57 pages 1 hour read

Tom Wolfe

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 1968

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Important Quotes

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“What was it that had brought a man so high of promise to so low a state in so short a time? Well, the answer can be found in just one short word, my friends, in just one all-well-used syllable: Dope!”

(Chapter 1, Page 5)

Tom Wolfe explains that only a few years earlier, Ken Kesey had been a standout athlete in football and was one of the top amateur wrestlers in the country. His two early novels had brought him wealth and prestige, but now his wife had trouble scraping enough money together to help him flee to Mexico (4-5).

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“Despite the skepticism I brought here, I am suddenly experiencing their feeling. I am sure of it. I feel like I am in on something the outside world, the world I came from, could not possibly comprehend, and it is a metaphor, the whole scene, ancient and vast.”

(Chapter 3, Page 27)

In Chapter 3, when Wolfe is waiting in the Warehouse for Kesey to return from jail, he is taken aback by how the acidheads and Pranksters always speak so philosophically but suddenly he begins to understand them better and gets caught up in what they are thinking and feeling.

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“Fantasy is a word Kesey has taken to using more and more, for all sorts of plans, ventures, world views, ambitions. It is a good word. It is ironic and it isn’t. It refers to everything from getting hold of a pickup truck—“that’s our fantasy for this weekend”—to some scary stuff out on the raggedy raggedy edge […] like the current fantasy, which is somehow to be told at the Acid Test Graduation.”

(Chapter 4, Pages 32-33)

Wolfe is referring both to the countercultural language that the acidheads communicate with and to the subject at hand—that Kesey has been released from jail in order to deliver the message that young people should stop using psychedelic drugs. Kesey’s fantasy in this regard is not so much they will abstain from using drugs but rather that they graduate and move on to other consciousness raising activities.