Volkswagen Blues (150-Word Blog Post)

In preparation for our final exam, let’s pay close attention to Jacques Poulin’s language at the end of Volkswagen Blues.  Perform a close reading of the last two paragraphs of the novel.  How does Poulin render the long-awaited finale?  Would you say the novel resolves the tensions raised between the protagonists, or leaves them unresolved?  Explain what is gained and/or lost by Poulin’s approach here.  For those of you who can read French (or who would like to grapple with the original language), here is the text:

 

Alors ils se serrèrent l’un contre l’autre, assis au bord de leur siege, les genoux mêlés, et ils restèrent un long moment immobiles, étroitement enlacés comme s’ils n’étaient plus qu’une seule personne.  Ensuite Jack prit la petite valise qu’il avait préparée et il sortit du Volks, et la fille remit le moteur en marche.  Lorsqu’il se retourna pour la saluer, elle dit:

–Que les dieux vous protègent!

Il agita la main jusqu’à ce que le Volks eût disparu, et lorsqu’il entra tout seul dans l’aérogare, il souriait malgré tout à la pensée qu’il y availt, quelque part dans l’immensité de l’Amérique, un lieu secret où les dieux des Indiens et les autres dieux étaient rassemblés et tenaient conseil dans le but de veiller sur lui et d’éclairer sa route.

 

23 thoughts on “Volkswagen Blues (150-Word Blog Post)

  1. The concept of Jack and La Grande Sauterelle as one is really an unsettling way to end the novel. It seemed for a while that there was some attempt to make them paralleled in their inability to reconcile their heritages, but the experiences are far too dissimilar for all that. La Grande Sauterelle isn’t struggling with mixed race issues alone; she’s struggling with intergenerational trauma and its impact on her sense of self. That trauma is what plagues their relationship and it feels more as if it was subdued than resolved. While Jack’s journey seems to be one of personal growth and the unlearning of colonial historical revisionism, La Grande Sauterelle’s seems to be an acceptance of defeat. Occupation of Alcatraz is still one of the largest acts of resistance in American history, yet she seemed so discouraged by the sight of it. It’s so disappointing it wasn’t used as a jumping point to the hope instilled by John Trudell and AIM, especially given they were still active in that time. She deserved to find community in that! Not just because that’d combat the heavy extinction trope of this novel, but because her settling in San Francisco for its diversity feels like a way of saying native sovereignty isn’t worth fighting for and hybridization is the best she can hope for. It solidified that Jack’s earlier statement about her being “something new” is just an erasure of indigeneity. Maybe Jack, Jacques Poulin, and their ideal Quebec could live with a hybridized identity, but when that concept is put unto native identities it really just asks for assimilation. It insists she should remember her past, but accept a lack of community in her present. The only thing gained from Poulin’s ending is sense that peace under colonizer’s rule is possible.

  2. I think the tensions between Jack and La Grande Sauterelle were resolved, but I think that La Grande Sauterelle never fully resolved her internal identity crisis. If she had resolved her internal trauma, she would not continue her road trip. Jack, however, seems at peace with his conclusion. In the final line he says he senses that the Indian gods and other gods were watching over him. In this moment, he is referencing how he believes two cultures have successfully and peacefully mixed, though I do not think La Grande Sauterelle came to the same consensus since she continues her journey without him. In many ways, I find it ironic that the white male character thinks all the racial tensions about colonization have evaporated, but the Native American character is left searching for peace at the end of the novel.

  3. I do believe the tensions between the two characters has been mostly resolved. I think my apprehension comes from La Grande Sauterelle. She is still struggling to find identity and a place to belong where she is at and I think that is holding her back from fully letting go of that tension with Jack. She is still trying to find fulfilment in the world and until she gets close to that, I do not think she will ever let that tension go. Jack seems to be at peace in this moment. He finds his brother and answers some of the questions he has been asking, but the state he was in just doesn’t go aways, so I wonder if that tension is really gone for him, or if it will make another appearance when he gets back into his routine again.

  4. I believe that the tensions raised between the two protagonists were mainly resolved, however I would say more so for Jack than La Grande Saunterelle. Jack’s journey has always been more focused on himself, rather than his relationship with others. He is able to find peace in that he found his brother and gain some resolve in his life. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like La Grande Saunterelle is still left searching for more. Even though this might be the case, she seems willing to accept this fate regardless. I think Poulin uses this as a larger overall symbol for how these two races, and races in general inter mix. Unfortunately there will always be a sense of cultural hygemony in the end, especially when white is involved. If the white character is at peace, then we might be naturally inclined to say the situation is “resolved” overall, often times over looking what the other race, in this case Native America, truly feels. Poulin forces us to ask this question.

  5. I don’t believe that the tensions raised by Jack and La Grande Sauterelle were resolved; if one had to choose a character who found peace toward the end of the novel, the obvious choice would be Jack. I found it almost disturbing that the white, cis-male character is seemingly content with colonization while the female, person of color is left to continue her search for peace. I agree with Rebekah; La Grande Sauterelle’s decision to settle in San Francisco may seem like an ideal choice due to SF’s diverse cultural development, but it begs the question of whether cultural amalgamation is truly the best she’ll ever get. I was happy for Jack in the sense that he found his brother and seems to have made great strides on his journey of self-discovery, but I wonder how the novel would have ended had La Grande Sauterelle had her “happy ending” while Jack was forced to continue to find both his brother and relocate his literary voice.

  6. The tensions that LaGrande Sauterelle and Jack share are resolved by the end of the novel, however there are a few things left unsolved with LaGrande’s backstory. She still has internal struggles, a missing sense of self, and past traumas that haunt her to this very day. Perhaps if they were resolved she would top her traveling to find her true identity and to flee from her past. However, she continues her search and escape from her tragic past. Jack, on the other hand, has found peace and has grown from his travels, and experiences. He acknowledges that there are other gods with his last line of dialogue to LaGrande “May the gods protect you”. Poulin succeeds in making readers ask questions, consider history from another standpoint, and leaves one of the characters with a resolved ending and the other to keep searching for. However, Poulin falls short when it comes to Jack retaining what he has learned and thinks that any racial tension left over has evaporated in recent years and the fact that the reader doesn’t get to learn more about LaGrande’s backstory. Other than that, the book was a well written travel story with interesting characters and with good dialogue.

  7. The ending of Volkswagen Blues did seem really open-ended and it felt like there could be a part two to the story, one that is a lot more focused on La Grande Sauterelle’s journey towards finding a resolution with her identity. At the end of the novel Jack seems to be a lot more resolved with his issues and Poulin gave him an ending that seems fitting of the theme of travels and journeys that are so prevalent in the novel. Since it is a road novel where we follow along with the hero on his travels it seemed appropriate to have Jack’s journey end at the airport at the start of another voyage and a whole other story. The “baggage” that he carries along with him on this next journey are the experiences that he’s had with La Grande Sauterelle, his epic road trip in his Volkswagen Minibus, his discovery of his brother’s condition, and the belief that somewhere out there the gods are looking out for him.

  8. Jacques Poulin writes the conclusion of Volkswagen Blues as if the issues of self- identity are not completely resolved, but, rather more wholly understood. For example, in the last line Jack imagines the Indian gods and other gods “watch over him and light his way” (222). If Jack’s journey was complete, he would not need illumination. I believe Jack acknowledges his journey for truth about himself is continuing, albeit with a more critical and honest opinion of himself. However, unlike in the beginning of the journey, he has the strength to continue the
    journey, physically at least, without La Grande Sauterelle. Poulin implies, however, that although Jack and La Grande Sauterelle, continue their journey on alone, this experience has altered on another in such a way that the other’s perspective will always be present. Hence, the imagery of them almost becoming one as they hug. Nevertheless, I feel as if La Grande Sauterelle’s journey is just beginning.

    Although she has facilitated Jack’s query, I believe La Grande Sauterelle has not explored or, yet, embraced herself. As a reader, I felt disappointed, with the handling of La Grande Sauterelle’s journey. Throughout the text, it appeared to me as if this journey was for both characters. However, I felt Poulin gave very little attention to the fact that she was going to continue her journey by remaining behind in San Francisco in an attempt to “come to terms with her own twofold heritage”(220). Poulin wrote very little about her need to continue her journey. I felt, almost as if Poulin’s conclusion understatedly implies her journey to understand her hybridity is not as significant as Jack’s need to understand himself. Perhaps, Poulin was writing mainly from a male American perspective and did not feel qualified to write from her perspective. Regardless, as a reader, I was disappointed because I felt equally invested in both characters and felt I was given a conclusion to only one story.

  9. After reading the novel, and going on the journey with Jack and La Grande Sauterelle, I felt as though the ending left the characters unresolved. I think this was intentional on Poulin’s behalf for a couple reasons. He describes them in the second to last paragraph by saying, “…sitting on the edge of their seat, knees tangled, and sat there motionless for a long moment, embracing tightly as if they were a single person” (221). This was a last attempt to try to force two such different characters into the same sphere, and ultimately La Grande Sauterelle left anyway. I felt as though the girl’s role, specifically mentioned at the very end of the novel, was to protect Jack on his journey. His payment to her for her protection was his most beloved Volkswagen, which I looked at as a sacrifice to his protector. Poulin writes about the “gods of the Indians” watching over him, showing that La Grande Sauterelle’s purpose was to “light his way” (222).
    I think what happens when the two characters leave unresolved – one staying in America because of the culture, and the other one heading back home – is that the reader is shown the tension between Native identity and the colonizer’s identity. While Jack specifically didn’t colonize the girl, he represents the white man from Canada, in need of a navigator to help him through his journey. The reader does see moments in which Jack does try to change how the girl is, including when he tells her what she’s doing is not “what well-brought up young ladies” do. This could be seen as Jack attempting to put his morals and ideas onto a Native person. The ending shows that while the girl and Jack get along, ultimately their identities are separate from each other, and he does not have a need for her once his journey is completed.

  10. After finishing the book and discussing the themes and growth of Jack and La Grande Sauterelle throughout the book in class, I do not feel as though the tension between the two protagonists of the book is resolved entirely. In the perspective of Jack, I feel as though his tension with La Grande Sauterelle is resolved because from his point of view, he is content. From his perspective, La Grande Sauterelle was a catalyst in helping him start his journey. However, in the end, after he finds his brother and completes what he was looking for, he forgets their conflicts because in the end, I believe that he is thankful to have her along and help him, but in the end, his main objective was to find his brother. Now on the other hand, by reading the last few sentences of the book, I do not feel as though La Grande Sauterelle has resolved her tension with Jack. ” ‘That the gods protect you!’… the immensity of America, a secret place where the gods of the Indians and the other gods were gathered and held advice in order to watch over him and light his way.” After reading this, I feel as though La Grande Sauterelle’s search for herself within their adventure was not completed because she was occupied with making sure the Jack survives. She believes that Jack is not competent enough to travel and survive on his own, seeing how she has been his mechanic, his light when he went diving, and his companion in finding his brother. I feel as though she was never given the credit she deserved. In the end, I feel as though Poulin gives us this image of Jack being ready to carry on with his life and La Grande Sauterelle being stuck in a rut because she has yet to figure out who she is outside of helping Jack.

  11. In my opinion, the novel ended with the character Jack finding resolution but La Grande Sauterelle, still having unresolved issues. This can be viewed as a parallel to the unresolved racial issues between the Native people and White (conquerors). In a sense, both of the characters had served their purpose to one another. At the end of the road, they parted ways. I agree with my peers who noted that La Grande Sauterelle’s role was to “light his way” and her relationship with the “gods of the Indians” (222) that watched over him. Once Jack found out what was going on with his brother and completed his journey, the girl was no longer needed. On the other hand, Jack unintentionally helped drive La Grande Sauterelle to finally “come to terms with her own twofold heritage” (220). Throughout the story, you see her almost ignoring and/or running away from her identity. She hitchhikes, travels with strangers, and she unpredictable, never knowing what she is going to do. During Jack’s journey, it sparked her need to figure herself out. Although her character is unresolved in this book, her journey continues. There is room for a sequel that could focus solely on her journey.

  12. The novel ends very abruptly in the last two paragraphs. It is interesting that Poulin chooses to separate the girl and Jack after Jack realizes that Theo has “creeping paralysis.” The only thing truly holding their relationship together was Jack’s search for Theo and the girls desire for reconciliation within herself. It is an interesting ending because on the surface it seems as if nothing is resolved – Jack doesn’t get the chance to talk to Theo, the girl has not found what she is looking for spiritually and the friends two separate, leaving Jack without his long term Volks companion. It does seem as though Jack has come to terms with himself and admires the Native American culture more now than before. However, in the case of the girl – she is still searching for her identity and her place in the world as an “outcast” Native American, which is why she continues her journey alone.

  13. Based on the last two paragraphs of the novel, I would claim that the tensions between Jack and La Grande Sauterelle seem to be pretty well resolved. Jack’s personal conflicts, as well, seem to have been solved—he finds his brother and is able to get answers to some of the questions that drove him to take the road trip in the first place. However, La Grande Sauterelle does not have the same kind of happy ending. When the novel ends she is still searching for peace and a sense of identity. Jack, when they part ways, seems disturbingly unconcerned about her continuing struggle. The last paragraph of the novel says, “when he walked into the airport alone, he was smiling in spite of everything at the thought that somewhere in the vastness of America, there was a secret place where the gods of the Indians and the other gods were meeting together in order to watch over him and light his way” (Poulin 221-222). This passage shows that immediately after La Grande Sauterelle drives away alone to finish the journey they had started together, Jack seems to forget about her almost immediately, concentrating on his own good fortune with no concern for his friend.

  14. After finishing Jacques Poulin’s Volkswagen Blues, I feel like Jack and La Grande Sauterelle’s individual conflicts are more resolved; however, the tension between these two characters is ultimately unresolved by the time the novel ends. Throughout the novel, Jack is searching for his brother in a journey that really seems to be more about self-discovery and his identity. Likewise, La Grande Sauterelle is searching for her own identity as someone who is mixed. In terms of Jack, as the novel progresses, he finds his brother and realizes a few things about his own identity. Contrastingly, La Grande Sauterelle discovers more of what her identity is not, which is evident in the scene in the cemetery where she says, “‘Nothing happened at all,’ she said rather sadly. ‘I mean, I feel exactly the same as before. There’s no difference. Total failure’” (60). I feel that her disappointment in her search for her identity plays a key role in the way that she and Jack interact at the end of the novel. Jack shows little to no interest in La Grande Sauterelle’s journey of self-discovery—rather he is a bystander watching all of these events unfold. By the end of the novel, the pair is parting ways, and La Grande Sauterelle ends up taking the Volkswagen. While the two “[hug] each other, sitting on the edge of their seat, knees tangled, and [are sitting] there motionless for a long moment, embracing tightly as if they were a single person,” I believe that there is still a disconnect in the ways that Jack understands La Grande Sauterelle and her culture (221). The novel places such an emphasis on La Grande Sauterelle’s exploration of her Native culture only to have Jack attempt to change her behavior, as well as her perspectives on things. I feel like La Grande Sauterelle comes to understand Jack throughout this journey, but Jack never really understands her.

  15. I think the tensions between Jack and La Grande Sauterelle were resolved, however, her own personal struggles were not. She faced a long term battled of self-discovery which did not end with the book. She doesn’t have a place she feels she truly belongs which is holding her back from moving on in her life and prohibiting her from letting go of these tensions with Jack. The novel leaves Jack with his questions answered and he is able to go on with his life, whereas La Grande Sauterelle continues her search. I think race plays a role in her unresolved issues. Throughout the book you see her almost running away from her identity and heritage and I do not think she has fully come to terms with that even after Jack leaves the minibus.

  16. The tension between Jack and La Grande Sauterelle has been mostly resolved in the end of the novel. However, it is not a satisfying ending for La Grande Sauterelle. Jack has found with his brother and is able to move on with his life. By leaving La Grande Sauterelle behind him, he is able to imagine her content, existing happily in San Francisco. The reader on the other hand is forced to look at the implications of her ending, while Jack is able to move on with his life, she is forced to resign herself to accepting her fragmented identity. In a lot of ways she serves as a device to guide Jack through is journey but in the end she is left unsatisfied. I agree with Kylie that it is interesting that the cis-male white character has a happy ending while the native female character is left wanting more. Though looking at it through todays lens, this is the most “realistic” ending. The native people of the America’s have been exploited and forced to assimilate while colonial forces have reaped the benefits.

  17. Wearing the influence of On the Road on his sleeve, Poulin keeps the story of Volkswagen Blues episodic and at times anticlimactic in order to mimic the more realistic diary-style road novel, which when done organically tends to leave out story structure and a proper resolution. However, unlike Kerouac, Poulin in my opinion forces a resolution between the two main characters which feels incredibly artificial and strikes a dissonance with the tone of the rest of the novel. The line “May the gods protect you” to me is the equivalent of the characters waking up and finding it was all a dream. There could have been a heartfelt conversation between Jack and the girl where they realize there isn’t any reason why the natives and the colonists can’t live together in peace, or maybe La Grande Sauterelle acknowledging that Jack isn’t one of the bad guys and accepting him, but instead that subplot is solved with a snap of the author’s fingers. Without a lesson learned, a sacrifice suffered, or a change forced to be made, the reader takes nothing from this ending. I will concede, however, that it is likely that Poulin decided to leave it up to the reader to figure out that finally finding Theo took such a weight off of Jack’s shoulders, leading to his cheery mood in the last few sentences, but you’d think that the image of his brother paralyzed, decrepit, and drooling would have a stronger impact on him, yet again the striking non-humanlike qualities of the two main characters in these last two paragraphs just do not fit in with the rest of the novel.

  18. I don’t really feel like the relationship and the story is totally resolved by the end of the novel. Jack and La Grande Sauterelle had a strange and complicated relationship from the beginning, and it seems very strange for them to be bidding each other well without much foreshadowing to a future reunion. It almost seems like Jack and La Grande Sauterelle were disposable to each other. They needed each other for awhile- Jack needed La Grande Sauterelle to help him find his brother, and she needed him to help her resolve her identity crisis of sorts. But as soon as their respective journeys were over, they no longer needed each other. This is a little sad. It evens becomes slightly problematic when Jack references that he’d like to think of the Indian gods watching over him, especially because this is juxtaposed against him saying goodbye to La Grande Sauterelle, who herself is Native American. It almost seems like appropriation or commodification of Indian religion. Also, La Grande Sauterelle still doesn’t seem totally fulfilled by the end. Her journey isn’t really over, and she is alone without Jack.

  19. Jacques Poulin’s ending to Volkswagen Blues comes as a surprise, as I wasn’t expecting the main protagonists to part ways after their summer long road-trip, especially after discovering Theo’s fate and current condition. Personally, I felt the novel was heading in the direction of Jack and La Grande Sauterelle traveling back to Quebec, to return to their normal lives while maintaining friendly contact. Instead, the girl is granted ownership of the Volks, and Jack flies back home- leaving his brother behind, which doesn’t seem to bother him much. No, I don’t think any tensions remain between our main characters; there is an obvious tenderness *between* the two. They cared for one another and supported their personal endeavours, in fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the word “love” to describe their relationship.
    However, tension remains *within* these characters; both Jack and La Grande Sauterelle have internal conflicts to mitigate and make peace with. For Jack, it is finding out all of his heroes are not the great men he thought they were. These men include historical icons and his brother, Theo. He must cope with his shattered illusions and embrace the realities of whom he placed on a pedestal. This will probably be achieved through his writing. For La Grande, she must cope with her muddled sense of self and come to peace with what seems like conflicting identities. The novel mentions she’ll spend more time in San Francisco; an extremely diverse environment; one in which she can grow and learn about what it means to be a product of diversity.

  20. The resolution of the novel gave more possible individual resolve to Jack rather than La Grande Sauterelle. Having the two characters part ways with one another halts all mending of the tension in its tracks. It felt as if Poulin was not portraying La Grande Sauterelle as finding resolution in her connection to the past. But rather lessening her visceral reactions to beloved American landmarks founded in the mistreatment of Native Americans to show that she is finding resolve within herself and the current world. When actually it just feels and looks like passive acceptance. The longed for resolve of tension between the two seem as if it can never occur if they are together. They must leave one another to continue traveling and living alone as they had been before they met which does not seem like a step forward in any sense.
    It’s surprising that Poulin describes Jack and La Grande Sauterelle “as if they were a single person”. To relate to one another and recognize that another person has connections to a race of people whose culture and community have been destroyed by the very heroes another holds dear is how to build an understanding. The goal in this is to thoroughly accept the other person individually, not generalize that we are all people. Everyone is different, everyone carries different generational connections to the past. If La Grande Sauterelle and Jack had stayed together and continued to learn with one another a resolve would have ensued.

  21. I’m not sure I can confidently say that Jack and La Grande Sauterelle came to a sort of resolution. They both speak of wanting to be alone right at the very end. Even when Jack points out that each spent the whole summer with the other, La Grande Sauterelle quickly exclaims that “you can’t always be logical!” It seems that Jack has come to an understanding about himself. He even acknowledges how he might never have loved his brother but loved the idea he had created of him. La Grande Sauterelle doesn’t seem to get anything close to a resolution like this. Even at the end, Jack is still asking her basic questions about where she was born and how it’s fitting she gets the Volks because she was born in a motor vehicle and is a mechanic. It seems very one-sided. She even tells Jack, “May the Gods protect you!” and he the thinks about it and finds comfort. He offers no sort of wish to her and only pictures himself being watched over by the ‘Gods’ of America. La Grande Sauterelle is left to finish her own adventure and to continue on with her search for identity.

  22. Jacques Poulin’s ending to Volkswagen Blues comes as a surprise, as I wasn’t expecting the main protagonists to part ways after their summer long road-trip, especially after discovering Theo’s fate and current condition. Personally, I felt the novel was heading in the direction of Jack and La Grande Sauterelle traveling back to Quebec, to return to their normal lives while maintaining friendly contact. Instead, the girl is granted ownership of the Volks, and Jack flies back home- leaving his brother behind, which doesn’t seem to bother him much. No, I don’t think any tensions remain between our main characters; there is an obvious tenderness between the two. They cared for one another and supported their personal endeavours, in fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the word “love” to describe their relationship.
    However, tension remains within these characters; both Jack and La Grande Sauterelle have internal conflicts to mitigate and make peace with. For Jack, it is finding out all of his heroes are not the great men he thought they were. These men include historical icons and his brother, Theo. He must cope with his shattered illusions and embrace the realities of whom he placed on a pedestal. This will probably be achieved through his writing. For La Grande, she must cope with her muddled sense of self and come to peace with what seems like conflicting identities. The novel mentions she’ll spend more time in San Francisco; an extremely diverse environment; one in which she can grow and learn about what it means to be a product of diversity.

  23. The ending of Volkswagen Blue is very open-ended. Though it seems that the tensions between La Grande and Jack are resolved, one can still say that La Grande’s internal struggle for her self identity is not fully resolved. It seems that Jack, a white male character, has gained what he was looking for when he first begun his journey (he found his brother and believes that gods are watching over him). However, it is hard to say that La Grande, a half-native American female character, has gained what she was looking for when she first begun her journey. Unlike the while male character, Jack, found peace at his place, the half-native American character, La Grande, keeps searching for peace and her self identity. La Grande continues her journey without Jack (if she discovered her identity, she would have stopped traveling). In this sense, one can say that the ending of the novel can be seen as the beginning for La Grande’s journey.

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