Grace.

Laura Barton. 'I never met anyone else like Jack Kerouac'. The Guardian. 2007.