How does "A Supermarket in California" exemplify the poetry of the Beat movement?

"A Supermarket in California" exemplifies the poetry of the Beat movement in its poking fun at middle-class materialism, hints of gay sexuality, and exuberant, Whitmanesque energy.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"A Supermarket in California" critiques middle-class materialism, hints at gay sexuality, and exemplifies the exuberant energy of the Beat generation.

This poem is set in a modern supermarket in the 1950s, then still a relatively new feature of the suburban landscape that had taken over from the old,...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

"A Supermarket in California" critiques middle-class materialism, hints at gay sexuality, and exemplifies the exuberant energy of the Beat generation.

This poem is set in a modern supermarket in the 1950s, then still a relatively new feature of the suburban landscape that had taken over from the old, small, crowded corner grocery store. The speaker pokes fun at the bright colored plenty of it, commenting on the "neon fruit" and "whole families shopping at night! " He treats the supermarket, a symbol of materialism, with typical Beat poet irreverence, imagining walking with the long dead poet Walt Whitman and "tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier." In other words, he imagines shoplifted from the bounty by eating in the store.

He ends on a note of wistfulness for a less materialistic age, wishing to

stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways

The "lost America of love" is a contrast to material world of "blue automobiles," but also contains overtones of gay love, as both Ginsberg and Whitman were gay, and Ginsberg imagines them strolling home to "our silent cottage." Talking about such forbidden topics in the 1950s was also another feature of Beat poetry—which got the poets into trouble but also was good for publicizing them.

Finally, the exuberance of the poet's voice exemplifies the energy and enthusiasm of the Beat writers. Ginsberg is both imitating Whitman's energy, exuberance, and love of the universe, and at the same time being a Beat—one of the meanings of the term Beat is "beatitude," as in celebrating the holiness of the world in all its manifestations. So while Ginsberg critiques American materialism, he also celebrates the beauty of the supermarket.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on