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The Fruited Plain

The Fruited Plain: Fables for a Postmodern Democracy

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Fruited Plain
    Book Description:

    The beleaguered Joad family of Steinbeck'sGrapes of Wrathstruggled in an era of disappointed dreams and empty pockets. But how might the grandchildren of that Dust Bowl generation fare in today's more promising times? In this boisterously inventive book Alvin Kernan sends various descendants of the original Joad family on a postmodern journey out of California and into the excesses of American culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The experiences of today's Joads are as hilarious as they are discomfiting: they encounter in Kernan's America a world of democracy gone haywire and social institutions in perplexing disarray.In ten satiric episodes, Kernan visits virtually every important American institution-the family, education, religion, art, the military, law courts, sex, science and medicine, politics, and not least television and its advertisements. Unsparing with his barbs, he reveals both the fools and the knaves among us. Kernan's modern-day Joads find themselves in a distorted world where a surplus of democracy not only fails to free its inhabitants but also makes them vulnerable to the machinations of greedy and unscrupulous exploiters. Echoing the voices of such other provocative wits as Evelyn Waugh and Tom Wolfe, Kernan will make you laugh at the absurdity of American culture and-in all likelihood-at yourself.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12834-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. One Merry Xmas from the Joads
    (pp. 1-18)

    Hi everyone, Here it is Xmas of the year 2001, the first of the new millenium, and I have booted up my old PC to send all of you very special greetings from the Win-field Joads III, by e-mail. We all have so much to be thankful for, and specially us Okies whose parents and grandparents came out from the dustbowl in the 1930s to live here in California, the land of milk and honey. At first, I gather, it didn’t seem like that, but things soon got better. They sure did for the Graves, my family, and the Joads,...

  5. Two Majoring in Deconstruction
    (pp. 19-49)

    To make your way, meaning to make a lot of money, in the modern world means going to college, the better the college the more money. After the breakup of the Joad family, it seemed more than ever necessary for Earle to carry out his plans for getting a first-rate education. He had given himself a new academic persona, complete with glowing letters of recommendation, by breaking into Have It All Valley High’s database, and he had these sent to Ivy University. Yale was obviously out, too pastoral. Chicago was too trendy, and Stanford too rigorous. So, Ivy it was....

  6. Three Religion USA
    (pp. 50-74)

    Among the weary walking life’s road, one day came a much-troubled Somerset Joad. He had always been a sensitive and impressionable youth, diagnosed at school as having dyslexia, and in his last years at home he had retreated into watching television nearly all day and well into the night. As he watched he began to notice more and more teeth. Teeth had frightened him since childhood, and on TV everyone had big white teeth, and when they smiled, which was all the time, their mouths opened so far back on their cheeks that you could see nothing but sharp, bright...

  7. Four Art Lets It All Hang Out
    (pp. 75-97)

    As the plane came down over the great city, Calista Joad was filled with joy at arriving at long last in Gotham and its avant-garde art scene. The state had put little Lowrider in a foster home, said she was a poor mother, where he had lots of other nice kids to play with.Why not, it takes a town, or was it a village, to raise a child, doesn’t it?

    But that was all in the past, and below her she saw the city’s deep shadowy canyons, its teeming streets, and its skyscraper tops reflecting light high in the...

  8. Five The Politics Gene
    (pp. 98-124)

    “All doctors and technicians on Team Happenstance! Type 3 plus Emergency, F3A! Happenstance, Emergency, eighteen-hundred hours, F3A.” The hospital loudspeakers’ shrieks and blurred vowels were barely intelligible over the backup beepers on the electric carts, the constant ringing of unanswered telephones, the noise of the dozens of pagers, but the members of the Happenstance team—the two surgeons, the internist, the grief counselor, the anesthetist, the ethicist, the pre- and post-traumatic stress experts, the medical insurance actuary, the lawyers (one for defense against suits, one for suing), and the acupuncturist (by law, “alternative medicine” had now to be represented on...

  9. Six Klutz-Brightgrin H.R. 1984 The John Quincy Thud On-Line Biography of Great Americans
    (pp. 125-152)

    The new Congress was riding high. Gone were the bad old days when the nation believed that all political activities were a disease caused by some kind of mutant gene. Flushed with its recovery, Congress swept on, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Amos Brightgrin (D–Calif.) and the Speaker of the House, the Honorable Elmore Culpable (D–N.Y.), to a series of legislative triumphs safeguarding civil rights for all citizens. Freedom of religion was guaranteed by a statute prohibiting the display in any public place of religious symbols such as crosses, turbans, or yarmulkes that might offend members...

  10. Seven Poshpenny v. Lone Tree State
    (pp. 153-177)

    Above, riding the currents of warm air, the vultures circled, scenting flesh far below. At the next level down, the private jets followed one another in a holding pattern waiting to land at Idi Amin International Airport. The planes contained the cream of the American bar, the personal injury lawyers, going to the lands of the Tongos and the Bongos, who had for some time been killing one another for what they considered the clear and sufficient reason that one group was Tongos and the other Bongos. Since the Tongos and the Bongos had very shallow pockets, in fact they...

  11. Eight A Long Way Up the Arroyo
    (pp. 178-204)

    “Talk to me, you never talk to me, we never discuss anything, that’s what’s wrong with our marriage.”

    “I didn’t know anything was wrong with our marriage. We talk all the time, we never stop talking about our marriage, how can you possibly say we never talk about our marriage?”

    “Well, yes, but we never talk about what is important.”

    “Like what?”

    “Like sex, Earle, like how you always look at other women, but never look at me, like why we never have sex anymore.”

    “Of course we have sex, we had sex last Sunday afternoon when we locked the...

  12. Nine Operation Gulliver
    (pp. 205-226)

    “Outage is just the person for the job, tenacious, smart, a real fighter. Stopping the genocide in Tbongo with its green-hell jungles, its people-swallowing swamps, its vicious Tongo and Bongo tribes, and its fearsome diseases is not a task for your ordinary general. Tbongo has been the center of the African World War for years, and the land is filled with hostile armies. Someone with real fighting instincts and abilities is required, and Outage stands firmly in the shoes that Burnside, Custer, and George C. Scott once filled.”

    T. Bullit Fullstop, secretary of defense (DEFSEC), slammed his fist on the...

  13. Ten Virtual America
    (pp. 227-250)

    The in-depth focus group, funded by Nebbish Network, 51 percent of which was now owned by American Nuts and Screws, was under the direction of Dr. Emma Pessary, Ph.D., whom Somerset Joad vaguely remembered from high school days. The topic was, interestingly enough he thought, since he had had some experience in this matter, the connection between television watching habits and early toilet training. Somerset had been looking for work after his booth in the Religion USA Mall had been closed down, on a strictly bottom-line basis. Business had been dropping off for some time, and the Right Reverend Retrofit’s...

  14. Selected Items from the On-Line Biography of Great Americans
    (pp. 251-260)

    Abime, Meece N.: Foucault Professor of Deconstruction, Ivy University; murdered by student determined to prove the reality of reality.

    Allen, Ethan: Green Mountain Boys Socialist Labor Party; U.S. Representative, Vt.; dairy and maple sugar subsidies.

    Ananias, Fredson: Certificate, Delta Bible College; chief of police, Los Angeles Police Department; deacon and SWAT leader, Cathedral USA; director, CIA, under President Thud.

    Barratri, Ellen: Lone Tree State University, Non Sequitur Hall; associate, Cease & Desist; called to New York bar, Pegasus, Parnassus & Culpable; legal assistant, Senate Majority Leader Amos Brightgrin; counsel committee on WJC politics gene; U.S. attorney general.

    Brightgrin, Amos: B.A.,...