The Dynamic Use of Symbolism in Shampoo Planet
Douglas Coupland has been called the voice of Generation X by his critics because of his writing techniques, which deal mainly with youthful ideals. Most of his works involve young characters searching for truth and answers for their self-involved questions. Despite many of his novels having a dim outlook, he incorporates humor and optimism into them, which creates a balance between wittiness and mockery. In Shampoo Planet Tyler Johnson, the narrator, struggles to find his identity throughout the novel. This is portrayed through Coupland’s vivid use of imagery, which is abundant throughout the novel. Many of Tyler’s intellectual qualities help him adapt and cope with many of the situations he faces; but many of his emotional and moral qualities strive to change who he is and what he wants out of life. As Tyler’s outlook on life transforms, the vivid use of symbolism corresponds to his changing attitude.
Tyler, a resident of Lancaster, Washington, lives with his hippie mother, Jasmine, and two siblings, Daisy and Mark. In search for excitement, he plans to take a summer vacation backpacking through Europe. Before his trip, he had a very comfortable relationship with Anna-Louise, a down to earth and very reserved girl attending the same college. However, in Europe, Tyler meets a French girl named Stephanie, who is very exotic and exciting to him and was the complete opposite of Anna-Louise. When Stephanie comes to visit Tyler in Lancaster, Anna-Louise learns of the brief affair Tyler and Stephanie had in Europe. Tyler then ends his relationship with Anna-Louise and moves to California with Stephanie.
In the beginning of the novel, Tyler is seen as a relatively happy, care free, and motivated twenty year old man. As his life progresses, his attitude and outlook on life changes dramatically. In one passage from the beginning of the novel, Tyler states that
“I have a plan…I have a good car and a wide assortment of excellent hair-care products. I know what I want from life; I have ambition.”(13). He has such excitement about what will happen in his life down the road. He claims that he wants to own a hotel when he gets older because “in a hotel room you have no history…You feel like you’re all potential waiting to be rewritten, like a crisp, blank sheet of 8 ½-by-11-inch white bond paper. There is no past” (30). Midway through the novel, after Tyler gets back from Europe, his attitude changes completely. He becomes very pessimistic and cynical, constantly complaining about the down side to living. On a trip with Stephanie to California, Tyler writes character flaws on dollar bills with a pen. He claims that what he writes “are not sins; I write tragedies” (203). His drastic change in ideals and attitude are symbolic of his inability to know what he wants out of life. He claims he wants to be in hotel management, but he is failing out of school. He has all of these expectations out of...