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The Beat Generation Essay

842 words - 3 pages


The “beat movement” is a literary period born out of World War II. This movement in American Literature has become an important period in the history of literature and society in America. Characterized by personal alienation and contempt for convention, the movement celebrated stylistic freedom and spontaneity. The Beat writers created a new vision of modern life and altered the nature of awareness in America.

The Beat Generation was one of the first groups of writers to break down the barriers of traditional literature and set a precedent for future writers with their writing style, their way of life, and by the messages they portrayed. They were the kids dressed in black, hanging out at coffee shops, reading their latest poetry. They protested wars, were drug users, and openly expressed homosexuality, as they expressed every aspect of their life candidly. But, the Beats are best known for their writing style. It was unique for that time to cast aside conventional structures of sentences and poetry. They used dashes instead of commas and periods; to write the way a person hears speech. Their poetry had a style of it’s own, unknown to any other groups of poets at the time; no rhyming, no structure, and non-conforming beauty.

The Beat writers formed in New York City, started with only a few members, but grew to have an impact on American society, especially in literature and politics, which still lasts today. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were the founders of the Beat Generation. They not only started a new style of American literature but ignited the rebellion against social conformity in the 1950’s through their poems of social and political criticisms.

Ginsberg’s work often represents a struggle for spiritual survival in a dehumanized, repressive society. This can be seen in his writing of “Howl”:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

This poem is sometimes referred to as a violent “howl” of human anguish. It attacks the forces of conformity and mechanization that Ginsberg believed destroyed the best minds of his generation. This poem has no real structure or rational connection of ideas, and the rules of grammar are abandoned in order to pack imagery into one line. The poem points the way toward a new and better existence, chronicling the pilgrimage of the “mad generation” toward a reality that is timeless and placeless, holy and eternal.

Jack Kerouac was not only a leader of the Beat movement...

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