Themes in Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
Influence of Drugs and Addiction
There is a powerful sense that virtually all the characters in this collection of short stories have been caught in the trap of drug and alcohol addiction, which has contributed to their self-destruction. The actions and apparent feelings of ‘Fuckhead’, the narrator, and the individuals he encounters while on his journey all appear connected, although at varying levels, to their quest to run away from reality by consuming intoxicating substances. For most of them, being addicted to drugs is the only way of avoiding reality, darkness, and fear of the unknown. These addictions have driven them to extreme actions including physical and emotional violence, sexual promiscuity, lying, and stealing.
In this collection, no one epitomizes the destructive influence of drugs than Fuckhead. He had a strong dependence on drugs and alcohol that he did not care about his wellbeing. This is manifested when he says that “I piled my sleeping bag against the left-hand door and slept across it, not caring whether I lived or died” (Johnson 5). In this instance, he insipidly declares his ambivalence towards his own death. Throughout the story, he has gone through numerous tragedies. However, he appears not to have been bothered by them. He even did not show sympathy to the man who had been involved in a gory road accident. “The man hanging out of the wrecked car was still alive as I passed, and I stopped, grown a little more used to the idea now of how really badly broken he was, and made sure there was nothing I could do. He was snoring loudly and rudely” (Johnson 9). His reaction shows that drugs had dehumanized him.
Value of Human Contact
Every human being needs to feel loved regardless of his or her mental state. This is clearly demonstrated in this collection, where Fuckhead had his best moments when he was with his girlfriend. He writes, “I’d been staying at the Holiday Inn with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I’d ever known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the John, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven” (Johnson 55). For a man who has undergone many tribulations, being with a woman gave him so much joy. This illustrates that even though we may go through many issues during our interactions with other humans, we need each other to be happy.
Tension between Desperation and Compassion
Fuckhead viewed life without hope and desire, and his descriptions make a reader to feel compassion for his wretched lifestyle. He is living simply because he does; he is not particularly excited about living. This is demonstrated in his reaction to the overdose that he could have taken, but did not due to circumstances. “He died. I am still alive” (Johnson 42). Throughout the story, he has experienced death, fragility, and decay all around him as a result of his lack of purpose for a better life. His life is full of misfortune that admits to being a “whimpering dog inside, nothing more than that” (Johnson 138). A reader may feel compassion for him.
At the end of the story, Fuckhead says that “All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us” (Johnson 160). These lines suggest the continuation of a life consigned to a reductive spiral of alcohol and drugs, which can be construed as nothing but a hopeless death-in-life. The concept of life as a desperate interregnum between birth and demise pervades the story. This implies that life is a brief respite before death. In essence, there is little empathy in Fuckhead’s future, but only the interplay between desperation and compassion.
Johnson, Denis. Jesus’ son. New York: Harper Perennial. 1992. Print.