Howl by Allen Ginsberg


Writers are given impetus by their respective societies. This is especially true of Allen Ginsberg, a writer of the Beat Generation in America. His literary works reflected people’s reaction to American culture in the 1950s. When Ginsberg was writing his poem, Howl, American culture had put some expectations on the citizens (Miles, 2001). There was the accepted code of conduct and nonconformists to this culture were regarded as deviants. Ginsberg’s Howl is seen as a typical work of literature that sought to attack the mainstream culture. It is a poem that praises and advocates for all that was detested in the American culture of 1950s; from suicidal thoughts, obscenity, and homosexuality among other deviant behaviors. This paper focuses on the poem Howl with an attempt of showing how the poem expresses nonconformist to the mainstream culture of 1950s in America.


As a narration to the poem, Ginsberg expresses his distrust of American capitalism. Critics have argued that throughout his life, Ginsberg advocated for communism. He was a major proponent of communism and socialism (Cavarero, 2009). Ginsberg starts his attack of communism in the first line of the poem when he comments that he has seen the best mind of his generation being destroyed by madness. He is implying that the current capitalistic system have done nothing but to worsen the situation of the American people. His attack on communism is however best achieved in the line: the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism (Ginsberg, 1956). In part two of the poem Ginsberg makes reference to money and machinery thus alluding to the ideology of capitalism. “Who destroyed the minds? It’s Moloch, Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery”!

He seems to venerate communism and those associated with it. The next line (“Who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union…” (Ginsberg, 1956)) shows his attitude towards communism. He uses the word ‘supercommunist’ to place communism on higher ground than capitalism.

The best minds of this generation liked to use narcotics. They took marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs. Their sex life is also questionable. The poet says that they: let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy (Ginsberg,1956). It is worth noting that by the time Ginsberg was writing the poem the American were opposed to same sex relationship. As seen in the line homosexuality to the “who” in the poem is an act that is appealing to the participants; it is not unusual as the society would want it to look like. The sexual vulgarity in the poem explains why the poem was banned upon its release. It was regarded as obscene and individuals like Shig Murao were arrested for selling copies of the anthology that contained the poem.

Ginsberg does not conform to the regular style of writing poetry; he does not, for instance, organize his poem into lines of equal lengths (Raskin, 2004). This deviation is tactical since it helps pass on a message of deviance. Like the subject of his poem, Ginsberg does not conform to the set poetry guidelines.


From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl, is typical of literatures by non conformists of the beat generation. The poem through an irregular style attacks the mainstream American culture of 1950s. It venerates all what is disregarded in the mainstream culture for example capitalism, sexual pervasion and drug abuse. The poem remains a great work of the beat generation period.

Miles, Barry. (2001). Ginsberg: A Biography. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd.
Raskin, Jonah. (2004) American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Cavarero, A. (2009). Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence. New York: Columbia University Press.
Ginsberg, A. (1956). Howl, and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Pocket Bookshop.