The Beat movement or Beat generation was a new cultural way of thinking that was born after the end of the second world war when writers and artists on the west and east coast began questioning the mainstream politics and lifestyle of American society. This way of thinking then evolved into a significant movement in the 1950s. Members of this movement were generally apolitical, indifferent toward social problems of the day, and advocated a form of individual purification or awaking through a combination of music, sex, drugs, and some tenets of eastern Buddhism. Prominent members of this movement included writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Carl Solomon, Ken Kesey, and Richard Brautigan.
The document titled “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg is a perfect example of the described beliefs of those members of this cultural movement. In howl, Allen Ginsberg describes the life of post-war America in a way that seems full of rage and wild. Ginsberg also uses the term Moloch at the beginning of every line in his poem before describing an aspect of this society he is indifferent to. In the beginning, he explains how this society has destroyed some of the best young minds of his generation in several ways. The first way he describes is the militarism of the nation with children crying under the staircase, boys sobbing in the army, and the endless stunned governments. America after world war two saw an expansion of military spending in the united states and even though it was technically peacetime the United States navy, air force, and army either expanded or, maintained numbers usually seen in wartime. Ginsberg and others of the beats movement rejected this kind of expansion and how dangerous the world had become in the atomic age. The next thing Ginsberg describes is the soulless jailhouse and the Congress of sorrows. This seems to be explaining how the American society of this time was not very kind to those that did not adapt to the expectations of the time and the punishment that followed from an unwillingness to become a member of this society. The beats members disliked any notion of being members of this society and sought the freedom necessary to grow their true artistic, creative, and spiritual selves. The third aspect of the society mentioned in this poem is the skyscrapers with their thousands of windows and the factories whose smokestacks and antennas crown the city. This poem paints a very vivid picture of cities as filthy and evil places that have no problem with ruining lives and polluting as long as the materialism and greed of society are fed. This point is reinforced throughout the poem when it is mentioned that for Moloch love is oil and stone, the soul is electricity and banks, and blood is running money. Lastly, the poem describes the labor to build these great cities, the endless effort to push them onward and upward, and the new suburban lifestyle is mentioned.
In conclusion, this poem is a raw and unfiltered look at the how the members of this movement viewed the American way of life at the time and how they unequivocally loathed it and desired no part in it. Members of the Beats movement of the 1950s had no desire to work an eight to five job at some factory or high rise office then return to a modern apartment or suburban house at days end. They viewed this as a contribution to a runaway capitalistic society that was destroying their individuality and creativity. They desired a way of life that was free from these distractions and their cultural impact continues to shape our world today.