The Basketball Diaries book. Read reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The urban classic coming-of-age story about sex, drugs, and. The Basketball Diaries is a memoir written by author and musician Jim Carroll. It is an The book was made into a film of the same name in starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll and Mark Wahlberg as Mickey. The Basketball Diaries: The Classic About Growing Up Hip on New York's Mean Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the month in fiction, nonfiction.
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The Basketball Diaries [Jim Carroll] on terney.info The comparable titles is where the similarities end however the book and the film are completely. The urban classic coming-of-age story about sex, drugs, and basketball Jim Carroll grew earn your way to a free book! The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll. Judging from the title, I expected the diary to be a boring boys' book about basketball; once I had read the first few pages, however, I realized my assumption.
By Emily Sears Aug. While we've all uttered some version of this sentiment at one point or another, there have been those rare occasions when the opposite is true. As a lifelong bookworm and cinephile, I've discovered that whether I read the book before or after seeing the movie can have a profound influence on my enjoyment of the story across both mediums. In the process, I hope to unveil how these two vastly different mediums work together to tell the same story, from cover to credits. The former athlete and junkie turned poet and punk rocker was sixty years old.
In , at the age of twelve, Carroll developed the habit of keeping a journal and for three years scribbled stream of consciousness entries chronicling a double life spent shooting hoops and heroin.
Published in , his real-time ramblings of misspent youth on the streets of New York City conjure unthinkable images for anyone who would never consider shooting dope at the age of twelve, stealing handbags from old ladies, or hustling businessmen in the bathroom at Grand Central Station.
A romanticized theory that nevertheless became the thesis of the film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. For over a decade the project continued to fall through the cracks with every talented young actor from Eric Stoltz to River Phoenix vying for the role of Jim Carroll. At the time, director Scott Kalvert was popular with the MTV generation for his work in music videos.
In fairness, Kalvert and screenwriter Bryan Goluboff were tasked with creating a feature length narrative based solely on a collection of diary entries, leaving them with a lot of gaps to fill. In the book, Jim's extensive drug use never leads to him quitting school or the basketball team — he graduated from Trinity High School in The film, on the other hand, inserts these events to act as consequences for Jim and Mickey Mark Wahlberg when they get busted for playing on downers.
He makes scathing attacks on hypocrisy. He condemns the U. He notes that poor junkies like him do not have the same treatment programs or escape options as middle-class or rich junkies have.
He exposes the hypocrisy of narcotics police, who keep most confiscated drugs for themselves—to sell it on the streets. Ultimately, he predicts the publication of The Basketball Diaries , in which he intends to expose these views and facts. Carroll's father is largely absent in the diaries. Even when he and his father talk, the conversation generally ends badly.
Carroll is against the Vietnam War , while his father is for it. Also, Carroll wears his hair long like other members of the counterculture, something that bothers his father and his father's friends, who goad Carroll's father into picking fights with his son.
Carroll's mother is largely absent in the diaries. She finds a bag of her son's marijuana, but Carroll fools her into thinking that he does not have a drug problem. When he is in Riker's juvenile prison, she does not come to see him. However, when she tries to force a strung-out Carroll to have sex with her, he breaks off the affair.
The junkie Marc Clutcher is one of Carroll's basketball teammates. Along with Carroll and Anton Neutron, Clutcher performs poorly on the team because of his drug use. With others, Clutcher witnesses the woman who tries to commit suicide by jumping out of a window. He also smuggles peyote back from Mexico. Deborah Duckster, one of Carroll's neighborhood friends, is a model. When Willie gets too drunk one night, he lunges for her, and she kicks him in the groin, knocking him out.
Duckster witnesses the woman who tries to commit suicide by jumping out of a window. Benny Greenbaum is a homosexual college scout who travels with Carroll's high school team to some games.
Greenbaum pays one of the team members to perform oral sex and gropes Carroll in his hotel room—under the pretense of fitting Carroll for a college uniform.
Lefty is Carroll's basketball coach in the Biddy League; Carroll suspects that Lefty is a homosexual, since Lefty gropes his players. Jimmy Mancole is one of Carroll's junkie friends.
When the police raid Headquarters after a noise complaint, Mancole retaliates against the woman next door, whom he assumes made the complaint. Mancole and Carroll almost get caught shooting up in the park, and then they are swindled by a Mexican drug dealer. Mancole gives Carroll his first heroin shot when Carroll gets out of Riker's and helps Carroll mug people in the park.
The junkie Anton Neutron is one of Carroll's basketball teammates. Along with Carroll and Marc Clutcher, Neutron allows drug use to affect his performance on the team. The junkie Willie is one of Carroll's old basketball teammates. Willie is the first person who smokes marijuana with Carroll at school. Willie gets so drunk one night that he is rushed to the hospital to get his stomach pumped. Willie gets revenge on an assailant by spiking the person's soda with a dangerously large amount of crystal amphetamine.
From a very early age, Carroll tries to escape his tough existence on the streets of New York by pursuing other activities that bring him enjoyment. At thirteen, he begins playing basketball in the Biddy league, his first organized league.
Give that he has natural athletic ability, basketball quickly becomes a lifestyle for him, which leads to minor fame and a basketball scholarship to a rich, private school. However, in the process, he also engages in self-destructive activities, such as stealing, drinking, and doing drugs.
On one occasion, Carroll and some of his teammates take pills that they think will improve their performance, but the pills do the opposite. Says Carroll: Ultimately, the physical side effects of massive drug use, coupled with Carroll's arrest for drug possession, destroy his dream of playing professional basketball—one of his few chances of escape from his street existence. Carroll notes that street users like him find it hard to escape a heroin addiction; they do not have the support networks or financial means of rich users, who can "take off to the Riviera" if they feel their addictions are getting too strong.
Carroll has a conversation with a friend and notes that a junkie on a high often curls up like a fetus. Carroll's friend thinks this is an indication of heroin's power to give junkies a sense that they can escape to the ultimate comfortable, secure place.
Carroll's heroin habit starts out small, what he calls a "'Pepsi-Cola"' habit, but his addiction eventually gets out of control—a fact that he recognizes when he tries to stop using heroin and finds that he cannot.
He is physically ill from his addiction, but the hardest part is trying to avoid the little voice in his head that keeps telling him to have just one more hit of heroin. This is so even when he has to use dirty needles to shoot up. He notes a certain needle, stashed in a park, that many local junkies share. Says Carroll, "it's the filthiest spike you ever could see. Puking's the newest thing on the junk scene. Carroll's diaries offer several examples of his potent and varied sexual experiences.
When he is around nine years old, he has his first transvestite experience. At thirteen, he gets into the habit of masturbating while watching the stars from the roof of his apartment building. He is excited by "the possibility of being caught in a situation where there is no possibility of explaining yourself.
Carroll initially pursues heterosexual encounters for pleasure and avoids homosexuals. However, once Carroll becomes hooked on heroin, his addiction is so strong that he starts selling his body to homosexuals for drug money.
With the exception of one case in the diaries, in which he gets a "strange pleasure [from] … this naughty act of perversion for profit," Carroll is disgusted by these encounters.
Also, in the beginning of the diaries, Carroll does not mind getting rid of a drug high to have sex. For example, before he goes to one party, he drinks some codeine cough syrup. However, when he meets a girl there, he perceives "sexual overtones creeping about, so I figured I better go into the bathroom and throw up the medicine to bring me down a bit, in order to get it up a lot. On one occasion, Carroll breaks up with his older lover when she tries to initiate sex with him while he is strung out from a heroin withdrawal and waiting for a friend to bring him his fix.
Her slightest touch set little stinging grenades off in my head. A diary details the events in one's life as a series of periodic entries. The Basketball Diaries is composed of ten sections, one for each season—in some cases two seasons—from Fall to Summer Each section is composed of five to twenty-six separate entries.
Most diaries are kept for personal reasons and are not intended for publication. As a result, the diarist may jump around and discuss many topics, instead of developing one major plot, as other kinds of storytellers do. At first glance, The Basketball Diaries appears to follow this episodic format, since each short entry describes a separate event.
The events take place in the s in New York City, primarily Manhattan, a small island that contains within its small area some of the world's richest and poorest people. Carroll, a boy from the poor section of New York, is able to use his basketball talent to get into a local, rich private school.
He also dates rich young girls, something that he says his friends from the poor part of the city would not believe. In addition, New York is notorious for its high crime rate and its drug abusers. In fact, as Carroll notes, his diaries "have the greatest hero a writer needs, this crazy … New York. The Basketball Diaries is conspicuous for its graphic profanity. Many entries include at least one profane word, and in some cases, Carroll uses several. These profane words are used to describe sexual acts—in which case he uses many—and are often used for emphasis, even when describing relatively normal events.
Carroll also includes a lot of slang—a type of language used in everyday life by common men and women, typically those in the lower or working classes. Slang words are often established words that have been given different meanings. For example, in the English language , a "spade" is a gardening tool. However, in street slang, a spade is an African American. This term is derogatory, which is another common characteristic of slang words. Sex, drugs, and alcohol are three areas in which slang is often used.
For example, Carroll refers to sexual intercourse as "nooky," calls condoms "scumbags," and refers to breasts as "knocks. The imagery in the diaries is also graphic. For example, Carroll and his friends come across a woman who has committed suicide by jumping out of a window. For example, as he is about to say goodbye to his girlfriend before basketball practice one day, he states that she "socks her tongue in my mouth and grinds her sweet bottom up against me.
On one occasion, Carroll describes what it looks like when he shoots up: The U. After these demonstrations, several countries, including the Soviet Union , rushed to create and test their own atomic bombs. The resulting tension between the Soviet Union and the United States—and between communism and democracy in general—was labeled the Cold War, and for good reason.
Although much of the period was technically spent in peace, the pervasive feeling of suspicion and paranoia that was generated by this clash of superpowers made many feel that they were fighting a war. In the diaries, Carroll describes on many occasions what it was like growing up as a "war baby" in a major city during the Cold War, living in constant fear that he was going to die in a nuclear attack:.
It's always been the same, growing up in Manhattan. Although the peak years of the Cold War were over by the s, the U. Most Americans were unaware of this involvement, since U. However, in , the United States escalated its involvement, adding fifty thousand new ground troops to the twenty-three thousand already stationed in Vietnam.
At this point, the U. Many people, like Carroll, were forced to take a side in this conflict. Carroll, like many other members of the counterculture—a group of people who rebelled against the U. The counterculture grew as many people, especially American youth, became hippies or junkies.
Hippies wore their hair long, dressed in deliberately shabby clothes, and believed in nonviolent forms of antiwar protest such as sit-ins and peace marches. Hippies tended to use recreational drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD; they believed these drugs freed their minds and gave them better understanding about the human condition.
Junkies shared many characteristics with hippies, however, junkies like Carroll were mainly interested in getting high, and were not opposed to violence and crime. Young American men are sent, often through the draft and against their will, to fight in the Vietnam War. Some seek to escape the horrors of guerilla war by using illicit drugs like marijuana and heroin—the latter of which is cheap and readily available in Southeast Asia. Following terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.
The terrorist attacks spark a patriotic response, and many young men and women choose to enlist in the armed forces. The use of illicit drugs spreads into the mainstream United States.
The counterculture movement of the s and s helps to promote this increased use of drugs, especially marijuana and LSD.
Heroin, which is used by junkies drug addicts , is often avoided by hippies. The heroin-related deaths of River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, and other prominent celebrities spark a national awareness of heroin abuse.
Although the use of illicit drugs is still a problem in the United States, drug use has dropped by nearly 45 percent since its peak in the late s.
Sexual freedom becomes a hallmark of the decade. Pregnancy is less a concern with the increased use of birth-control pills. Likewise, some sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea, can often be treated by easily obtained prescription antibiotics.
Although U. By the time The Basketball Diaries was published in a limited-edition book in , and again in wider distribution in , it was already a hit with underground readers. Literary critics soon followed suit. Many of them, such as Jamie James in his review of the book for American Book Review, discuss the gritty nature of the book.
As James notes, it is "a blow-by-blow account of a season in Hell. Says James of the book, it "is a literary miracle; a description of the formation of an artistic sensibility written by the artist, not in retrospect, but in the process. Says Barbara Graustark of Carroll in her review of the book for Newsweek: The album's lyrics were rough and dark, like his diaries, and several music critics commented on the book in the course of reviewing the album.
In his review of the album for Stereo Review Magazine, Steven Simels calls the book "a scary, mordantly funny odyssey along the dark underbelly of the Sixties, a virtuoso performance that ought to be must reading for those who still tend to romanticize the counterculture. The Basketball Diaries also received favorable critical attention in , when it was reprinted to coincide with the publication of its sequel, Forced Entries.
The same was true in , when the book was reprinted to coincide with the film adaptation of the book. This time around, with the help of a tie-in cover featuring actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the book landed on the bestseller list. MacAdams notes "the miracle of Jim Carroll," a boy who "wrote like an angel, creating a transcendent autobiography. Says Jebian: In her article for Dionysos: Literature and Addiction Quarterly, Carter notes that The Basketball Diaries "performs an amazing feat of alchemy, transforming the waste of Carroll's adolescence into a victory.
Still, despite its legendary status with both reviewers and popular readers, the book is not without its critics. Most of the negative criticism has centered on the book's graphic depictions of sex, violence, and drug use, and the book has been banned in certain areas as a result.
Carneal claimed that a scene depicting one of Carroll's classroom-shooting fantasies from the book had encouraged him to kill his classmates. Poquette has a bachelor's degree in English and specializes in writing about literature. Jim Carroll fills his autobiographical diaries with graphic language and imagery and includes situations that take the reader from one extreme emotion to another. When it hits a blue note, it is harrowing.
An example of a hilarious incident is Carroll's observation of the melodrama during a going-away party for Gums, a local military recruit. Gums's family makes a big fuss about his potentially dangerous involvement in the Vietnam War, but Carroll finds out that the boy is really only going to serve six months in a local reserve unit.
As Carroll notes, "from the scene here you'd think old Gums had to assassinate Chairman Mao with a water pistol. He is still drinking it when two police arrive, "not believing for sure anything they see, Bobby not budging but biting away, cash register wrecked on the floor and the grilled cheese sandwich which Bobby forgot about burning to a crisp.
Carroll also describes some extremely gut-wrenching episodes, such as the various sex acts he has to engage in to support his drug habit, which lately have involved "handcuffs, masks, snakes yeah, that's right, real ones , chains, whips, last week a guy had a pet parrot that he had eat grapes out of my pubic hair.
When he resurfaces after a four-day high, he notices two sets of needles next to him "in the slightly bloody water in the plastic cup on the crusty linoleum, probably used by every case of hepatitis in upper Manhattan by now.
On one occasion when he is strung out, he waits the hour that it will take for a dose of methadone—a slower-acting drug—to take effect. Besides the funny or disturbing descriptions, the situations themselves are often extreme. Even ordinary situations, like the many basketball games that Carroll plays, fall into one of two extremes—he either plays well or he takes drugs and plays horribly. In the beginning of the diaries, Carroll is a basketball star.
The diaries are filled with several accounts of Carroll and his team dominating lesser teams. For example, at one point, Carroll's team is shorthanded while playing another team, but "it was the lamest bunch of saps ever put on a court, this other team, and we wiped them out by at least forty points.
As for Carroll himself, he easily impresses girls at his games. For example, he describes one game, during which the girls in the stands open their legs wider and wider as they let out "oohs" and "ahhs" to show their amazement at Carroll's athletic ability. This phenomenon increases "in direct proportion to each 'ooh' that by the time I dunked one backwards I could almost distinguish what color panties each chick sitting there was wearing.
At the other extreme, Carroll plays badly in games in which he takes drugs, such as when he takes some pills that he mistakenly thinks will make him faster. In reality, they drag him down. Carroll's experiences with drugs are also extreme. At thirteen, Carroll is sniffing cleaning fluid. On another occasion, he is able to drink an enormous amount—two bottles—of codeine cough syrup before a party.
When he first starts using heroin, he mainlines it, meaning that he injects it directly into a vein as opposed to injecting it into his skin or sniffing the dry powder. Novice heroin users usually avoid mainlining, since the high is so strong and it is easier to overdose. Says Carroll, "Tony said I might as well skin pop it. I said OK. Then Pudgy says, 'Well, if you're gonna put a needle in, you might as well mainline it.
Carroll's deliberate statement that this incident is true highlights its extreme nature. In fact, after another extreme episode, Carroll notes: In his review for Creem, Richard Riegel calls The Basketball Diaries "a disturbingly seamless mixture of fact and fiction.
Says Delacorte: In fact, Carroll himself is aware that normal situations make uninteresting diaries. At the end of one of the rare entries that does not include an outrageous situation, Carroll notes that this particular entry is boring. Most people's lives are not that interesting. Despite the popular demand for biographies of interesting people, on a day-to-day basis most people—even celebrities—lead normal, and even boring, lives.
Not Carroll, however. In his life, as depicted by The Basketball Diaries , there little boredom; readers are treated to a continuous, exciting variety of extreme dialogue, imagery, situations, and characters. However, in the end, the diaries are true, even if Carroll did make some of it up. They offer an accurate reflection of what life was like for kids like Carroll, growing up on the tough streets of New York in the s. At one point in his diaries, Carroll says that most people are unaware of what life is like in the city.
He says that he will soon let people "know what's really going down in the blind alley out there in the pretty streets with double garages. I got a tap on all your wires, folks. I'm just really a wise ass kid getting wiser. His is the voice of criminals, junkies, prostitutes, and other urban characters who, like him, have struggled against their disadvantaged surroundings and who have failed to "become pure.
Ryan D. France holds an M.
In the following essay, France discusses both historical context and the tradition of the poet as rebel in The Basketball Diaries. The primary value of Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries is its contextual vision of time from the fall of to the summer of and place New York City and its environs and its carrying onward of a dramatic cultural strand that presents the in this case young artist as incorrigible rebel.
The importance of the historical content highlighted in the published text is heightened by comparison with the financially successful movie adaptation, starring actor Leonardo Di Caprio that was released in In the latter version, all references to the s are excised; the setting in the movie version is still New York City, but it is a very different, much more affluent and much more apolitical version of the city apparently of early-to mids vintage.
Indeed, even though the movie quotes extensively from the printed version, it loses much of the charm and background tension and interest rendered in the book. The original diarist makes much of the atomic jitters caused by the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and ferment caused by class and racial friction, indirectly and at times directly using his and societal fears as justifications for his rebellious attitude, drug-use, and generally antisocial, at times violently sociopathic behavior.
In his "Author's Note" to Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, , Jim Carroll writes: The entries were consciously embellished and fictionalized to some extent. My purpose was simply to convey the texture of my experience and feelings for that period. What the reader can gain from the early diaries is a sense of what life was like in New York City during a three-year period for a precocious adolescent and teenager who was a good basketball player, drug addict, and neophyte poet.
From his wry observations, often dangerous preoccupation and conflicts, one can also learn much about attitudes that oppose his, the prevailing norms, and generally what was going on culturally. Simply put, Jim Carroll's rebelliousness tapped into a relatively small but growing societal discontent that was building momentum for the entire duration of that historical period.
One of Jim Carroll's heroes throughout the diaries is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan , an important cultural rebel and icon of the period and ever since. A Summer 64 diary entry observes: This makes perfect sense in that Dylan defined himself as rebel-poet, the very thing Jim Carroll wanted to become in full. Bob Dylan could fuse the power and possibilities of poetry with music, passionately rail against the things in society he didn't like, and become rich and famous all at the same time.
Technically, he couldn't even sing very well, an evident fact that inspired all sorts of aspiring poets and singers. Indeed, Jim Carroll himself eventually in the late s formed a rock band and sang his own poems and lyrics just like his hero, including "People Who Died," a very memorable song on the album Catholic Boy that chronicles the deaths of friends and acquaintances, many of whom appear and whose deaths are mentioned or similarly described in entries of The Basketball Diaries.
This song also appears in the movie version, tying four art forms written diary, poetry, music, and cinema together. It is worth noting that Carroll's voice has an imprint that is almost equally affected and unique as Dylan's. For Carroll as a boy, as with heroin, once hooked, it would have been difficult to avoid his interest in Dylan, for during the approximate period covered by the diaries, Dylan released no fewer than six very influential albums; indeed, halfway through the period he caused a ruckus among folk music "purists" by changing from acoustic to electric guitar.
Carroll, in a Winter entry, describing an incident shooting up heroin, notes: He glows in the dark and my fingers are just light feathers falling and fading down…" Carroll was sensitive enough to discover that Dylan did not and does not carry his appeal to everyone, in one case to an African-American friend.
In the spring of , after the electric album Highway 61 Revisited had climbed the predominantly white popular music charts, Carroll noted in his diary: This loosely defined group of poets and writers included novelist Jack Kerouac , author of On the Road , poet Allen Ginsberg , author of "Howl" , and writer William S.
Carroll does not inform the reader whether these are important influences on him at the time as well, but their impact and his meetings with some of the Beat figures is definitively mentioned in Forced Entries: As with his fondness for Dylan, this again make sense, for Carroll shares many of the same values and interests as the Beats.
In fact, Carroll's preoccupation with drug addictions, especially with heroin, parallels Burroughs' recounting of his own addictions in the memoir, Junky. All three of these key Beat Generation figures spent formative college years in New York City during the World War II barely twenty years before the events and musings of The Basketball Diaries , so he shared the same geographical space, the same sense of rebelliousness, a common exposure to drugs, numerous including sometimes bizarre sexual encounters, and at times criminal behavior.
With Ginsberg he shared a love of poetry and a sense that prevailing society must be questioned and challenged because of its at best apathetic and at worst reactionary politics.
They all enjoyed bucking the status quo, a hallmark of and now a stereotyped way of viewing the s. In The Basketball Diaries , Jim Carroll frequently argues with his father over societal and political issues that raged during the period. In the movie version, it is worth noting, Carroll's father is edited out along with the s. Carroll's father, in the book version, sides with the status quo along with most of white Americans at the time: But Jim Carroll distrusted, and he criticized vociferously.
Like Dylan and Ginsberg, he had specific reasons to feel distrust and anxiety and to show opposition. One was fear of incineration by nuclear weapons as a by-product of the Cold War between the Americans and the Soviet bloc. Just prior to the period covered by The Basketball Diaries , a third world war had nearly broken out during the Cuban Missile Crisis ; not mentioned but clearly felt by Carroll and most New Yorkers at the time, President John F.
Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, ; and in United States began escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War Intermittently throughout The Basketball Diaries Carroll addresses his pervasive fear of nuclear holocaust.
He describes feelings of being stuck at "ground zero in one fireball Island" in a Summer 65 diary entry devoted to atomic jitters and the psychic trauma it inflicts. In a Winter diary entry, things have gotten so bad that he thinks of his whole life as a reprieve from the inevitable. Time to find out if I'm the writer I know I can be? How about these diaries?
Or will Vietnam beat me to the button? Because it's poetry now … and the button is still there, waiting …".
The movie version of The Basketball Diaries was made and released in a rare bubble of time. The Cold War had ended, and so had some of the decades-old fears of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The American economy boomed at the time, so there probably seemed no reason to set the film back during the tumultuous s.
At the time, who would have cared? The relevance and acuteness of Jim Carroll's awareness and fears of New York City as a target of sudden attack feels far more visceral and immediate since the events of September 11, , a sad and tragic fact that nonetheless helps the text version of The Basketball Diaries to resonate again in time and place, both as a recapturing of the past and prophesying for the future.
Artists and poets may seem paranoid at times, but this does not mean that something like what they fear does not sometimes really come to pass. Dupler has published numerous essays and has taught college English. In this essay, Dupler analyzes the destructive rift between an adolescent young man and the adult society around him. A picaresque novel differs from a conventional novel in that the picaresque form usually revolves around a main character who travels loosely from scene to scene, encountering other characters and situations in a random fashion, gathering whatever seeds of wisdom that present themselves.
The conventional novel, on the other hand, typically involves characters whose actions and conflicts form a plot, which leads to some sort of resolution in the end. Miguel de Cervantes 's Don Quixote was the original picaresque novel, from which a long tradition of storytelling has evolved. Don Quixote was a knight whose travels have been viewed by critics as a spiritual quest, a journey undertaken for self-knowledge.
The main character in The Basketball Diaries might be considered, in a stretch, a modern-day teenage knight, whose battles are on the basketball courts and on the streets, and who also is on a quest, when he states that he just wants "to be pure. Knights in Don Quixote's day had very strict societal codes of conduct chivalry , while the main character in this book is an unformed young man who is either lacking in reliable codes of conduct, or whose main mission seems to be to challenge and test codes and ethics.
Carroll portrays his main character and his street-wise life with a palette of decadence. The protagonist's reality is a downward spiral of drug abuse, theft, violence, altercations with police and other authority figures, sexual abuse, and prostitution, often described with crude and profane language.
Indeed, the repetition of these sordid scenes and the protagonist's capacity for self-destruction and wayward behavior would be tiresome if not for the Tom Sawyer-ish charm the protagonist manages to maintain throughout the story. The reader can be attracted to this character despite his trouble-making and his tough-guy posturing because the story plays upon sympathy; the reader knows that this young man has been dealt a harsh reality by fate, lacking in teachers, mentors, and caring parents.
The young man, as evidenced by his striving on the basketball courts, also wants to rise above it all and occasionally does, and records these efforts poetically and intelligently at times. The reader feels for him when the protagonist becomes mired in addiction and the troubles of street life.
The protagonist of The Basketball Diaries is curiously without any deep relationships throughout the story. His friends of his own age are partners in petty crime, but none of these adolescents are described with any conviction and remain vague for the reader. No characters in the protagonist's life are memorable and these characters only briefly appear and disappear in the narrative.
The protagonist does not even give his own name; perhaps the author wants the reader to believe that it actually is a diary. A policeman refers to the main character as "Jim," keeping with the diary form. However, this omission of a proper name also has the effect of making the protagonist seem young, unformed, and very isolated; the story is told from a vague first-person perspective.
The protagonist comments on his isolation when he describes a feeling he has while standing on a rooftop, looking down at the city: And it's beautiful. At the same time, he discloses later in his narrative that it is not really beautiful to be isolated; he has a dream in which he longs for "an incredible love somewhere in my world," and near the end of the story, he has a horrifying drug experience in which he realizes, with emphasis, that "I AM ALONE.
Of all the brief relationships described in the narrative, the protagonist's relationship with authority might go the deepest in giving insights into his character and his troubles. Like Tom Sawyer, he finds the adult world alien and to be avoided. Adults in these diary entries have few redeeming features and give reasons for profound distrust. On the first page of the book, the basketball coach a classic mentor figure for young people is revealed with undertones of potential sexual abuse, and later in the book priests, teachers, and a basketball scout are all portrayed as sexual predators.
Adults are also shown as helpless addicts, such as the alcoholics that single out the protagonist on trains, or as desperate prostitutes. The protagonist sees a woman commit suicide as though it is a common occurrence in the adult world, and he can only turn to heroin to dull his shock.
The protagonist and his friends are in a constant struggle with police, the symbol of society's authority. However, these authorities are also untrustworthy; a policeman, for instance, unjustly strikes the protagonist. When the protagonist's basketball talents gain him a scholarship to a prestigious school, he recoils against the school and remarks, "I feel like … blowing up the years of fine tradition of this place.
Tradition is not the only thing the protagonist wants to blow up. He is alarmed by the violent thoughts that fill his mind; he sits in class and fantasizes about taking "a machine gun and … firing like mad" to "release some tension. The protagonist's parents are no help to him. His father accosts him with anger, and the young man describes that relationship as "an unending rift.
He describes his home as "a screaming maniac nut house," and hints that his parents are angry racists, although at the same time he clearly needs his parents' love. He tries to escape his family strife through heroin, writing how his "veins are sore," yet he still loves his parents "somehow more" through the pain and addiction. Near the end of the diaries, when he is in a juvenile reformatory and his mother refuses to visit him, he wishes he has godparents. The narrator does give hints that he may recognize that he has a problem with authority, and perhaps justifiably so.
This is a young man who lives in a period and culture haunted by war; in his fantasies of violence, he dreams of fighting the Germans of World War II. He describes his boss at Yankee Stadium as a man who could be a "commander in any of Hitler's war camps. Several times he notes his fear of a nuclear bombing, remarking on his "A-bomb paranoia" and the specter of the "Russians" with their "atomic arrows.
The political atmosphere in which the protagonist lives gives him a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. For instance, when his school arranges a traditional Thanksgiving fast to support the poor and hungry, the protagonist can not believe that such a gesture could be beneficial and calls it a "farce.
At the same time, the protagonist is sensitive enough to ask a little girl if "Christ would fight in the war?