Allen Ginsberg's Poetry

The Invisible War of "Howl" College

In interpretations of Allen Ginsberg's “Howl,” it is common to find the assertion that this wild three-part poem is a diatribe against the evils of capitalism, personified in the poem as the ancient, child-devouring god Moloch. Marjorie Perloff's essay from The Poem That Changed America: 'Howl' Fifty Years Later, argues that the violence and distress found in “Howl” cannot only be explained by resistance to capitalism, an “evil” which Perloff argues is equally as strong to this day yet has not inspired anything like “Howl” since (Perloff 16). Instead, she asserts that Ginsberg, like many of his contemporaries, was reacting to the horrors witnessed in World War II (Perloff 16). The world had been shocked by the Holocaust and the dropping of the atomic bomb, by the realization of what governments and mankind were capable of. In the eyes of Ginsberg, in this post-war era another kind of war was necessary, one against the machinery of American society, one which the heroes of “Howl” fight valiantly, endlessly. In this sense, “Howl” can be seen as a battle cry, a war epic with its own villains, its own heroes, and its own triumph of good over evil.

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