ATD Question #18 ~ The Dust

by John Fante

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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ATD Question #18 ~ The Dust

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Dec 03, 2007 8:59 am

There are many references to dust in the story. For example on pg. 104

“The world was dust, and dust it would become.”

In the letter at the end of the book Fante says the original title of the book was to be “Ask the Dust on the Road”.


What do you think the dust symbolizes? Why do you think Fante chose the title, and why did he change it from his original intent?
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Mon Dec 03, 2007 4:08 pm

I think the dust symbolizes life...that it is short, that it is fleeting, that it never settles down for too long. At one point Arturo said that his prayer "was dust in his mouth." The prayer was short, fleeting, didn't last long.
I kind of like the title "Ask the Dust in the Road," but Fante probably felt it was more powerful to be succinct and probably preferred to have the dust be more universal that just the dust in the road. He may have chosen his title as a way of saying, "Hey! I can't explain life with all its ups and downs and insecurities! Ask the dust! See if you can get an answer there! (And good luck!)"
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Unread postby Parlez » Mon Dec 03, 2007 4:13 pm

Okay, I'll bite. (the dust)
It sounds obviously biblical to me ~ dust to dust, ashes to ashes. With maybe a little alluding to what we're supposed do in the interim ~ what we build with the material (dust) we're given, what kind of 'road' we walk. Also, perhaps, there's a reference to the past...what's gone before and has now turned to dust but still retains answers if we know what/how to 'ask'. (?) That sounds a bit too metaphysical for the content of this book...but it sure gives Kerouac's title a whole new meaning!
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Unread postby Liz » Mon Dec 03, 2007 5:47 pm

Excellent answers so far! I thought of it as anything carried in by the wind—which could represent people (because a lot of them were migrating to CA) or wisdom. And that is about as far as I took it. But now that you mention it, I would think it would make sense that he’s indicating that the dust symbolizes the answers one is searching for since he’s “asking the dust”, as it were.
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Unread postby fansmom » Mon Dec 03, 2007 6:56 pm

I think the earlier posters are right on target, and I'll just add that the quote is certainly Biblical. In Genesis 3:19, Adam and Eve are about to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and God tells them what will happen to them. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The phrase "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," is recited on Ash Wednesday as the cross is traced on the forehead with ashes.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Dec 03, 2007 7:25 pm

I agree as well and your answers actually remind me of a quote from question #11:

“I got up from the counter and walked away in fear, walking fast down the boardwalk, passing people who seemed strange and ghostly: the world seemed a myth, a transparent plane, and all things upon it were here for only a little while: all of us, Bandini, and Hackmuth and Camilla and Vera, all of us were here for a little while, and then we were somewhere else; we were not alive at all; we approached living, but we never achieved it. We are going to die. Everyone was going to die. Even you, Arturo, even you must die.”
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby suec » Tue Dec 04, 2007 1:27 pm

I think the dust is death - a kind of living death, including and especially spiritual death. The kind of death also from people not connecting so that relationships can't flourish and instead wither and die. My guess for the reason for the original title is Vera's comment to Arturo: "You are nobody, and I might have been somebody, and the road to each of us is love". I think this is lovely - probably the heart of the book, for me. It is about Christian love, I think, even though the context of it might suggest sexual love. About love for your fellow man - something Arturo isn't very good at and must learn to feel.
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Unread postby gemini » Thu Dec 06, 2007 4:29 pm

I didn't really consider the title enough to tie it into the story. I just took dust as lost or gone, like in "Gone with the Wind". I do really like what Parlez says about it being biblical because that makes a lot of sense with Fante.
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