The Beat Generation… in a nutshell

You may have heard of Jack Kerouac, writer of On the Road, but do you know what literary period he was a part of?


Kerouac along with other eccentrics of his writing period became known as The Beat Generation, a loosely described group of authors who had significant work published throughout the 1950s about American culture.


The Beat Generation was bold in that the writers examined many aspects of life in ways they had never been examined before.


The Beat Generation authors looked at American culture, examining what influenced American culture, who was influencing whom, and the kinds of wars we entered. They examined the quest for spirituality, the idea of material possessions, and every side of drugs, sex, and alcohol.


While the Beats had a variety of influences, one of the most notable influences was poet Walt Whitman, the father of blank verse, whose style was utilized by many of the writers. Whitman stood further as a role model as a strong gay writer of his time, something writers like Allen Ginsberg of the time took to heart.


They also were strongly influenced by all of the drugs and alcohol they consumed, a constant theme throughout all of their works and adventures within those works.


To name a few works and writers, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road may be one of the most popular and accessible works of the period. The novel was based on Kerouac’s real journey with other Beat writers like William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg.


Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” represented much of the vulgarity and dejection of American culture that made up the Beats; the poem was incredibly controversial with its homosexual themes and American descent. Today, “Howl” still rings as an anthem rejecting capitalism and materialism, as well as other American ideals.


Another masterpiece of the piece is The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. This book followed the character of William Lee as he travelled from the US to Mexico. The book was meant to be read in any order, and it again had a strong focus around illicit drugs.


Other notable writers of the period include Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, and Joyce Johnson.


The effect the Beat Generation had on future poets, as a revival of blank verse, and future writers is surely immeasurable, even as much of the work cannot be read in schools with its explicit content. When young readers and writers seek a different path, something to read when they too feel lost or when they too want to see what else life has to offer, they ought to look no further than the Beats.


This article was written using information from the following website and information gathered through my own reading of the Beat Generation and from classrooms over the years:


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