Great Jones Street

by Don DeLillo

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Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

Drugs and rock music are the overt topics of Great Jones Street, which some readers might be inclined to treat as a roman a clef, searching for clues to the true identity of rock star Bucky Wunderlick (Jagger? Dylan? Jim Morrison?), although such a question is clearly irrelevant. The central question is the relationship between the public persona and the "self." There is no presupposed answer, and certainly not the conventional humanistic answer — the "self" is real, the persona a sham and artificial creation. There is no lack of artificiality, no question that rumor and publicity are at least as "real" as the private self. Bucky Wunderlick hears constant reports of his whereabouts and exploits, while he, and the reader, are well aware that he has been nowhere (except on Great Jones Street) and done little or nothing (except listen to other people try to manipulate him). If cause and effect relationships in the "real" world are evidence, then clearly the self is irrelevant and vulnerable, while the public persona — the product of rumor, greed, paranoia — is not only real, but has practical consequences. The tendency of self-interest to distort, divide, and subvert all philosophies and values is explored here, but the impossibility of avoiding destruction by withdrawing to a "neutral" stance is equally apparent. Bucky's effort to step off the stage and become a private person is instantly parodied and made potentially destructive by the Happy Valley Farm Commune. They respect his effort to affirm the right to "privacy" in a consumerist, media-oriented society. They are also no longer rural, but urban communards, no longer united but splintered, no longer pacifist but distinctly violent. As is so often the case with names and titles in DeLillo's novels, they are everything their label says they are not. Whether in the name of business, counterculture, crime, or just simple greed, all activity becomes bound up in self-contradictory and ironic situations.

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