Another Roadside Attraction Themes
by Tom Robbins

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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The setting for much of Robbins's first novel is Captain Kendrick's Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve, the roadside attraction to which the body of Jesus Christ is temporarily brought before John Paul Ziller and Plucky Purcell flee the FBI, steal a solar balloon, and attempt to melt the dead body of Christ and the living body of John Paul Ziller in the sun's radiation. All of this is recorded by Marx Marvelous, skeptic researcher, who in the course of the novel comes to learn about lifestyle, nature, and personal freedom from Amanda, Robbins's central character and heroine. These improbable events and unlikely characters provide Robbins with a vehicle through which he can comment on American culture and the possibility of a new, healthier and happier lifestyle.

Robbins argues that contemporary religion, as represented by the body of Christ, is dead and that mankind needs a different set of beliefs which will help individuals to live in greater harmony with nature. Arguing that the western Christian tradition incorrectly places mankind in the center of the universe, Robbins posits an alternate spiritual system which places humankind appropriately in its own tiny corner of the universe. Amanda, the prime exponent of this alternate outlook in the novel, advances the cause of magic over reason, love over indifference, personal development and freedom over social action. Through Amanda and her articulation of Zen philosophy, Robbins educates Marx Marvelous. Rather than offering the reader a pessimistic vision of the twentieth century with its dead Christ, Another Roadside Attraction optimistically presents what Robbins sees as a naturally harmonious lifestyle designed to permit individual freedom and development. Significantly, at the heart of the action in this novel is Plucky Purcell, dope-dealing outlaw, whose theft of the body of Christ exposes the hoax of the resurrection. The outlaw willing to challenge society's rules appears in each of Robbins's later novels.

Another Roadside Attraction has been variously described as a cult or counterculture novel. The antiestablishment attitudes that motivated many of the young adults in the 1960s and early 1970s are reflected in this novel in which government agencies such as the FBI and organized religions, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, are depicted as hostile to individual freedom. One-time Harvard University clinical psychologist Timothy Leary's advice to that generation to "Turn on, tune in, and drop out" is given life in the novel. Amanda and the other characters in Another Roadside Attraction are "turned on" to drugs, particularly hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana; they have "tuned in," perceiving the psychological, religious, sexual, and political forces of repression at work in the society; and they have "dropped out" of the establishment, choosing to adopt a lifestyle free of the repression of conventional society. The issues that were debated in universities and argued by families around the kitchen table in the 1960s and 1970s are given life in this novel.