Beat Movement Themes

Themes

Disillusionment
At the end of World War II, Americans enjoyed a period of blissful relief and charged-up happiness unlike any realized before. Although an odd mixture of pride and sorrow over the dropping of atomic bombs left many people uneasy about the path to victory, it did not waylay the renewed spirit of optimism and drive for prosperity that swept the country at a feverish pace. The latter part of the 1940s and most of the 1950s have been called times of innocent fun, social quietude, and old-fashioned family values. The end of the war turned Rosie the Riverter into June Cleaver, as most women gave up their wartime jobs to raise the first of the baby boomers while dads worked as the sole breadwinners in the family. But, not everyone welcomed a neatly prescribed life with the perfect spouse, two kids, and a white picket fence around a well-manicured lawn. Some people were disillusioned with postwar complacency and protested social norms that smelled more like social control than simply a style of living. A faction of those people became self-identified members of the Beat Generation.

Disillusionment may be considered the “core” theme of the Beat Movement, for it encompasses the basic reason for the split from mainstream society that the original Beats desired. Although the foundations of the movement may be traced to the four kindred personalities of Kerouac, Burroughs, Corso, and Ginsberg, there is little doubt that countless other Americans were experiencing a shift in feelings in the wake of a war with unsurpassed technological destruction. To have the nation responsible then settle into an era of homeland peace, frivolity, and abundance was too much for some to swallow. People attracted to what would become the Beat lifestyle turned in that direction because of an initial distrust of America’s renewed sense of pride and accomplishment, many fearing that a gratified soci- ety was a vulnerable one, left open to greater governmental and social control. Rather than be mollified by the quaintness of the average happy family in the average happy neighborhood, the disillusioned Beats struck out against such expected...

(The entire section is 880 words.)