Drop City

By T. Coraghessan Boyle


Welcome to the wild, vibrant world of Drop City, a novel by the celebrated American author T. Coraghessan Boyle πŸŒΌπŸ“š. Published in 2003, this work dives into the heart of the 1970s counterculture, exploring themes of freedom, utopian ideals, and the stark realities of communal living. Boyle, known for his wit, dark humor, and keen insight into human nature, transports readers to a time of experimentation, change, and radical thought.

Set initially in sunny California, Drop City follows the lives of a group of hippies who decide to move their commune to the remote wilderness of Alaska, seeking a more authentic existence in tune with nature. What unfolds is a vivid tale of survival, clashing cultures, and the challenges of maintaining an idealistic lifestyle against the backdrop of harsh realities.

The genre of Drop City comfortably straddles historical fiction and adventure, with a rich tapestry of characters and a plot that’s as unpredictable as the Alaskan weather. Boyle’s novel is not just a trip back in time but an exploration of the human spirit, its aspirations, and its limitations.

So, grab your tie-dye shirts and prepare for a journey to a time when the world seemed a little larger, the possibilities endless, and the quest for a utopian society was the dream of many 🌈✌️. Let’s explore the wilderness of human nature together in Drop City.

Plot Summary

Drop City begins by immersing us in the free-spirited life of a California commune in the 1970s, led by the charismatic yet problematic figure, Norm Sender. The commune, known as Drop City, is a haven for those seeking escape from conventional society, embracing love, peace, and shared resources. However, beneath the idyllic surface lie tensions, mismanagement, and the darker sides of human nature.

  • Exposition β€” The novel introduces us to the diverse inhabitants of Drop City in California, exploring their daily lives, ideals, and the inner workings of the commune. Characters such as Star, a young woman searching for meaning, and Marco, a newcomer seeking a fresh start, are drawn to the promise of a utopian community.
  • Rising Action β€” Conflict arises when the commune’s lifestyle leads to clashes with local authorities and neighbors, compounded by internal strife and the challenges of communal living. Norm decides to relocate Drop City to the remote wilderness of Alaska, believing it to be the true test of their ideals and resilience.
  • Climax β€” The move to Alaska marks the climax of the novel, as the Drop City residents must confront the harsh realities of survival in the wilderness. Their ideals are tested against the backdrop of the Alaskan frontier, where they encounter Sess Harder and his family, rugged homesteaders skeptical of the hippies’ ability to endure.
  • Falling Action β€” As winter approaches, the practical difficulties of living off the grid become apparent. The commune’s unity begins to fray under the weight of scarcity, cold, and the continuous effort required to sustain their lifestyle. Relationships are tested, and some members choose to leave, unable to cope with the demands of their chosen life.
  • Resolution β€” The novel concludes with the dissolution of Drop City in Alaska. Some characters, like Star, find new paths and connections, while others are left to reflect on the experience and its impact on their lives. The dream of a utopian commune fades, but the journey leaves indelible marks on those who dared to pursue it.

Through the rise and fall of Drop City, Boyle paints a vivid picture of the 1970s counterculture, exploring the complexities of communal living and the clash between idealism and reality. The novel is a testament to the enduring search for belonging and the pursuit of alternative ways of life.

Character Analysis

In Drop City, T. Coraghessan Boyle crafts a diverse cast of characters, each embodying different facets of the 1970s counterculture and the human condition. Their development throughout the novel highlights the complexities of communal living and the individual quests for identity and belonging.

  • Norm Sender β€” The charismatic leader of Drop City. Norm’s vision of a utopian commune is driven by ideals of peace, love, and shared resources, but his leadership is marked by contradictions and a lack of practicality. His character explores the pitfalls of charismatic authority and the thin line between idealism and irresponsibility.
  • Star β€” A young woman who joins Drop City seeking a sense of community and purpose. Her journey is one of self-discovery and resilience. Star’s experiences reflect the challenges of living up to one’s ideals in the face of harsh realities, and her development is central to the novel’s exploration of growth and change.
  • Marco β€” Arriving in Drop City to escape his past, Marco embodies the search for redemption and a new identity. His skepticism and struggles with the commune’s dynamics highlight the tension between individual needs and communal expectations.
  • Pamela β€” Another resident of Drop City, Pamela’s journey underscores the theme of empowerment versus exploitation within the commune. Her evolving relationship with Star and others in the group illustrates the complex dynamics of friendship, rivalry, and solidarity among the women.
  • Sess Harder β€” A rugged Alaskan homesteader who represents the antithesis of the Drop City inhabitants. His practical skills, self-sufficiency, and skepticism of the hippies’ ideals bring a contrasting perspective to the novel, challenging the commune members’ preparedness and motivations.

Character Analysis Summary

Norm SenderCharismatic, idealisticCreate a utopian communityFaces the limitations of his ideals and leadership
StarSearching, resilientSeek belonging and purposeGrows through trials, finds strength and independence
MarcoSkeptical, searchingEscape past, find new identityConfronts personal and communal challenges, evolves
PamelaComplex, evolvingEmpowerment, belongingNavigates dynamics of friendship and rivalry, matures
Sess HarderPractical, skepticalSelf-sufficiency, protect familyChallenges and is challenged by the commune, offers a stark reality check

These characters, with their rich backgrounds and evolving motivations, drive the narrative of Drop City, offering a multifaceted exploration of the dreams, disillusionments, and enduring human connections that define the quest for a utopian existence.

Themes and Symbols

Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle delves into a rich tapestry of themes and symbols, offering a nuanced exploration of the human experience against the backdrop of the 1970s counterculture movement and the untamed wilderness of Alaska.


  • Idealism vs. Reality β€” The novel contrasts the commune members’ utopian ideals with the harsh realities of living off the land, especially after their move to Alaska. This theme questions the feasibility of utopian communities and the sacrifices required to sustain them.
  • Freedom and Confinement β€” Boyle examines the concept of freedom, both in the societal rejection represented by the commune and the physical and psychological confines of communal living and survival in the wilderness. The characters’ experiences challenge the notion of true freedom and its complexities.
  • Individuality vs. Community β€” The tension between personal desires and communal needs is central to the novel. Characters struggle with their identities and aspirations within the dynamics of Drop City, highlighting the challenges of communal living.
  • Nature and Human Nature β€” The Alaskan wilderness acts as a crucible for the characters, revealing their true selves and the primal aspects of human nature. The theme explores the relationship between humans and the natural world, emphasizing respect, adaptation, and survival.
  • Empowerment and Exploitation β€” Within the commune and in interactions with the outside world, issues of gender dynamics, empowerment, and exploitation arise, particularly among the female characters. Boyle scrutinizes the ideals of equality and freedom within the counter-culture through these interactions.


  • The Bus β€” The colorful bus that transports Drop City members to Alaska symbolizes the journey from idealism to reality, serving as a physical representation of the commune’s collective hopes and eventual confrontation with the practical challenges of their utopian dream.
  • Alaskan Wilderness β€” The wilderness serves as a symbol of both freedom and isolation, offering a stark contrast to the artificial community of Drop City. It represents the ultimate test of the commune’s ideals and their ability to adapt, survive, and find meaning beyond their constructed societal rejection.
  • The Northern Lights β€” Appearing at key moments in the novel, the Northern Lights symbolize the beauty and mystery of the natural world, as well as the fleeting nature of the commune’s ideals. They provide a backdrop of wonder and introspection for the characters’ experiences.

Through these themes and symbols, Drop City presents a compelling examination of the counterculture movement, the allure and pitfalls of communal living, and the enduring search for identity, belonging, and understanding within the human spirit.

Writing Style and Tone

T. Coraghessan Boyle employs a distinctive writing style and tone in Drop City that vividly brings to life the counterculture of the 1970s and the rugged wilderness of Alaska. His approach is characterized by several key elements that contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the book:

  • Rich Descriptive Language β€” Boyle’s use of vivid, colorful descriptions paints a detailed picture of both the communal life in California and the stark, unforgiving landscape of Alaska. This imagery immerses readers in the settings and reflects the novel’s thematic contrasts between idealism and reality.
  • Humor and Irony β€” Despite the often serious themes of the novel, Boyle infuses his narrative with humor and irony, capturing the absurdities of commune life and the clashes between different cultures and values. This tone adds depth to the characters and situations, inviting readers to engage with the story on multiple levels.
  • Engaging Dialogue β€” The dialogue in Drop City is sharp, authentic, and reflective of the diverse cast of characters. Boyle’s skillful use of dialogue reveals the personalities, motivations, and dynamics within the commune and the broader community, enhancing the character development and plot progression.
  • Multiple Perspectives β€” By shifting between various characters’ perspectives, Boyle offers a multifaceted view of the story, allowing for a richer exploration of themes and relationships. This narrative technique underscores the complexity of communal living and the interplay between individual and collective experiences.
  • Pacing and Structure β€” The novel’s pacing and structure mirror the journey of its characters, with a gradual build-up leading to the climactic shift to Alaska and the subsequent challenges faced by the commune. Boyle balances the development of thematic elements with the momentum of the plot, maintaining reader engagement and emphasizing the novel’s explorations of change, resilience, and adaptation.
  • Evocative Tone β€” Boyle’s tone throughout the novel is evocative and atmospheric, capable of conveying the nostalgic allure of the counterculture movement as well as the sobering realities of its implementation. This tone encourages readers to reflect on their own perceptions of freedom, community, and the pursuit of ideals.

Through his writing style and tone, T. Coraghessan Boyle crafts a compelling narrative that captures the spirit of an era and the timeless challenges of seeking utopia in an imperfect world. Drop City is not only a story of a particular community but also a meditation on the universal human desire for connection, meaning, and a place to call home.

Literary Devices used in Drop City

T. Coraghessan Boyle’s Drop City is rich with literary devices that enhance the narrative, deepen character development, and underscore the novel’s themes. Here’s a look at the top 10 devices Boyle employs:

  1. Symbolism β€” Boyle uses symbols, such as the bus and the Alaskan wilderness, to represent broader themes of journey, freedom, and the clash between ideals and reality. These symbols are woven throughout the narrative to reinforce the novel’s exploration of countercultural dreams and the harshness of nature.
  2. Imagery β€” The vivid imagery in Drop City brings to life the sensory experiences of commune life and the stark beauty of Alaska. Boyle’s detailed descriptions help readers visualize the settings and feel the characters’ experiences, from the muddy grounds of Drop City to the icy rivers of Alaska.
  3. Irony β€” Boyle frequently employs irony to highlight the contradictions and absurdities within the commune and the characters’ ideals versus their actions. This device adds depth to the narrative, encouraging readers to question the feasibility and integrity of utopian aspirations.
  4. Foreshadowing β€” Elements of foreshadowing hint at future conflicts and challenges, building suspense and preparing readers for the narrative’s developments. This technique is particularly effective in signaling the commune’s unpreparedness for Alaska’s harsh realities.
  5. Juxtaposition β€” Boyle juxtaposes the idealistic life of the commune with the rugged individualism of the Alaskan homesteaders, emphasizing the novel’s themes of freedom, survival, and the collision of cultures. This contrast is a driving force in the narrative, illuminating the complexities of the characters’ choices and the environments they inhabit.
  6. Alliteration β€” Used sparingly for emphasis, alliteration adds a lyrical quality to the prose, drawing attention to particular descriptions or moments. This device enhances the mood and helps underscore significant points in the narrative.
  7. Metaphor and Simile β€” Boyle’s use of metaphor and simile enriches the narrative, allowing for comparisons that deepen readers’ understanding of the characters and their situations. These figures of speech draw connections between the commune members’ experiences and broader human conditions.
  8. Dialogue β€” The authentic, varied dialogue captures the diverse voices of the characters, reflecting their backgrounds, beliefs, and dynamics. Through dialogue, Boyle reveals character traits, tensions within the commune, and the cultural divide between the hippies and the Alaskans.
  9. Personification β€” By attributing human qualities to the Alaskan wilderness, Boyle emphasizes its power, beauty, and indifference, portraying it as a character in its own right that challenges the commune members and shapes their journey.
  10. Paradox β€” The novel is filled with paradoxical situations that reflect the contradictions of seeking freedom and utopia within structured communal living. These paradoxes invite reflection on the ideals of the 1970s counterculture and the reality of human nature and society.

These literary devices contribute to the richness of Drop City, allowing T. Coraghessan Boyle to weave a compelling story that captures the essence of an era and the enduring complexities of striving for a different way of life.

Literary Device Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices used in Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle, here are examples and explanations in a table format.


The busSymbolizes the journey of the commune members towards their idealistic goals and the eventual confrontation with reality.
Alaskan wildernessRepresents the ultimate test of the commune’s ideals, embodying freedom, isolation, and the harsh truths of nature.


Descriptions of the commune’s colorful, chaotic environmentCreates a vivid picture of Drop City’s lifestyle, highlighting both its allure and impracticality.
The stark, cold beauty of AlaskaEvokes the formidable challenge the commune faces in seeking to live off the land.


The commune’s quest for freedom leading to new constraintsHighlights the irony of seeking liberation while facing the limitations of nature and communal living.


Early warnings about Alaska’s brutalityHints at the commune’s underestimation of the challenges ahead, setting the stage for their struggles.


The laid-back life in California vs. survival in AlaskaEmphasizes the clash between idealism and the practical demands of living in harmony with nature.


“Barefoot children chasing chickens”Draws attention to the idyllic, yet disorganized, life at Drop City, using the repetition of the ‘ch’ sound for emphasis.

Metaphor and Simile

The commune as a ship of foolsServes as a metaphor for the idealistic but ultimately misguided journey of the commune members.


Conversations about freedom and individualityReveals the characters’ diverse perspectives on the commune’s ideals and the tensions between personal desires and communal living.


The wilderness “welcoming” the commune with its challengesPersonifies the Alaskan landscape as an active participant in the commune’s journey, indifferent to their struggles.


Seeking isolation in a communal settingCaptures the paradox of Drop City’s inhabitants looking for personal freedom within a collective that imposes its own norms and limitations.

These examples illustrate how T. Coraghessan Boyle utilizes literary devices in Drop City to enrich the narrative, deepen the exploration of themes, and enhance the portrayal of characters and their environments.

Drop City – FAQs

What is the main setting of Drop City?
Drop City primarily takes place in two locations: a commune in California and later, the wilderness of Alaska. These settings contrast the idealistic beginnings of the commune with the harsh realities they face in the wild.

Who is the author of Drop City, and what is his writing known for?
T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of Drop City. He is known for his vivid storytelling, rich character development, and exploration of social themes through engaging narratives that often incorporate humor and satire.

What are the major themes in Drop City?
Major themes include idealism vs. reality, the quest for freedom, individuality vs. community, nature and human nature, and empowerment vs. exploitation. These themes explore the dynamics of communal living and the challenges of sustaining utopian ideals.

Is Drop City based on a true story?
While Drop City is a work of fiction, it draws inspiration from the real-life counterculture movements and communes of the 1960s and 1970s. The novel reflects the ideals, struggles, and realities of those who sought alternative lifestyles during that era.

How does Drop City explore the counterculture movement?
The novel delves into the counterculture movement by portraying the lives of individuals in a commune who seek to live outside societal norms. Through their experiences, the book examines the movement’s aspirations, contradictions, and the impact of its ideals on individuals and communities.

What challenges do the characters face in moving to Alaska in Drop City?
In Alaska, the characters confront the practical difficulties of living off the land, the harsh climate, and the necessity of cooperation for survival. These challenges test the commune’s ideals, revealing the complexities of translating utopian dreams into reality.

How does T. Coraghessan Boyle use literary devices in Drop City?
Boyle employs various literary devices, including symbolism, imagery, irony, foreshadowing, and juxtaposition, to enrich the narrative. These devices enhance the thematic depth of the novel and the vivid portrayal of its settings and characters.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
Where does Drop City initially take place?AlaskaCaliforniaNew YorkTexasB
Who is the leader of Drop City commune?MarcoStarNorm SenderSess HarderC
What is a major theme in the novel?Technological advancementIdealism vs. RealitySpace explorationMedieval historyB
Which character is known for seeking a new identity?PamelaStarMarcoNorm SenderC
What symbolizes the journey towards the commune’s ideals?The Northern LightsThe busA riverA mountainB
How does the Alaskan wilderness affect the commune?It brings them closer togetherIt has no effectIt tests their survival skills and idealsIt makes them want to return to CaliforniaC
What literary device is used to describe the commune’s colorful environment?OnomatopoeiaImageryHyperboleAlliterationB
Who represents the rugged individualism of the Alaskan homesteaders?MarcoSess HarderNorm SenderStarB
What challenges the commune’s unity in Alaska?A bear attackThe harsh climate and survival difficultiesA dispute over land ownershipAn invasion by touristsB
Which character undergoes significant personal growth and finds new paths?Norm SenderSess HarderMarcoStarD

This quiz tests your comprehension and recall of Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle, focusing on its plot, characters, themes, and symbols.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from Drop City:

“In the dim light of dawn, the commune awoke to the sound of rain tapping gently on the canvas of their tents. The air was filled with the earthy scent of wet soil and the promise of a day reborn. Trees whispered secrets to one another, their leaves shimmering with droplets of water, as if nature itself was cleansing away the remnants of yesterday’s chaos. Amidst this serene backdrop, the harsh reality of their situation began to dawn on the commune members, reminding them that paradise was not without its trials.”


  1. Imagery β€” “In the dim light of dawn, the commune awoke to the sound of rain tapping gently on the canvas of their tents.” This creates a vivid picture of the setting and atmosphere, engaging the reader’s senses.
  2. Olfactory Imagery β€” “The air was filled with the earthy scent of wet soil and the promise of a day reborn.” This specific imagery appeals to the sense of smell, enhancing the description of the environment.
  3. Personification β€” “Trees whispered secrets to one another, their leaves shimmering with droplets of water.” By giving trees the human ability to whisper, Boyle enriches the natural setting with a sense of mystery and communication.
  4. Simile β€” “Their leaves shimmering with droplets of water, as if nature itself was cleansing away the remnants of yesterday’s chaos.” This simile compares the water droplets on leaves to a cleansing process, suggesting a fresh start and the healing power of nature.
  5. Metaphor β€” “The harsh reality of their situation began to dawn on the commune members.” Here, the realization of their challenges is described as dawn, a metaphor for awareness and awakening to their circumstances.
  6. Symbolism β€” “Paradise was not without its trials.” The concept of paradise symbolizes the commune’s utopian ideals, while the trials represent the inevitable challenges of realizing such a dream in reality.

This exercise showcases how T. Coraghessan Boyle uses a range of literary devices in Drop City to create depth and texture in his narrative, drawing readers into the world of the novel and its themes.