“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

“who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,”
Throughout the poem, Ginsberg  uses style of one long run on sentence describing what had happened to the people he called, “the best minds of his generation” (1). In these lines Ginsberg emphasizes the negative effects of the business world and more specifically of the world of advertising.
Initially, after reading these lines I had thought that Ginsberg was referring to some horrific incident that had occurred during his time, as he specifically points out the location, Madison Avenue, and the company, Absolute Realty. However, after realizing the extended metaphor, I was able to understand the perspective of Ginsberg.It was evident he loathed the high class, seemingly boring lifestyle of businessmen. Ginsberg uses “Madison Ave” to represent the classic workplace of high class businessmen and the metaphor of these men being “burned alive” to mean that their creative abilities are being wasted away, since they are busy doing these jobs. He emphasizes that we have come to a time where the people who are supposedly the brightest all look for these types of occupations rather than more creative ones. additionally, Ginsberg blames the advertisers and newspaper editors for their advertising methods. Furthermore, Ginsberg displays his passionate hate for what he views as a waste of talent through the use of adjectives and metaphors relating to torture. He compares “mustard gas” to the works of editors and “nitroglycerine” to  advertising agencies (93-95). This cynical image put fourth by Ginsberg exhibits just how he feels about this lifestyle. Not only does it disgust him, but also he sees the people caught up in this lifestyle as being tortured and wasting away their abilities.
My questions for the class are:
1) What is the significance of the long run-on sentence style used by Ginsberg? Is it a stream of consciousness? Or is there some underlying meaning involved?
2)Is Ginsberg referring to a specific case where people he personally knew who loathed their job and lifestyle? If not, why does he feel that he has the authority to speak on behalf of these businessmen?
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1 Response to “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

  1. Mika Katz says:

    I think the format of the long run-on sentence serves a very important purpose. Along with the title, it prepares the reader for what they are about to read. The long run-on sentence is filled with troubling images and themes. I noticed a great deal of frustration in his tone when he refers to the self-destruction of his generation. It was definitely a way to break from the normal ideals of American society and enter into a world of free expression. I feel like the artists in the poem are howling wildly like animals for acceptance, understanding, a sense of freedom. I found it very interesting that the speaker questions our common notions of sanity. Who the society would see as mentally ill, the speaker considers misunderstood geniuses. In his opinion the doctors and treatments are not encouraged and hallucinations and any sort of visions are encouraged. I truly love that way of thinking.

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