How has Ginsberg's vision of America proven accurate in this poem, and how has it not?

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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Allen Ginsberg's poem of 1955, "A Supermarket in California," is full of parody and even absurdity, making it difficult for me as a reader to pin down exactly what Ginsberg's vision of America may indeed have been.

To me, parts of Ginsberg's poem seem more serious than others, and one of the most serious parts for me is the final stanza, which includes reference to "the lost America of love" and a question put to the famous poet Walt Whitman, the inspiration for the poem: "what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank" (i.e. what was American like when you died?).

Whitman is famous for his vision of America as a land of democratic brotherhood and, particularly in the eyes of the openly gay male poet Ginsberg living one full century later, of unfettered expressions of affection between men. Ginsberg's poem seems to contrast that vision with one of frozen foods, compulsory heterosexuality ("Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--"), unchecked commercialism and commodification, and rampant materialism.

Again, to me, the poem is difficult to take entirely seriously, but that may be a sign of how accurate Ginsberg's vision of America has indeed proven to be. In his and our postmodern era, we recycle images from the past and consume them, like our highly processed foods, for a evening snack.