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Jad Battle
Dr. Craig Wynne
English 220-01
9 December 2016

The Beat Movement


Throughout literature, there have been many different movements that has come into the
limelight. Many of them have been very successful, to the point where they are still discussed
today, while others have not. The Beat Movement was one movement that was never a large
movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible
than any other competing aesthetic (Rahn 1). This movement was one that is still prevalent in
popular culture with movies such as Heart Beat starring Nick Nolte and John Heard, literature
with the many short stories and poems published by the artists, and even Apple Emojis, even
though not many people know it. Although the movement is still prevalent, the movement is
considered to be a failure. The literary failure of the Beats is simply a bankruptcy of
imaginative insight born into their unwillingness to nourish, direct, or even motivate their
creative faculties (Scott 150-151).
This review hopes to explore the beat movement and the artists involved while giving the
reader a deeper understanding of the movement by answering the following questions:
1. What is the beat movement and what makes an artist fit into the category?
2. How was Charles Bukowski influenced by/ a part of the movement?
3. Did the background of these artists influence their writing style that would
make them beat artists?
4. Did the beat movement leave a lasting effect on society today?

What is the Beat Movement and what makes a beat artist?


The beat movement is defined as an American social and literary movement originating
in the 1950s and centred [sic] in the bohemian artist communities of San Franciscos North
Beach, Los Angeles Venice West, and New York Citys Greenwich Village (Beat Movement
1). The movement lasted from 1955 to 1962. The post-World War II artists of this time were
anti-materialistic. They rejected all societal norms including talking publicly about sex, cursing
in their works, and anything that was seen as politically incorrect. The movement got its
beginnings after World War II with many university students beginning to wonder why
everything around them was based on material things. James F. Scott, professor at University of
Kentucky, titled his book Beat Literature and the American Teen Cult because the movement
became just that. As per the Oxford Pocket Dictionary, cult is defined as a relatively small
group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
People looking from the outside of this movement, the artists were considered to be strange
because the topics that they discussed was not typically discussed in public literature. Others
found the group to be odd and taboo, making them cult-like.
Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, the main founders of the
movement met in New York City in the 1940s. Kerouac and Ginsberg attended Columbia
University and William S. Burroughs attended Harvard University. The term beat was coined
by Jack Kerouac. According to Kerouac, The word beat originally meant poor, down and out,
dead beat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways. Now that the word is belonging officially it is
being made to stretch to include people who do not sleep in subways but have a new gesture, or
attitude, which I can only describe as a new more. Beat Generation has simply become the

slogan or label for a revolution in manners in America (Torricelli 211). Kerouac, Ginsberg, and
Burroughs were all young, poor, starving artists in New York City.
Many, if not all of the artists of the beat movement discussed things like drugs, sex, lack
of money, and all things that were against societal norms and anti-materialistic. According to
Carl D. Magrem, The Beats rejected the modernist aesthetic as productive of art that had
become over the years, esoteric, obscurantist, elitist, safe, sterile, dead. Beat poetics called for
rebellion against all forms of authority, especially culturally sanctioned authority, (Patterson
1). Allen Ginsbergs Howl is an example of beat literature. This story was the one that made the
beat movement mainstream and caught many peoples attention. The first time Ginsberg read it
aloud to a crowd, many people liked it. The story caught the attention of Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
who founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, California. He published it, but the
government declared it to be obscene due to all of the cursing and the negative depiction of gay
men. Ferlinghetti ultimately won the case, saying that the story was redeeming social
importance (Shmoop Editorial, 2008).
According to the editors at Shmoop, a website created by professors, doctors, and
graduate students, some of the characteristics of the beat movement are post-modern, obscenity,
interracial, alienation, and sexuality.Post modernism works are eccentric and experimental
(Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008). The artists whole lifestyle and works were based on their
rejection of materialism so their lifestyles did become peculiar and experimental because of their
anti-materialistic lifestyle, causing them to have to live a different way. Obscene works are
works with a lot of cursing and improper (according to society) topics. Alienation is just what
it sounds like. The artists felt like they had to get away from everyone and everything so they

alienated themselves from society. The literature had a lot of curse words, was more modern than
the literature that was popular at the time, spoke on sex, drugs, and many other topics that were
considered to be taboo.

How was Charles Bukowski influenced by/ a part of the movement?


Charles Bukowski, born Heinrich Karl Bukowski, was born in Germany in 1920. He and
his family moved to the United States when he was two years old. His father was a very big
disciplinarian and would beat him over very small, minor things he did. Bukowski began to drink
when he was thirteen years old, which set the tone for the rest of his life and his artistry.
Bukowskis work was very controversial, especially amongst women. His poems were
known for his strange outlook and writings about women. In one aspect, he was infatuated and
loved women and in the next, we wrote very disrespectful things about women.
Charles Bukowski has an interesting role with the beat movement. He was not a fan of
the movement or the main founders. He called them chummy, phony, and cliquey (Clements
71). Although he has been compared to the actual beat artists, he really wanted nothing to do
with the movement or Kerouac, Ginsberg, or Burroughs. He believed that they were too
mainstream for him, being that he was a very alienated person. The only person that Bukowski
liked from the movement was Allen Ginsberg. Bukowski was very opposite the founders of the
movement. While they were all ivy league educated, and came from middle-working class
families, Bukowski actually hated school and dropped out.
While Charles Bukowski was an anti-beat, he had many similarities to the movement.
Bukowski was a heavy drinker, which influenced a lot of what he wrote. Many of his poems

contained a lot of obscenity, talked about sex, and many more topics that was related to the beat
movement. An example of this is seen in Bukowskis poem making it:
pay your taxes
fu*k
and if you can't fu*k
copulate.
make money but don't work too
hard --- make somebody else pay to
make it --- and
don't smoke too much but drink enough to
relax, and
stay off the streets
In these lines of the poem, Bukowski is embodying what a lot of beat artists talked about
in their writings. Sex, drinking alcohol, and a lot of curse words.
All in all, Bukowskis involvement with the beat movement was interesting, not because
of his actual involvement, but because of his dislike for the movement. He was known as an
anti-beat artist. While his and the other artists works were similar, he wanted nothing to do
with the artists or the movement at all.
Did the background of these artists influence their writing style that would make
them beat artists?
Many times, the household an individual grows up in will have a lasting effect on them.
According to Maanvi Singh of NPR, our earliest experiences may stick with us for years and
continue to influence us well into adulthood. (Singh 1) In doing research on Kerouac, Ginsberg,
and Burroughs, they seemed to all have dealt with some type of adversity.
Allen Ginsberg was born and raised in Newark, NJ, which is notoriously violent. He was
raised by his father and mother. Growing up, his mother suffered from seizures and paranoia.
Watching his mother slowly deteriorate from her illness had a long-lasting effect on Ginsberg,

which he recounted in his poem Kaddish. He got his start in poetry protesting the Vietnam
War. During his senior year at Columbia University, he was facing a robbery charge and plead
psychological disability, causing him to be sent to a psych ward for eight months.
Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. He began to face
tragedy at a young age. His older brother died when he was nine from rheumatic fever. This had
a long lasting effect on him because they were close. Kerouac also had a very close relationship
with his mother. He won a football scholarship to Columbia, but soon lost it because he fought
his coach for not letting him play. Shortly after, his father lost his business and began to drink
heavily. Jack ended up enlisting in the Marines, but failed while he was there.
William S. Burroughs was born in St.Louis, Missouri. His background was slightly
different than his co-founders. He grew up in a upper-middle class family. He had a fascination
with violence, crime, and guns. He wanted to break the rules, and his parents were okay with it,
they continued to support him financially in school. Burroughs was known as A bookworm with
strong homoerotic urges (Asher 1).
In doing the research on the three founders of this movement, it is clear that their younger
days and upbringing had an effect on their work. Kerouac and Ginsberg both faced tragedies at a
younger age that stayed with them throughout their lives. Burroughs did not necessarily face a
tragedy but he was a very edgy teenager, which of course effected his works. The trials and
tribulations that these artists faced as young men molded the type of person they would become.
After experiencing these different trials and tribulations, they all had

Did the beat movement leave a lasting effect on society today?

While the beat movement is seen to be as


unsuccessful and short, it most definitely left a lasting effect
on society today. The beat movement resulted in
Liberation of the word from censorship, demystification
and/or decriminalization of some laws against marijuana
and other drugs, the evolution of rhythm and blues into rock
and roll, the spread of ecological consciousness,
emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure,
the notion of a "Fresh Planet." (The Beat Generation 1).
Artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan was influenced by the beat movement. Their lifestyle
was very much centered around the anti-materialistic views that the beat generation displayed. In
technology, there are Apple Emojis with words from Jack Kerouacs On The Road. In film,
there are movies that feature many popular actors. A popular movie titled The Last Time I
Committed Suicide, features Keanu Reeves playing Neal Cassidy, who was another popular
beat founder. The movie just travels through his life and shows all of the many trials and
tribulations that he faced.

Conclusion
All in all, the beat movement was one of prominence. It was not a very large amount of
people that were involved but the effects of the movement are still seen today. In this review, the
following questions were answered:

1.

What is the beat movement and what makes an artist fit into the category?

2.

How was Charles Bukowski influenced by/ a part of the movement?

3.
Did the background of these artists influence their writing style that would make them
beat artists?
4.

Did the beat movement leave a lasting effect on society today?

In exploring literature, it was discovered that the beat movement was a very influential
movement, not in numbers but in the affect it left on the United States literary culture.

Works Cited

Asher, Levi. Jack Kerouac. BeatMuseum. N.d.


http://www.beatmuseum.org/kerouac/jackkerouac.html. Accessed 18 November 2016.
AP Comp. Importance of the Beat Movement. Google, N.d.

Asher, Levi. William S. Burroughs. BeatMuseum. N.d.


http://www.beatmuseum.org/burroughs/williamsburroughs.html. Accessed 16 November 2016.
Burrus, Harry. Do The Beats Matter Today? Beatdom. N.d.
http://www.beatdom.com/do-the-beats-matter-today/. Accessed 8 December 2016.
Charters, Ann. Allen Ginsbergs Life. ModernAmericanPoetry. N.d.
http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/ginsberg/life.htm. Accessed 16 November 2016.
Clements,Paul. Charles Bukowski, Outsider Literature, and the Beat Movement.
Routledge, 2013.
Coupe, Laurence. Mantra Rock: the Beatles via Allen Ginsberg. Beat sound, Beat
vision: The Beat spirit and popular song. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007. Print.
Perry,Adam. Charles Bukowski uncovered. BoulderWeekly. 20 July 2010.
http://www.boulderweekly.com/entertainment/books/charles-bukowski-uncovered/. Accessed 18
November 2016.
Patterson, Eric. Juxtaposition of Wor[l]ds: The Cultural and Literary Legacy of the Beat
Generation. EmptyMirror. N.d. http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/beat/beat-generationlegacy.html. Accessed 8 December 2016.
The Beat Generation:Artists like Bob Dylan & The Beatles Were Inspired By The Beat
Culture EbonyTamu. 28 November 2008. https://ebonytamu.wordpress.com/2008/11/28/thebeat-generation/. Accessed 10 November 2016.
Toricelli, Robert. In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American
Century. Kodansha America, 1999.

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Shmoop Editorial Team. "Howl." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web.
4 Dec. 2016
The Beats and The Beatles:Two Sides of the Same Coin. Beatdom. N.d. Accessed 8
December 2016.