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What cause is Allen Ginsberg fighting for in "Howl?"

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aslim123456 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 22, 2012 at 9:04 PM via web

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What cause is Allen Ginsberg fighting for in "Howl?"

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 22, 2012 at 10:05 PM (Answer #1)

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"Howl" begins with the arresting declaration that its author has "seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked." Ginsberg goes on to describe how many of his generation, proscribed and rejected by 1950s society, lived their lives. They traveled, the did drugs, they had sex with many different partners, they lived in poverty, and many of them died far before their time, from overdoses and suicide. After cataloging many of the experiences of his friends, and some of his own, Ginsburg begins the second part of his work by asking rhetorically, "What sphinx of cement and aluminim bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?" and answers that they were destroyed by "Moloch," the name he gives to everything reprehensible about the capitalist, corporate culture that dominated 1950s America:

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgement! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!...Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses! granite c---s! monstrous bombs!

As the preceding passage suggests, Ginsberg did not intend his poem to be a simple indictment of capitalism, or any other institution of modern America. Rather he was decrying the effects of a profoundly materialist culture that held up conformity as an important ideal. This ethos, Ginsberg suggested, permeated every aspect of American society, and it destroyed those people who could not, or would not, conform. When faced with a society so antithetical to their values, Ginsberg said, young people

...bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street

In Part III of the poem, he describes Carl Solomon, the man to whom the poem is dedicated, as a specific example. Ginsberg met Solomon in a mental institution, and he intended that Solomon should be a triumphant figure, one who maintained his individuality in the face of "Moloch" rather than a victim. To return to the original question, this was the fight worth fighting.

 

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