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Sailor Song Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In the seventh chapter of Sailor Song, ninety-four-year-old Father Pribilof delivers an impassioned sermon based upon a text from Ecclesiastes: "For O, man knoweth not his time! And as fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of man snared in an evil time." Wisely, the priest aptly defines the plight of the residents of Kuinak, for they are most definitely ensnared in an evil time.

In his version of T. S. Eliot's poems "The Waste Land" (1922), Kesey presents a host of ills. Many people are drug-dependent; some choosing alcohol, others the latest trend in stimulants—scoot, made from 'brewing special black and herbal green teas. Physical and moral filth abounds, as symbolized by the hagfish, slimey predators who invade the body and feed off of decaying flesh. In a startling scene Kesey presents an Eskimo woman justifying her husband's act of incest with his three daughters by observing non-chalantly, "This is not no big thing. As a matter of historical fact you know, a lot of the old chieftains used to enjoy relationships" with their offspring. In addition, Alice Carmody reveals that her son is the product of sexual violation by her "degenerate Russian son-of-abitch father." Some view murder as just a means of advancing land development, and even the ideal of democracy has devolved into the credo "The Dumb is Always Righter Than the Smart Because There's More of Us!" Quoting from Melville's Moby Dick (1851), Alice Carmody observes, "It's a wicked world in all meridians .. ." To her statement, Ken Kesey seems to murmur "Amen."

However, Kesey does not leave readers in an incurable state of despondency. Just as Father Pribilof's sermon reveals that a poor but wise man delivered a little town from the great king who besieged it, so Kesey suggests that Isaak Sallas, his "outof- shape savior," will deliver Kuinak from Nicholas Levertov's control. In a reenactment of Noah's and his family's salvation from the Flood complete with rainbow colors and an assortment of nature's creatures, Kesey implies that through love, individual acts of heroism, and unselfish community spirit, Kuinak—and perhaps the world itself—will thrive.