Howl by Allen Ginsberg: Summary and Critical Analysis

Howl is a social commentary and revolutionary manifesto of Beats generation. The poem relies on linguistic grandeur, operatic catalogs, obscene references, and rambling digressions. The poem is in elegiac tone; the tone of mourning. Ginsberg presents the long list of the activities; therefore it is called catalog technique.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

The title Howl indicates protest as cry, cry for all exploitation, repression and subjugation. The poet asks people to cry against capitalism, exploitation, repression and subjugation. This poem, ‘Howl’ stands as the celebration of counter culture movement. The best minds of the 50s are destroyed by madness. This madness came in different forms. Those are scholars, best mind, and best generation. This madness came as a counterculture. Counter culture is not their choice, it is their compulsion. They suffered from hysteria when the dreams are postponed continuously.

Howl presents a picture of a nightmare world and as some reviews predicted, the wasteland of its generation. The movement of Howl is from protest, pain, outage, attack and lamentation to acceptance, affirmation, love and vision-from alienation to communion. The poet descends into an underworld of darkness, suffering and isolation and then ascends into spiritual knowledge, blessedness, achieved vision, and a sense of union with the human community and with God. The poem is unified with and the movement carried forward by resuming images of falling and rising, destruction and regeneration, starvation, under-nourishment, sleeping and waking, darkness and illumination, blindness and sight, death and resurrection. In Howl Ginsberg describes the desperation, the suffering and the persecution of a group of outcast, including himself who are seeking transcendent reality.

They have become naked so as to challenge the mainstream culture. They went to the Negro street and looked with anger; this anger is nothing but the expression of indictment (hatred) against American culture. They looked with frustration. Society born them and distorted them. They challenged that society which gave the birth, but not the accommodation. Their counter culture is seen in travel. They travel aimlessly from one city to another city. They loved to travel and they are good traveler. Their travel did not have any goal and destination.

They loved narcotic things because they wanted to forget the pain given by that culture and to challenge the mainstream culture. They wanted to challenge the mainstream culture through obscene art (vulgar art). They wrote vulgar poetry. They do not allow stopping their spontaneity. They wrote whatever comes into their mind. Others go to University for higher education, but these people go to university for doing narcotic things such as writing vulgar on the windows and walls of the university.

These people do not behave normally; they even talk to 70 hours. They talked about anecdotes, marijuana, sex, memory, drugs. They talked about the social taboos. They indulge in sexuality in open area. Sometimes they were found throwing semen over others. They broke the normal sexual courses. Sexual prevision can be seen in their poetry. They even burnt money to hate capitalism. Killing one was common. Homosexual hippies gave lectures on sexual matter. They threw salad on lecturers and gave speech on suicide. They even show drama on suicide. They have repulsion towards life and attraction towards death. Through suicide, they want to abuse the culture done by Americans.

Here Ginsberg is optimistic of social acceptance. They have, done all these things to challenge the mainstream culture. Their purpose is to produce a society which accommodates these people with peace and tranquility. Ginsberg is aware that they are rejected at present. But tomorrow they will get the reincarnation with the unlimited number of followers behind them. However, implicitly he has tried to compare the Beats with the resurrection of the Christ. As Christ was resurrected so will they be.

The chant rhythms is a basic use of language that both reflects and directs social action toward communicate goals, a force that seems never to be far away when this rhythm enters poetry. There is rhythmically and thematically strong sense of communal rhythm. Howl is linked not only to the romantic tradition but also to the preliterary, oral, magic incantations of the universal shamanist tradition.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Howl by Allen Ginsberg: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 31 Oct. 2013,

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