An Exploration of the Themes Within the Poetic Work of Jim Morrison

Excerpted from The Mass Sacrificial Spectacle by Christopher Balz with additional commentary by laciefae (in brackets)


While an undergraduate at Stanford University, Christopher Balz wrote his honors thesis on the poetry of Jim Morrison. Mr. Balz was the recipient of The School of Humanities and Sciences Honors Gold Medal for his thesis, The Mass Sacrificial Spectacle: The Doors in Poetry and History. Mr. Balz has been kind enough to allow me to republish excerpts from his work here. This text is heavily edited, in order to present the cogent points in as concise a manner as possible, without compromising conceptual integrity. I have indicated breaks in the original structure of the work with ellipses (. . .). Additions which clarify the edited content are in italics, as are titles. Comments in brackets [ ] are my own.

Morrison's Poetic Themes & Symbols

In order to understand the significance of Morrison as a figure in the history of mass culture, one must understand his central message, and the best cornerstone of such an understanding is a grasp of his poetic works. In Morrison's poetry, we can view him in the medium farthest from the channels controlled by the mass culture apparatus that regulated his stage performance as vocalist for The Doors. The poetry provides a cleaner, more accessible view of Morrison's actual message. Through the introductory exploration of major themes and symbols in Morrison's poetry which will be presented, one can develop a basis to work in this regard.

Within the following list of themes . . . the thematic . . . presentations of single elements are . . . in an approximate . . . order from the most significant downward . . .

Morrison's Poetic Themes:

1) Quantitatively endless and dense variation (i.e. Wilderness, anomie, vomit, riot, teeming, endless corridors; also diverse objects connected through alliteration and underlying meaning.

2) L.A.

2a. LA, and cities in general, as anthill - like breeding grounds for what are seen, overall, as unhealthy and morally degenerate elements.

2b. “LAMERICA” - L.A. seen as a paradigm for the United States and its dominion over the Americas.

3) Apocalypse

4) Spectacle, and external control in general.

5) Rock 'n' Roll, seen as a subterranean, incredibly powerful, perhaps even revolutionary force, a force reaching down into the reptilian undersection of the brain and/or psyche.

6) Historical change

7) War and militancy . . .

An Exploration of The Themes:

(Using the following lines from Wilderness)

She’s selling news in the market
Time in the hall
The girls of the factory
Rolling cigars
They haven’t invented muzak yet
So i read to them
a horror story from the Gothic age
a gruesome romance
From the LA

I have a vision of America
Seen from the air
28,000 ft. & going fast

A one-armed man in a Texas
..................................parking labyrinth
A burnt tree like a giant primeval bird an empty lot in Fresno
Miles & miles of hotel corridors
& elevators, filled w/ citizens

Motel Money Murder Madness
Change the mood from glad to sadness the ghost song, baby

The city is full of diseased specimens, hotel and motel corridors in which money, murder and madness, . . . the virus . . . injected - “the LA/Plague” (lines 10 -11) come together in line 21 as an alliterated package of disease for the “citizens” (line 20). The physical environment sheltering this . . . is the Motel . . . [symbol for the consensus reality - the reality shared by all, made up of individual cells or “rooms” of individual reality, all together in the agreed upon structure of that whole (motel)]. . . The only natural element in the poem, a tree, is burnt and primeval, outdated by the searing new universe of parking structures and hotel corridors. And the citizens are as empty within as their barren environment without. As line . . . 23 . . . suggests, they are ghosts, not healthy, living beings, but mere frameworks of the same.

The skeletal “burnt tree” stands leafless and empty in its outward environment of an “empty lot”, a sad parody of a vibrant, full tree, together with the parking lot a literal “empty forest”. Likewise, the ghost-citizens populate their impersonal hotel-motel environment. They “fill” it with “Motel Money Murder Madness” (line 21) . . .

This . . . crisis of debilitated will is the poem's thematic judgment of moral degeneracy. . . .the downward, degenerating thrust of this dynamic is illustrated in the orderings of the poem. Before we have the final collapse into the deep sadness of the “ghost song”, moral degeneracy fills the air with almost musical alliteration, “Motel Money Murder Madness” . . . suggesting degenerate sexuality, crass wealth, evil violence, and finally, a deranged mental state. And preceding the stinging alliterated judgment of moral degeneracy, the accusation of “Murder,”. . . all that may be seen . . .are images of purposelessness and debilitation.

From the view at 28,000 ft. all that is seen are the purposeless thrusts of citizens filling a complex of “Miles and miles of hotel corridors/ & elevators”, moving back and forth through the corridors and up and down the elevators; the barren image of the startlingly stripped of life (“burnt”) tree. . . [as are the citizens moving in their endless lack of purpose]. . . .the image of the one-armed [no longer “whole” - rendered ineffectual] man and inescapable (“labyrinth,” line 16). . . [structure built to hold the now unused vehicles which symbolize the possibility of escape from the purposeless existence of the endless corridors]. In a sense, the poem presents a motion spiraling downward from the vision in the air, through physical features of the ground-world, then into its inner dynamical and moral workings (“Motel Money Murder Madness”), and then finally to its spiritual core - (“the ghost song”). . .

This is but a very small segment of Mr. Balz’s work. To purchase a copy of his thesis, visit his website at:

Copyright 2004 by Christopher Balz / laciefae /

The life and times of Jim Morrison of the Doors, explored through original articles, exclusive interviews, special features, his creative influences and legacy, and other resources.
The Genesis of Jim Morrison's Poetry