What were the driving cultural and social forces that Ginsberg was reacting to?
Perhaps the best description of the cultural and social forces that Ginsberg was revolting against came, oddly enough, from US District Court Judge Clayton Horn, who, ruling on the constitutionality of the seizure of volumes of Ginsberg's poems said that Ginsberg's work, specifically the poem "Howl," was important in that it described a "nightmare world," and served as "an indictment of those elements of modern society destructive of the best qualities of human nature," including “materialism, conformity, and mechanization leading toward war."
Criticism of these forces would remain a common theme in Ginsberg's work for his entire career. He argued against cultural, sexual, and artisitic conformity, often in apocalyptic terms, and bemoaned the tendency of modern society to proscribe and ultimately to repress those people at its fringes, no matter how talented. "Howl," for example, begins with the famous line:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...
After Ginsberg's first public reading of "Howl" in 1955, one listener remarked that his audience realized "at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America..." Ginsberg would continue to throw himself at barriers in America for the rest of his life, writing poignantly about subjects ranging from homosexuality, race, cultural conformity, consumer culture, and American militarism.