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 it's 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 1950's through their poems of social and political criticisms.

Ginsberg's 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, angel headed 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 place less, holy and eternal.

Jack Kerouac was not only a leader of the Beat movement in literature, but also a spokesman. Kerouac's 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, Kerouac's 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 1950's, the term "beatnik" was referred to the people who held the ideas and attitudes of the Beat writers. Kerouac's 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 America's 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 Kerouac's works: Now Jack, dear Jack That ain't 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 don't 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. STANDARD


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