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Beat Movement

Beat Movement appeared in the USA in the Post-World War II period. Some writers consolidated and led a dissipated life. Among such writers were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, whose works reveal the male-dominated reality of that period. Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is probably one of the most outstanding examples of Beat literature. Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” are poems in which the readers can observe consumerism attitude towards women. The issue of gender equality had small importance since almost all the members of Beat Generation were men and they used women for personal amusement. On the contrary, women were not able to compete with men in writing and authorship and when they got married they were committed to domestic chores and raising children, while their husbands were often away. Though women were significant for men’s satisfaction, their opinion had little importance to men. For instance, when woman had high demands, there was a possibility that her man will leave her.

Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road illustrates in the best way the life of Beat generation. It is a book about men, friendship, drugs, alcohol, life on the road and women, who respectively took the last place in this list. Women were merely the toys in men’s hands. They mainly served for male satisfaction and pleasure and had no voice in the male-dominated world of Beats. The period of Beat Movement was considered the period of sexism and marginalization of women. Thus, it is obvious that men and women had different roles in society. The main male heroes of the novels are Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx and Old Bull Lee. They are friends who like to spend time together and drink, smoke, listen to music and copulate with women and other men. They frequently talked about literature and philosophy and are depicted as intelligent and witty individuals. Nevertheless, women are never allowed to interfere in their highbrow debates. The author illustrates them as objects, inessential housewives: “My first afternoon in Denver I slept in Chad King’s room, while his mother went on with her housework downstairs and Chad worked at the library.” (Kerouac 35). The passage depicts Sal friend’s mother as an ordinary housewife who does not meddle in men’s business.

On the contrary, one can argue that women are not discriminated since there is not enough information about them in a book. Kerouac focuses the readers’ attention on male characters and briefly describes females. Therefore, the readers cannot penetrate into their souls and minds and understand their thoughts. For instance, the narrator depicts one acquaintance of his in the following way: “One of Ray’s sisters was a beautiful blonde called Babe – a tennis-playing, surf-riding doll of the west. She was Tim Gray’s girl.” (Kerouac 37). Thus, he shows a girl as a doll with nice appearance, a belonging of a man while her inner features are of no importance.


However, there are several female characters that differ from the other women. They are Marylou, Galatea, Frankie and Sal’s aunt. These women take a meaningful place in men’s lives. They are their friends, lovers, wives and relatives; therefore, their voice can sometimes be heard. For example, the narrator tells about Dean’s first wife: “Marylou was the only girl Dean ever really loved.” (Kerouac 103). Although he was remarried twice, he returned to his Marylou and considered her opinion. Nevertheless, these women are rather the exception than a frequent incidents in a Beat generation world.

In his poem “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg mentions women briefly and the whole poetry is fully male-centric. He portrays woman there only as sexual objects: “Who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset” (Ginsberg 64). He presents another example of objectification of women in the following quote: “…where you drink the tea of the breasts of the spinsters of Utica” (Ginsberg 169), where he references to women as sexual objects, mothers for children  and men’s “appendix”, but does not give them a significant role.. Therefore the poem does not characterize women from different perspective there is a little representation of positive and equal attitude towards them.

Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” is a poem that illustrates the attitude towards women in the best way. The narrator of the verse is a man who struggles with his self and doubts whether to marry or not. The author considers three different kinds of marriage – those of working, middle, and upper-class relations. He illustrates one woman as “a fat Reichian wife,” and life with her is terrible (Corso 181), while  another woman is beautiful, sophisticated, and has no children, but sheis cold and life with her is a “pleasant prison dream” (Corso 181). The last type of a wife is a woman from the middle-class, who “in the kitchen aproned young and lovely wanting my baby” (Corso 180). It is self-evident, that the narrator considers all women not only as lovers and wives, but also as mothers of their children. However, the author does not happy about the thought of marriage, afraid that it will suspend his independence. He writes about wedding as about something socially inflicted, but at the same time, he has a fear to stay alone at the lees of life. For this reason, Corso portrays a woman as a part of a family, important for living in society.

After reading the works of Beat writers Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso, one can notice the similar attitude towards women. The writers depict relationships between men and women in a complimentary way. They show men as leaders, who dominate over women and all literature of Beat generation is concentrated on males. Men use women for sex and pleasure, as well as for giving birth to children. However, it often happens that when a woman delivers a baby a Beat man leaves her afraid of responsibility and family ties. In Beat literature the authors portrayed female characters as beautiful pictures without personal opinion. However, there are some exceptions such as Marylou, whose character encounters in Kerouac books more often than other female characters. Nevertheless, he describes even this girl as too naive: “Marylou was a pretty blonde […] But, outside of being a sweet little girl, she was awfully dumb and capable of doing horrible things.” (Kerouac 2). Hence, the author regarded women and Cold War vision of domestic life through a critical lens, grossly exaggerating its true senses.

Similar ideas expresses Corso, who presents three kinds of marriage and all these kinds are stereotypical. The two of them depict women as mothers of children and housewives and another one shows an independent cold woman who was rather an exception than a rule in a Cold War period. One cannot tell the same about Ginsberg whereas his poems have rare mentions of women.

In conclusion, relations between men and women were unequal during the Beat Generation period. Men treated women as their properties, as material objects, who can be easily substituted by other women. They did not take into account their girlfriends’ and wives’ opinions and considered most of them narrow-minded. Women often had to take care of children alone because their Beat husbands did not want to share family duties. Thus, in Beat literatureauthors depicted women as free sexual objects, lovers, lonely wives and mothers, who seek for support but do not get it, while their men are too busy with themselves and have no desire to understand the needs of their partners.