The beat movement is a literary period born out of World War II. This movement in American Literature has become an important period in the history of literature and society in America. Characterized by personal alienation and contempt for convention, the movement celebrated stylistic freedom and spontaneity. The Beat writers created a new vision of modern life and altered the nature of awareness in America.
The Beat Generation was one of the first groups of writers to break down the barriers of traditional literature and set a precedent for future writers with their writing style, their way of life, and by the messages they portrayed. They were the kids dressed in black, hanging out at coffee shops, reading their latest poetry. They protested wars, were drug users, and openly expressed homosexuality, as they expressed every aspect of their life candidly. But, the Beats are best known for their writing style. It was unique for that time to cast aside conventional structures of sentences and poetry. They used dashes instead of commas and periods; to write the way a person hears speech. Their poetry had a style of its own, unknown to any other groups of poets at the time; no rhyming, no structure, and non-conforming beauty.
The Beat writers formed in New York City, started with only a few members, but grew to have an impact on American society, especially in literature and politics, which still lasts today. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were the founders of the Beat Generation. They not only started a new style of American literature but ignited the rebellion against social conformity in the 1950s through their poems of social and political criticisms.
Ginsbergs work often represents a struggle for spiritual survival in a dehumanized, repressive society. This can be seen in his writing of Howl:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
This poem is sometimes referred to as a violent howl of human anguish. It attacks the forces of conformity and mechanization that Ginsberg believed destroyed the best minds of his generation. This poem has no real structure or rational connection of ideas, and the rules of grammar are abandoned in order to pack imagery into one line. The poem points the way toward a new and better existence, chronicling the pilgrimage of the mad generation toward a reality that is timeless and placeless, holy and eternal.
Jack Kerouac was not only a leader of the Beat movement in literature, but also a spokesman. Kerouacs major writings are loosely organized and autobiographical. Many describe his wanderings throughout the United Sates, Mexico, and Europe. Like the other works of Beat writers, Kerouacs novels emphasized spiritual liberation through sex, drugs, and the Asian religion called Zen.
According to Kerouac, who was the first writer to use the term Beat Generation, the word beat had various definitions and connotations for the writers. Despair over the beaten state of the individual in mass society, belief in the beatitude, or blessedness of the natural world and in the powers of the beat jazz music and poetry. Later in the 1950s, the term beatnik was referred to the people who held the ideas and attitudes of the Beat writers.
Kerouacs most famous novel, On The Road, is an account of several Beat characters that travel across the United States in search of personal fulfillment, living a beaten lifestyle. The novel celebrates the freedom from conventional responsibilities, the emotional intensity of a life of hitchhiking, casual sex, and recreational drug use. This novel was the start of the Beat Generations journey into Americas attention as journalists gave it much press, which for the most part was negative. Many classical and traditional literary scholars and poets disliked this New Art literature and lifestyle that Kerouac wrote about. Poet George Barker comically writes how he feels about Kerouacs works:
Now Jack, dear Jack
That aint fair wages
For laboring through
Prose that takes ages
Just to announce
That Gods and Men
Ought to Study
The Book of Zen
If you really think
So low of the soul
Why dont you write
On a toilet roll?
However, the Beat poetry and literature that scholars once scorned are now a part of college curricula. The accomplishments of the two original beat writers were not easily acquired. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were forced to overcome endless social obstacles in order to accomplish their journey of liberation. Although these two writers faced much criticism and even severe condemnation, they never once gave into the America that would not listen to them.
The Beat Generation writers gave us insight into the attitude and way of life in the sensitive period after World War II. They broke down the boundaries of conventional literature for future writers. The Beat Generation is truly something to applaud for its boldness and addition to the thought of the American mind.
1999 World Book, Inc.
This Is The Beat Generation, http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn/Texts/ThisIsBeatGen.html.
Beat Movement, http://people.tamu.edu./~alethaa/beat.html