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I am reading Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and I have to talk about author's representation...

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braunsystem | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted June 15, 2010 at 8:45 PM via web

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I am reading Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and I have to talk about author's representation of escapism in the 60.


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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 15, 2010 at 10:48 PM (Answer #1)

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This poem, a modern epic, is considered a major representation of the work of the Beat poets of the 1950s and 1960s. As such, it is an angry, anti-establishment, anti-democracy, anti-military, anti-social mores, anti-everything poem. It is highly personal and in it are many, many references to events and people in Ginsberg's life. When we read this poem today in retrospect, knowing what we do of the 60's, we realize that while the "angelheaded hipsters" were trying to escape government, society, the Viet Nam War, sexual mores, criminalization of drugs, etc., what really happened to them was that they became:

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
So, did they really escape, or were they just trying to do so? I recommend you do some research into the background of this poem, as well as the criticism, because you really need to know what Ginsberg is talking about to understand it. The people and events mentioned are very personal but a knowledge of them is crucial to understanding the "whos" of the poem.
“who bit detectives in the neck ... dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts.” Also, from “who sang out of their windows in despair” to “the blast of colossal steam whistles.”
Who is this? A real person, Bill Cannastra. I survived the 60s and read this poem for the first time in college. I remember thinking that it was a huge rant that unloaded all of Ginsberg's pent-up anger, guilt and issues - issues over accepting his sexual orientation, guilt over his mother's lobotomy, anger over not succeeding with Timothy Leary to get LSD legal -- all of the things that hippies, the SDA, the Black Panthers, and other protest groups of the 1960s were railing against. I still believe that the work's escapism is mainly related to the catharsis the poet was striving for when he wrote it. Others may disagree, but that's my view. Read about it here on enotes and see if you agree.

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