On The Road -


HIST 17B


SHORT PAPER #2


The late 1940’s and earl 1950’s were a time of conformity. The United States was emerging as a world power after World War II and there were strong feelings of patriotism, nationalism, and overall consensus of unity. There was little room for radical ideology during the beginning of the Cold War. This was the time period that gave birth to the ‘Beatniks’.


Sitting around in coffee houses reading their own poetry or playing/singing jazz, sometimes sitting in the dark with just a spotlight on you, wearing dark clothes like Goths do today, of course, they didn’t wear the make-up and the jewelry, just the dark clothes. This is the image I get when I think about what Beatniks are. I don’t know if it was because of the time, being after the war and all, that things were still a bit dark. Some people were still feeling down about the war. It didn’t matter to them who won or lost; it was just the overall feeling.


The Beat Movement was more of a literary movement but the Beatniks weren’t necessarily writers. They just told their stories. Stories about life whether it’s their own life or someone else’s.


Sex, drugs, poetry and jazz. That’s what the Beat Generation was all about. People were having sex with whomever they wanted and didn’t think twice about it. It was sexual freedom. Sex was the one and only holy and important thing in life. Hetero, homo, and bisexual, it really didn’t matter to the Beatniks. If you were to read any piece of beat literature you are sure to find a story or reference to lewd sexual acts, homosexual encounters or casual sex. It just wasn’t something the Beats found obscene. The Sexual Revolution would have occurred eventually but the Beats were the ones who get the credit.


Drugs helped them deal with life. I think it gave more oomph to their lives. Made their stories more interesting and worth telling. This period reminds me a little of the sixties with the sex, drugs and rock & roll. It was a freedom thing. Being doped-out, you had no responsibilities; at least that’s probably how you felt at the time.


The Beats didn’t hate America; they just had no respect for laws and moral codes that they didn’t agree with. The Beats accepted blacks and embraced their culture, especially jazz music. The Beats also embraced, and to some extent, advocated the use of illegal drugs. In a time when a family and hard work were revered, the Beats idolized hobos and junkies. When you spoke about politics one could say that Beat politics were more like anti-politics. There wasn’t any real platform for beat politics; it was basically whatever opinion was unpopular at the time.


The Beats had an extreme dislike for authority. I guess you could say that authority was much of a fan of the Beats either, though. Just like today people who acted and/or dressed different were singled out and sometimes arrested, it didn’t matter if they had broken the law or not. The Beats were followed and watched by everyone from the local police to the FBI. Why would the police and other law enforcement officers waste their time on a bunch of dumb kids? For the same reason they harass kids for skateboarding and listening to rap music now. It was a challenge to the value system at the time. The Beats didn’t waste their time at a job or career either. They had better things to do, like write poetry and abuse illegal drugs. While some would find nothing wrong with this way of living the government saw it as a huge threat to the American way of life.


Dean was the main protagonist and antagonist. Dean’s fanatic personality races from journey to journey and pulls the other characters along. His various fixations with drugs, women, his father and family life, provide milestones of emotional growth for everyone involved.


It’s hard to say where we would be without the Beats. The influence of the Beats is all around us. Beat writings have permanently changed modern literature and poetry. Some musicians have been influenced by the Beats. Modern American slang would sound completely