One of the best ways to fully understand an era is to study its literature. The printed word has the incredible capacity to both reflect and shape the hopes, fears, and ideologies of the time. This is very evident when reading literature from 1960's America, a turbulent period in the history of our country. While the authors' styles are very different, there are definite thematic patterns and characteristics evident in many of their works. For one, there is a prevalent concept of the unenlightened masses. This concept serves as a foil for the enlightened few often represented as the main characters and more specifically as the authors themselves. There also seems to be a general questioning of the "American Dream" as well as a clear conflict between nature and technology. By looking at these common thematic elements, not only can we better understand the literature of the time, but we can also get a fuller picture of the era itself.
One of the most interesting concepts in 60's literature is that of mass society. And while this notion is evident in many of the writings, the treatment of it is different from author to author. Richard Brautigan chooses to show the poor masses in his piece "Trout Fishing in America". He writes, "...people gather in the park across the street from the church and they are hungry.//It's sandwich time for the poor."(280,Streets) Donald Berthelme in his work "The Glass Mountain" calls the masses, "acquaintances"(284, Streets). He shows them to be a drunk and unruly lot who shout profanities at him as he tries to climb the building. Lawrence Ferlinghetti mentions an "unlonely crowd"(130,Poetry) in his po...
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...erature from 1960's America is full of recurring themes and images, which help to shed some light on the society of the time. There is a portrayal of a mass society that is questing for the American dream. There is also a call for enlightenment which many of the authors seem to say comes from a rejection of technological glitter and a return to simple, awe inspiring nature. These themes are shown in many different ways and with various slants. By placing these works in the larger context of a social era, we can see that the 60's was a very tumultuous time of great conflict and great change.
Allen, Donald ed. The New American Poetry. U of California Press:Berkeley, 1999.
Bloom, Alexander and Wini Breines Takin It To The Streets. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1995.
Kerouac, Jack The Dharma Bums. Penguin Books: N.Y., 1986.
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