Professor Kim Ballerini
May 14, 2014
Cultural/Historical Background of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”
Allen Ginsberg’s writing was a breakthrough for culture in the 1950’s, and still today his writing represents a lot of controversial issues in the United States. He strayed away from mainstream writing and allowed his poetry to be self-expressive, about human sexuality and politics. Some of the themes explored in “Howl” are stemmed from his upbringing, mostly his mother’s mental illness, which gave him an understanding for those who are different, and empathy for those are suffering. Throughout the poem which is broken down into four parts, ending with “Footnote to Howl”, he sympathizes with those who have been judged and considered ill because they do not follow the norms of society, he speaks of societies discontent post world war II, and suppression of human nature, and in “Footnote to Howl” merges all these issues together to conclude that all mankind is holy, by making the vulgar and pure come together as one. In this paper I will research how the themes in “Howl” correlate directly with issues in society, and Ginsberg’s personal struggles during the time the poem was written and published, the development of the Beat generation, and lastly the impact his poetry had on society.
Allen Ginsberg’s upbringing significantly makes up the issues explored in his writing. His parents Louis and Naomi Ginsberg, like him were litterateurs and activist during their time; they were a part of the New York literature counterculture of the 1920’s (Allen Ginsberg. Poets.org), and their ideas of political controversy influenced Allen Ginsberg immensely on his views of life. His mother Naomi suffered from mental illness, which gave Ginsberg an empathetic perspective towards psychological/psychiatric practices which is shown in his writing. In “Footnote to Howl” he mentions his mother’s condition saying “Holy my mother in the insane asylum”...
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