A Supermarket in California Questions and Answers
by Allen Ginsberg

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"(In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! What peaches and penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles were full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!)" Why is the quote meaningful and representative of the work?

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In a poem that both celebrates Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and highlights the differences between Whitman's nineteenth-century America and Ginsberg's of a later century, the 1950s supermarket described in this quote is an ideal symbol of the changes.

The quote represents Whitman by imitating the style his exuberant verse (this is characteristic of the poem as a whole). In Leaves of Grass, Whitman males long exuberant lists of everything and everyone he saw, trying to include all of America in a joyful, universal "I." Whitman expresses in his poetry that he loves all of America and considers himself part of all it.

In this quote, Ginsberg both celebrates that kind of expansive vision and at same time parodies what America has become. He captures Whitman's cadences as he writes exuberantly of what he sees: the "neon" fruit, the "peaches and penumbras [shadows]," whole families out at night buying (or wearing the colors of, or both) avocados and tomatoes. We can imagine him listing what he sees in the lit produce section of a supermarket at night.

But while Ginsberg celebrates this quintessentially American image of plenty, he also parodies it. A supermarket is a place that symbolizes 1950s consumer culture, and the poem, in this passage, raises questions. Why are whole families out shopping in the supermarket, day and night? Is this rampant consumerism what America has become? Ginsberg both reveals the materialism of American culture in this passage and urges us to laugh at these debased (if exuberant) images of what is left for him to describe of Whitman's country.

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