Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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The Big Rock Candy Mountain – A Hobo’s Hymn to an Eldorado

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on February 18, 2012

Hoboing is an American phenomenon driven by wanderlust and economic conditions. Hobos and railroading are inseparable. In the play ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams, the all powerful “Big Daddy” tells his son ‘Bricks” about the love his hobo father heaped on him despite being penniless and how he is forced to bury his father by a railway line. Some great writers like Jack London, James Michener, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Louis L’amour are said to have lived the lives of hobos for a period of time. Jack London, in specific has written a fantastic travelogue “The Road” describing his life as a hobo. It is one of the finest pieces of travel writing I have read so far.

I’ve first heard the classic hobo song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” while watching Cohen brother’s movie “O Brother Where Art Though“.  It is a heartwarmingly poetic articulation of an ideal world desired by a wandering hobo. The hobo’s needs and asks are pretty simple: handouts on bushes, cigarette trees, lakes of stew and whiskey, box cars that allow them to tramp, no long hand of the law, no jails, no work, life in open air and simple comforts of life. The movie carries a rendition of the song by Hary McClintock which etches itself in the mind. An enormously appealing and joyful piece of writing replete with childlike simplicity, desire and a mild touch of sadness. The sadness arises on account of the impossibility of the desire and the element of gullibility of the hobo to pin his hope on the existence of a paradise of his imagination. A true hymn to an imagined Eldorado


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