November 28, 2016

Car Crash while Hitchhiking Summary and Analysis


The story begins with the narrator waking up in a delirious state. The narrator has done a lot of drugs with a salesman, a Cherokee Indian and a college student. The narrator is in pain but he also seems strangely coherent. He states that he can sense things before they happen.

The narrator is picked up by a family in an Oldsmobile. The narrator knows that there will be a car crash but he chooses to say nothing and goes to sleep. The Oldsmobile crashes into another car and the narrator takes the baby into the night. Walking by the other car, the narrator notices a person lying on the ground. The narrator can tell that this person will soon die and later refers to him as the "dying man". The narrator is taken to a hospital where he sees the wife of the dying man. The wife shrieks like an eagle and the narrator states that hearing the shriek actually felt wonderful. The narrator then describes lying on a hospital bed and being given vitamins by a nurse. Then he describes an outdoor setting while directly addressing the readers of the story.


In "Car Crash while Hitchhiking" Denis Johnson introduces us to the narrator that will remain throughout all of the stories in the book Jesus' Son. We do not learn the narrator's name until later in the book. It's a mysterious story without barely any explanation. The narrator's tone is similar to that of a journalist attempting to describe something as clearly as possible. The problem is that the narrator is high on several kinds of drugs which threatens the reliability of his story. The ending of the story presents the possibility that the entire story is just a hallucination occurring in the narrator's mind. Although we have no reason to suspect that the narrator is a bad person, his actions in the story make him seem self-interested. 

Another reasons why I believe this story occurs in the narrator's head is that he claims to possess the ability to see the future. I find it hard to understand why Johnson chose to include this element in the story. It does not serve a purpose for the story, seeing how the narrator does not act on his premonitions. The narrator is either too stoned or too tired to share his knowledge of the future. The only times the narrator expresses any feelings on the events taking place are when he sees the dying man on the road and when he hears the wife of the dying man shriek in the hospital. The narrator does not express grief during these moments but he does express feelings of awe.

"Car Crash while Hitchhiking" is an aberration of normal storytelling. There is a climactic event some exposition but none of the characters possess an arc and the story might be merely a figment of the narrator's imagination. There is more work than usual on the reader's end to find meaning because the story's purpose is unclear. 

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