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
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By rejecting spoon-fed aphorisms for self-discovery through altruism and economic simplicity, these writers, and indeed a whole subculture of American beatniks and Buddhists in the 50's and 60's, set a new precedent for those willing to find their own way.

Ginsberg expresses a light-hearted distaste of the supermarket lifestyle in his poem, "A Supermarket in California." He envisions himself wandering around the supermarket, surrounded by consumers eyeing produce, and, among them, Walt Whitman and Garcia Lorca. He seems to be fascinated and repulsed at the same time by the phenomenon, everyone looking and poking at the items to be bought, and he wonders what their real motives in being there are. He imagines Whitman to be there out of loneliness, flirting with the young stockboys, pretending, like everyone else, to be interested in the products. Ginsberg's vision of America is of a whole population so lonely and dispassionate that they have turned to these big bright places full of people and things to look at just to have something to do. It is notable that Ginsberg and Whitman leave the supermarket together, not having purchased anything at all. They have taken part in the ritual of loneliness without buying into the need for things.

In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac set out to show what an enlightening, beautiful life comes from having as little as possible. The protagonist, Ray, (clearly Kerouac himself) records almost
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