The society of human beings is a rather complicated phenomenon. It possesses its own positive sides due to which human beings are able to cooperate and reach universal goals, like happiness, success, etc., but it also displays numerous negative features which are terrible in their essence and need to be eliminated from society. The poem “Howl for Carl Solomon” by Allen Ginsberg is the brightest example of the artistic protest against the humiliating and unfair standards and norms according to which human society lives (Rothschild, 1997). Written and published in 1956, the poem became the subject of a lot of controversy in American society and worldwide. It was, however, not surprising because the masterpiece of literature, firstly intended to be a formal poem, turned into an accuser of the major social sins and drawbacks. They are social inequality, social isolation and community integration, mental and physical pleasures that are prohibited in the society for being immoral, political and economic questions, topics of loneliness and family, light and darkness, suffering and freedom, and many others (Raskin, 2004). They are the major focuses of this paper.
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The author of the poem, Allen Ginsberg (born in 1926) is a rather interesting person and his works reflect his own life experiences combined with the emotions and feelings of other people whom he loves or is close to. The poem “Howl”, for example, is dedicated to one of the author’s best friends Carl Solomon who became one of the victims of the cruel society of today. He was locked up in the asylum for mentally disabled people, and that was the place where both the author and Mr. Solomon got acquainted. Moreover, Solomon’s mother also suffered from schizophrenia and this topic was especially hurting for the author. Also, the limitedness of the world where people are made to live on their own surrounded by natural and artificial walls of human misunderstanding and cruelty are the significant topics that impacted Allen Ginsberg to write his masterpiece of literary work (Rothschild, 1997).
Thus, the poem by Allen Ginsberg is a rather skillful and literary artistic masterpiece of art. Its main ideas are to reflect the sufferings that people go through in the limits of the cells they have t live in like in their own little worlds without any possibility to get outside and hear and be heard by other people (Raskin, 2004). The author’s friend, to whom the poem is dedicated, Carl Solomon is thus compared to a prisoner by Ginsberg. The author displays complete unity with his friend who has to undergo severe hardships in the madhouse in Rockland:
…ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time. (Ginsberg, 6).
Trying to reach each particular reader and penetrate his or her soul for the understanding of the issues he ponders on, Ginsberg makes use of multiple repetitions of the initial words in the lines of every chapter. By this, according to Raskin (2004), Ginsberg wants to awake in readers the desire to help the characters of his poem and inspiration to fight against such norms of the society as oppression of geniuses:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn…(Ginsberg, 1).
Consequently, the significant issues of the society are represented in the poem by various allusions and comparisons which sometimes can not be understood completely because Ginsberg has his own reasons for drawing them which ordinary people may not realize. Moreover, his experiments with drug use while preparing the poem and finishing it also allow limited understanding of his arguments. Nevertheless, such concepts as social class inequality, industrial society, and its cruelty towards human personality are clearly observed in Ginsberg’s poem in the form of the god called Moloch to whom in the ancient times, human sacrifices were directed:
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! (Ginsberg, 6).
Further on, Ginsberg goes to the discussion of social integration and class isolation that society implements against some human beings who dare to differ and protests against the norms that seem inhuman to them. Social stratification and inequality lie, for Ginsberg, on the same line as racial or sexual discrimination does. Ginsberg pictures those discriminated people wondering “around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go” (Ginsberg, 2), and all this is because the society is unable to accept their sexual preferences or affection to some things or people, or having hallucinations while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol (Raskin, 2004).
These people have to suffer isolation and scorn until they finally get mad or start experiencing fits of schizophrenia. Sexuality and spirituality thus become interconnected for the author who observes how they become causes for each other with the development of madness inside of the human mind. Moreover, authorities and political systems also fight against such deviations of human nature making this world a hostile place for many people:
…who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in police cars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication, who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,…(Ginsberg, 3).
Moving further in his ideas about the cruelty of the society he and his relatives and friends have to live in, Ginsberg touches upon the issues of labeling and stereotyping as such that kill the individuality and ruin the lives of many people. The author wonders why some people are entitled to judge others, to diagnose their abnormalities and defects, and through the lines of the first part of the poem the implicit question goes like a red line “Who sets the standards of normality and how can they be measured?” (Ginsberg, 4). This question dismantles the troubles of ordinary people that were hidden for a long time when they “stumbled to unemployment offices” or “who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully” (Ginsberg, 4) in an attempt to escape the suffering and find relief from pain.
These people, as Ginsberg argues had nothing else to do but die losing the rest of hope for something better. Society, in its turn, assisted them in their pursuits of death instead of being of help in finding the right path or the necessary medicine to cure this or that person. Thus, there were no signs of improvements and no signs of them are found in the poem by Ginsberg. Of course, the certain delight he finishes the first part of his poem is optimistic but the real picture of things in this mind exposes itself in the pity to those poor people he speaks about in the following lines. Ginsberg sees the inability of modern society to understand those who think in different ways than the majority of people:
…who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy psycho-therapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia. (Ginsberg, 5).
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As a result, the only way out of the prison of reality for the author and the last resort for his offended self is the family, and especially his mother who was also a schizophrenic (Rothschild, 1997). The sympathy towards his mother and towards his closest friend seems to combine in the author’s mind into a single whole which reflects the pain he feels for the dearest people on Earth for him. Ginsberg says, “I’m with you in Rockland where you imitate the shade of my mother” (Ginsberg, 8), trying to express his tender feelings towards Carl Solomon who saves him from suffering and death by his only living in this world. The author appreciates his being loved by mother and his friend better than anything else in the world and admits that these people keep him from following those “who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits” or “who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge” (Ginsberg, 4).
In all these aspects, the strong autobiographical element can be observed. Ginsberg depicts his experiences that have made him what he is now and recollects the past times he spent in different cities and countries in an attempt to find those people who are able to understand his unusual and transformed mind. Ginsberg recalls that he was one of those people “who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull”, one of those who had to “who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit” (Ginsberg, 1). Having acquired the hope for understanding, light appears in the life of the author but it is soon substituted with the permanent darkness which is made worse by the scenes of real-life that the author experiences from day today. He strives for freedom which actually acquires for him the forms of another psychopathic attack making him similar to the people described in the following lines:
…who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy. (Ginsberg, 5).
Thus, suffering from being another, from not fitting the social standards, is unbearable for the author who exclaims “Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river! ” (Ginsberg, 7) The society has made the author crazy as he admits it himself, and there is no obvious way out for him from this situation. Having numerous visions and hallucinations when under the influence of drugs, the author seems to have lost the borderline between reality and imagination which is rather developed in his mind. Allusions to the mythology, comparisons of his inner emotional state to being possessed by evil spirits, and especially the embodiment of the evil, Moloch, add to the literary picturesqueness of the poem and the understanding of the author’s ideas by the readers:
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream
Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in
Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom
I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch
who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!
Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!
Light streaming out of the sky!(Ginsberg, 7).
As a result, no actual improvement in the state of mind for the author and his relatives and friends is possible. Ginsberg himself acknowledges that he is possessed by the evil spirit to whom his soul always has to make sacrifices and serve diligently. Being different from the rest of the society and feeling helpless about it seems to be killing the author inside as his close people are also isolated from the society because of their mental diseases and fear of the public opinion that their actions and thoughts may be dangerous for the mainstream society (Raskin, 2004).
To conclude the present paper, it is necessary to say that the poem by Allen Ginsberg is a rather original and brave expression of the protest of the human mind against the social inequalities, discriminations, and isolations of various kinds. The poem itself presents a kind of autobiography or a confession of a person who differs from the rest of the society and understands this difference. The problem is that he can not change his state and due to this, lives in permanent conflict with public opinion. Love and hate, light and darkness, freedom and discrimination are all considered by Allen Ginsberg thus composing a poem about life as it is.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl, and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1959.
Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004.
Rothschild, Matthew. “Ginsberg, Now and Forever.” The Progressive May 1997: 10.