Raven: Beat Generation and Ginsberg Essay

Submitted By g13albert
Words: 991
Pages: 4

Gerard Albert
Mrs. M. G. Sosa
American Literature
March 27, 2013

The end of the Second World War brought about many changes in America. The beat generation was a phenomenon that swept through the nation due to the writings and new philosophy of writers in the 1950s. One of the most influential writers of the time was Allen Ginsberg. His most famous work “Howl” was a poem in the form of an epic; it depicted American culture, changed the literature of the time, and influenced society by his topics, style, and influence. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” carefully depicted American culture at the time. Ginsberg opens with the line “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” He writes that America’s greatest minds were destroyed by their own American culture. Through his writings Ginsberg described the life of a young man going through America in the mid 1950s. The poem which was not only a reflection Ginsberg’s life but a compilation of what life was like for a young person living the life of a “beatnik” at the time. A “beatnik” was a term used to define a man or woman that participated in a lifestyle of drug abuse, alcoholism, mixed sexuality, repose of materialism, and an interest in eastern religion. World War II caused many of the returning soldiers to become alcohol and substance abusers, this along with the constant reproduction of the “baby boom” caused a new sense of life in America. The marriage and divorce rates both rose dramatically. This caused a new way of life for these returning soldiers, without jobs or a full education they knew nothing except how to fight. Ginsberg gives excellent descriptions of the life of beatniks in one of the opening lines “through poverty and taverns, hollow eyed and high.” Explaining that the beatniks were poor, homeless, and most of the time under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The beatnik era was filled with radical thinkers, homosexuals, addicts, and artists. The beatniks were often looked down upon in society. Whether it was their drug use, crazy ideology, or their sexuality that kept them away from being accepted they were outcasts. In one description of America, Ginsberg states “ peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind kind light of mind.” In these lines Ginsberg introduces America as a place to get drunk and high. Not only did Ginsberg describe the country in obscene ways but he also described the sexual and drug filled lives of the beatniks in ways that some considered offensive. Howl includes many sexual references both hetero and homosexual. In 1957, 520 copies of “Howl” being imported from London were seized by customs. City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was booked for publishing the book. A trial followed that found that Howl was not obscene and did have social importance. In one line Allen Ginsberg was one of the leaders of the literary movement known as the beatnik era. He paved the way for new literature that would follow his works. “Howl” put the beatniks on the map and allowed them to gain popularity and be published more often. Through “Howl” Ginsberg introduced new forms and techniques of writing that changed the way people wrote. Throughout the poem his style is constant and is often compared to the work of poet Walt Whitman, including his usage of long lists, such as the listing of places in “Howl”, for example in line 64 “Who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or rocky mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern pacific to the black locomotive.” This style is very similar to the work of Whitman called “Song of Myself.”