Allen Ginsberg, "A Supermarket in California" Literary Analysis

Topics: Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, Poetry Pages: 5 (1669 words) Published: May 5, 2013
Jasamyn Wimmer
English 1B
Professor Kleinman
5 March 2013
Brief Literary Analysis
Lost America: An analysis of “A Supermarket in California” Allen Ginsberg; philosopher, activist, poet, a man highly revered as a groundbreaking figure between the 1950’s Beat Poetry Generation and the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960’s ( Ginsberg’s first book “Howl and Other Poems,” was published in 1955, his work was involved in an illustrious obscenity trial because of the use of homosexuality in his work and its explicit content ( This was a pivotal case for those defending free speech; the judgment was overturned due to the book’s “redeeming social importance,” thus setting the tone for his contentious career (poetry Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California” was one of the “other poems” in this publication, seemingly a tribute to Ginsberg’s poetic hero and influence, Walt Whitman. This piece was an experiment of style and theme that would later dominate his career (Pagnattaro 1). It seems that the use of Whitman in this poem is a device, which the author used to contrast Walt’s idealism with his own cynical version of reality. Ginsberg was expressing his disdain with the hypocrisy of modern American society’s “progress” and the bastardization of nature that happens as a symptom of mass consumerism. The reasons why Ginsberg chose Walt Whitman to be his companion in “A Supermarket in California” is because his character adds polarity to the message because of his auspiciousness. Whitman’s company also supports Ginsberg’s thesis because they shared many similar opinions. Walt Whitman, considered America’s first original poet in the nineteenth century, experimented with meter and rhythm and forgo the structured line and stanza (Holmes 1). Whitman was an eccentric, controversial for his time, and just like Ginsberg, Whitman was a homosexual (Moore 1). Whitman wrote about nature, and encroachment of industrialized society, sexual expression and freedom, spirituality, much like Allen Ginsberg’s work (Holmes 1). Like Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Whitman’s most famous work “Leaves of Grass” was considered pornographic and obscene. Ginsberg wished to follow in Whitman’s legacy with style and reputation. Ginsberg’s famous long line style was inspired by Whitman’s use of differing lengths of line and breath (Holmes 1). The author sought to continue Whitman’s poetic attack on industrialized society, the consequences of corporate growth and consumerism, and the loss of quality in life with the detachment of man from nature. It seems that Ginsberg chose Whitman not only for his similarities, but because he felt that Whitman was the only person who could understand him even though Whitman is long gone from this world. He choses Whitman to be his ghostly companion on this journey is because Ginsberg so desperately sought sustained interaction with people. He mourned the lack of meaningful contact among individuals in modern society. Whitman, a dead poet, was the only person that Ginsberg could to talk to and feel understood. The author also wants to have Whitman present to emphasize to the reader the comparison of Whitman’s optimistic vision of a prosperous America with the stale, less natural, pessimistic version of the one that Ginsberg now observes. Ginsberg is looking at America in the 20th century as Whitman looked at it in the 19th. Ginsberg ironically summons Whitman during a moonlit walk that leads to the Supermarket, it seems he is beginning the poem in nature for a reason. The Supermarket is a symbol of this severance of people from nature; who no longer grow their food. It is a condemnation of American consumerism; items bought are perfectly packaged and fake looking, without any evidence of where it came from and how it got there (Monteiro 1). The food is a symbol of what nature offers moral, psychic and spiritual nourishment. Ginsberg mentions the neon lighting and uses the word...

Cited: Ginsberg, Allen. “Howl and other Poems.” San Francisco: City Lights Bookstore, 1956. Print.
Holmes, James. “Walt Whitman had America right-a century ago.” Online Athens. Web. 3 March 2013.
Montiero, George. “Peaches and Penumbras: Ginsberg’s ‘Supermarket in California’.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 36.2 (2006). Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
Moore, Julie. “Allen Ginsberg’s a Supermarket in California and Condemnation of American Consumerism.” Yahoo Voices (2007). Yahoo. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Pagnattaro, Marisa Anna. “Critical Essay on ‘A Supermarket in California’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
Unknown. “A Supermarket in California.” Poetry Archive: About the Poet. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.
Unknown. “Biography of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997).” Grade Saver. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
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