I once read somewhere that the title Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey, was referring to the blues song, “Goodnight Irene”, in which the narrator contemplates suicide. Sometimes a Great Nation touches a lot on death, and suicide in particular. While I think that the only “technical” reference to suicide in Sometimes a Great Notion is Wallard’s, I believe that Kesey is certainly referring to killing one’self when talking about the deer, foxes, and shorebirds in the story. The general idea that one could pick up from these three references is that you cannot beat death; you can only have a draw, a draw which can only postpone death by playing it smart.
Conversation in the Stamper living room is turned one evening to the sound of a crying fox off in the distance. The fox is being hunted and from the way things are sounding, he may have to eventually retreat to swimming across the river. “Ah… what’ll happen if he, if the fox, swims?” Lee asked his father. “He swims the slough ‘stead the river he’ll be okay, but a lot of times they don’t. Lot of times they head right cross the river; and that isn’t so good for the dogs or fox neither one.”(Kesey, 286) Then Viv inquires as to what will happen if the fox attempts such a swim, will he make it? “Oh sure, honey. It ain’t that far across. But somehow they get out in that water…and it’s dark… and stead of going on across they swim with the current, swim and swim and never get to the other side, just keep right on again’.”(Kesey, 286) But if the fox attempts to swim, he will get start swimming with the current and will swim right on out to sea. “Sometimes,” he mused, staring at the coals, “the salmon trollers pick up animals miles out to sea; deer, dogs, cats, lots of fox—just swimming’ around all by their selves, miles and miles from shore.”(Kesey, 287). If the fox were to jump in the river he would likely drown, if the fox were to stay on land, he would likely be killed, Kesey’s point is that death is inevitable,...
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