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The Political Suffering Of The Forties And Fifties Demonstrated In The Poem Howl By Ginsberg

1751 words - 8 pages

Ginsberg’s Howl is a political poem because it offers a sharp critique of American politics and culture. Throughout the poem the reader is presented with a less than favorable portrait of America. Racism, atomic fear, the military industrial complex as Moloch all serve to criticize the United States of the Forties and Fifties. The Forties were dominated by World War II and the atomic bombs, which were followed by a postwar economic and baby boom. The Fifties were a time of change, the middle class was booming, soldiers could go to school on the G.I. Bill, Senator McCarthy was hunting for Communists, the Civil Right Movement was gaining momentum, and the Cold War had tempers running hot2. Ginsberg’s poem touches on most of these issues, and offers a perspective from a generation that was beaten down by contemporary society. The poem is broken down into three parts, and a footnote. The first part gives a layout of contemporary American society and details his beaten down generation. The second part uses ‘Moloch’ as a metaphor for the United States, or rather its society and politics, and offers sharp criticism. The last part is about insanity and his friend Carl Solomon, to whom the poem is dedicated. The derisive criticism Ginsberg uses in Howl makes the poem political.
Howl begins with the line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Madness”1. This madness envelops himself and his generation, it comes from the madness of the Unites States during the Forties and Fifties. World War II, fear of atomic warfare, rampant racism, and the Cold War all led to the madness of American culture. Growing up in this hostile environment had obvious detrimental effects on the youth of the time. They grew up in a time a fear and death, where being vaporized by a bomb was a harsh reality, where people were being hunted down and put on trial for being Communists. This was a generation that was “starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn / looking for an angry fix”. The ‘negro streets at dawn’ could be explained by the Beat fascination with jazz music and African American culture. Since they were outsiders they felt akin to other minority groups. This line also reflects the racism and inevitably the Civil Rights Movement that was beginning in the United States2. Ginsberg goes on to describe his generation as “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly / connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night”2. These ‘angel headed hipsters’ are the beats who are looking for a new connection to spirituality. They are impeded by the ‘machinery of night’, this machinery is a metaphor for the industry of the United States. The Fifties were a decade of rampant consumerism, an economic boom meant that almost everyone with money lived in the suburbs and owned a car. This materialism is seen by Ginsberg as a disconnect with the natural world and with spirituality, or ‘the starry dynamo’. Ginsberg goes on to...

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