Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" Essay

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Pages: 7

Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" Presented much like a spontaneous journal or diary entry, Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" is a complex and multifaceted poem that stands as an indictment against American government and culture. The opening lines of the poem forward the aforementioned journal-like quality and also present the central focal point of tension in the poem as a whole. The opening line specifically expresses a tone of wistfulness or even sadness: "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman" (Ginsberg, 1). The evocation of Whitman's name is an obvious symbol of optimism or even idealism. Due to the wide-ranging nature of Whitman's own writings, the sense of idealization is meant to extend …show more content…
In this way, everything that was once seen as physical becomes a symbol of the human soul. The words "never passing the cashier" (Ginsberg, 20) are ordinary enough on the surface, but given the line of association in the poem, the words actually reflect a radical criticism of American society. Because the whole poem, up to his point, has been setting up a contrast between literal and figurative food, the final belief that true food comes from beyond "cash" is an indictment of the "supermarket." The reader sees now that Ginsberg regards American society to be materialistically rich and diverse, but blind to the diversity of its very soul, or communal identity. It's at this point in the poem that the previously dominant tone of irony starts to change. The ironic contrast of spiritual and literal food reaches a climax in the lines: " I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the/ supermarket and feel absurd." (Ginsberg, 22-24). The self-realization of the ironic nature of the theme brings the speaker of the poem to a different emotional level. The poem starts to shift from what had first seemed like a diary entry, then like a daydream, and now becomes a vision of sadness. Once the speaker of the poem recognizes himself as "absurd" and trapped in the ironic symbolism of the poem, the speaker of the poem begins to see that his idealized vision is starting to fade. The speaker of the poem has come to an American supermarket in California looking