Anti-Consumerism in the Works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Roth

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Anti-Consumerism in the Works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Roth

After World War II, Americans became very concerned with "keeping up with the Joneses." Everyday people were not only interested in fulfilling the American Dream because of the optimistic post-war environment, but also because of the economic emphasis on advertising that found a new outlet daily in highway billboards, radio programs, and that popular new device, the television. With television advertising becoming the new way to show Americans what they did not (and should) have came a wide-eyed and fascinated interest in owning all kinds of things, products, and devices suddenly necessary in every home. One could not only hear about new necessary items, but see them as well. Meanwhile, marketplaces and small shops were being dismantled to create the supermarket, a temple of consumerism where any passerby may walk in and purchase almost anything he or she desires without a thought of their neighbor, who runs the suffering little fruit stand around the corner. The literary rebellion of the 1960's was concerned, in part, with the desire to break down this growing consumer culture.

Not everyone was so easily lulled by the singsong mottoes and jingles of television advertising and the call of the national supermarket. Poets like Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Kerouac began struggling, in writing, against the oppression of having. As Buddhists, these writers saw the growing desire to fill whims and wants with items easily purchased as harmful to the ability to transcend suffering (instead of eliminating it). Combining the strategies of Asian Buddhist monks with American transcendentalist theory provided by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emer...

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...e when the rest of the nation was blindly enjoying their television programs and the convenience of the supermarket, these writers made strong statements warning against the love of things. During the 50's and 60's, many middle- and upper-class Americans had worked hard to afford conveniences, but Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Roth would say that it is not enough to "deserve" your participation in the consumerist culture. Rather, they would say the consumerist culture, by nature, is mentally and culturally enslaving and to be avoided when possible for the sake of the integrity of the individual spirit.

Works Cited:

Allen, Donald (ed.). The New American Poetry 1945-1960. Berkeley, CA: U. of California P. 1960.

Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin Books. 1958.

Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. New York: Modern Library. 1959.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how philip roth's novel goodbye, columbus is different from the dharma bums in that the protagonist, neil, seems to warily enjoy the have-everything culture the patimkins represent.
  • Describes allen, donald, the new american poetry 1945-1960. berkeley, ca: u. of california p.
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