Beat Literature 

The Purpose: To create a new vision of ‘Americanism’ by using many fringe elements of 1940’s and 50’s society, including Jazz, deliberation societal rebellion and drug use

Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass (1855)

While not directly related to the actual beat movement, Whitman’s fanatic but tremorous approach to the “American experience” inspired many to seek freedom through unconventional means: travel, spontaneity, random friendship, political disobedience, song..the list goes on. It would not be until after the Second World War that the Beat generation would emerge, but Whitman–part bard, part prophet, part madman–planted the seeds that would later enliven a generation of disenchanted youth to find freedom in creative pursuits.

Jack Kerouac – On The Road (1957)

Kerouac summarized pretty much everything that the Beat Generation represented in this “road” novel about his travels across the United States and Mexico in search of various pleasures, including Jazz music, drug use, sex and literary inspiration, most of which was spearheaded by his crazed partner-in-crime, Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady in real life). For all of its highs, though, On The Road portrayed many of the generation’s lows: drug addiction, poverty and severed relationships were just a few of the recurrences that grinded this novel’s idealistic vision to halt.

Allen Ginsberg – Howl (1955)

One could call this the Epic Poem of the Beat Generation. A wild nightmare-vision of the generation’s depravities, Howl combined Ginsberg’s personal account of growing up in beatnik New York City with images of death, drug use and poverty in America and beyond. Influenced by Whitman and San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poem inspired equal parts elation and revulsion. Its controversy, however, would only further bolster Ginsberg’s popularity as the Poet Laureate of the era’s rebelling youth.

William S.Burroughs – Naked Lunch (1959)

Burroughs’ will likely be too difficult to comprehend on a first reading, but the author’s surrealist approach to the grotesque world of addiction and abuse is appalling, poetic and well, kind of hilarious. Naked Lunch is a journey through several imagined worlds from the perspective of a drug-addicted William Lee, Burroughs’ Alter-ego. Places like ‘Annexia’ and ‘Interzone’ contain a whole Inferno of human and subhuman depravities, many of which suffer the same problems as the protagonist.


  1. “To assess the damage caused European colonial rule in nations all around the world while also reinvigorating these regions with a sense of linguistic and artistic identity”

    Then why are 3 out of the 5 books written by white Europeans?

  2. Second full day of my second visit to Cape Breton. I know being a vitosir gives one a perspective different from a full-time resident, but even so I trust (hope?) that Capers realize the great beauty you all have around you. This is an amazing place. Just sayin’.

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