American Literature Myth in the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg a Jungian Analysis Term Paper

Pages: 8 (3556 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

American Literature

Allen Ginsberg's epic poem Howel, is not only a personal statement of society, but also a classic poem full of illusions to mythology and psychology. It is a history lesson of the 1950s and 1060s, an era of chaotic change and social unrest. It is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation, being held up alongside of Jack Kerouac's on the Road and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. The poem was first performed, in the custom of the Beat Generation, in 1955 in San Francisco. It was published shortly afterwards by City Lights Bookstore. At its core, Howl is a collection of stories and experiences relating to the author's friends and contemporaries. It is told in a tumbling and hallucinatory style and is full of obscenities that made it controversial at the time of its release. The poem itself is dedicated to Ginsberg's good friend Carl Solomon, who is addressed by name throughout the poem's verses. Also noted and referenced are such beat generation notables as Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Lucien Carr and Herbert Huncke. The cumulative effect of these cultural references is the Howl becomes a treatise to mid-century American Literature and creates an almost mythological status of the beat generation writers.

The poem is written in three parts. Part I, which is arguably the best known, is a collage of scenes, characters and situations drawn from Ginsberg's personal experiences and those experiences of his close community of poets, artists, political radicals, jazz-musicians, drug addicts and psychiatric patients. Ginsberg presents these individuals as "the best minds of his generation," thus laying the groundwork for the mythology of the beat generation.

Part II takes these characters and shows how their talents are unappreciated and in fact contained by society. As a whole, Part II becomes a rant about the current state of society and its focus on consumption and industrial technology. It is also during this section that the character of Moloch appears. In the poem, Moloch represents the state of civilization in a personified form. Historically Moloch was a biblical idol found in Leviticus and to whom the Canaanites sacrificed children to. The effect Ginsberg is attempting to create is that the characters of the beat generation, as highlighted in Part I, are being sacrificed to the idol of industrial society, or Moloch.

Moloch is a historical figure who is often alluded to in American literature and having an in-depth understanding of his use in literature and history makes one's understanding of Howl deeper. Moloch is a Hebrew term used for either a god or the name given to a particular kind of sacrifice, typically involving children, biblically associated with the Phoenician cultures. Moloch first appears in the book 1 Kings 11.7, but, as previously said, is most often referred to in Leviticus 18.21 through 20.2-5, in which it is stated:

Again, you shall say to the Sons of Israel: Whoever he be of the Sons of Israel or the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that gives any of this seed Moloch, he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed Moloch to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed Moloch, and do not kill him, then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go astray after him, whoring after Moloch from among the people."

Moloch next appeared in medieval texts, often portrayed as being the Prince of Hell in medieval demonology. In most scenes, Moloch is portrayed as finding pleasure in making mothers weep by stealing their children. This theme of stealing children is an extension of Moloch's association with child sacrifices, where, according to legend, the people would heat the idol up with fire and then place their newborn babies in Moloch's arms and watch them burn to death.

One of the most prevalent appearances of Moloch is in Milton's Paradise Lost, where Moloch is portrayed as one of the greatest warriors of Satan's rebel angels and is characterized as being vengeful, militant and "besmeared with blood of human sacrifice, and parent's tears." In Book 2:43-105, Moloch gives a speech before the satanic parliament, arguing for the launching of immediate warfare against God. At the conclusion of the battle, Moloch is seen as a pagan god revered by pagan's on Earth.

This reference to mythology and Ginsberg's making of it a central part of his poem creates a deeper layer to the poem's meaning. Because Moloch is portrayed as being industrial civilization, one who is familiar with the mythology surrounding Moloch understands Ginsberg's true hatred for society. Clearly he views himself and his contemporaries as martyrs of art and innocence. As Moloch is best associated with the sacrifice of children, Ginsberg is implying that the beat generation artists are in fact children whose talents are being sacrificed to a society, or a god, that only cares about consumerism and technology. Clearly, the allusion of children also conjures up characterizations of innocence, which refers to the idea that art is an innocent form of expression but that its innocence is being killed by society. This point is further made as Howl was put through an intensive amount of scrutiny for its use of obscenity, even to the point of being put to trial.

Without this understanding of the underlying myth of Moloch, the true power and meaning of Howl is lost. This fact and the use of mythology in Howl shows the important, cultural role mythology plays. This importance is best understood by the works and research of Joseph Campbell, whose work was primarily in the field of comparative mythology.

One of Campbell's most relevant works was 1969's the Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension. In this work Campbell argued that myths acted as a function of both nature and culture and were therefore necessary to create a balance in the human psyche. (Campbell, p. 3). He further argues that myths have a religious connotation in that they provide the entire society with cultural stories and reference points, connecting today's society to the past.

Campbell goes on to point out that it is common today for society to associate the word "myth" with meaning an "untruth." In other words, human's have a tendency to associate anything coined a myth as being fundamentally false. Campbell points to the fact that myths are often viewed as being the opposite of religious traditions, meaning that religious traditions are truth and all other stories are myths. However, Campbell argues that myths should not be judged as either being "true or false, but as effective or ineffective, maturative or pathogenic." (Campbell, p. 5).

In this sense, myths become tools used by social groups and artists as a way to establish a common connection to the historic audience. In this sense, myths are not created but simply occur, and reoccur, as, for example, literary devices. However, in order to understand this historic story line, the myth and its associated language has to be studied in order to be read. (Campbell, p. 33).

Campbell's theories of the myth find their foundation in the works of Carl Jung, who studied the use of mythology in various cultural sects such as South American Indians. According to these sects, it is a fundamental belief that things do not have sharp boundaries as do things in rational, or modern day societies. (Jung, p. 45). This alone is in line with Ginsberg's use of the Moloch myth. The poet, as does a primitive society in Jung's studies, is able to express ideas without the boundaries of "rational" society. However, as Howel demonstrates, "rational" society makes this ability more and more difficult, essentially meaning that the culture of myth is being sacrificed to the evils of industrial society.

Jung concurs with this argument, stating that society's "mystical participation" has been essentially "stripped off our world of things." (Jung, p. 45). Thus, the world is left with only things, things without meaning and things without a collective history. This is the problem that Ginsberg rages against: the stripping away of myth, of history, from the cultural landscape. He sees his contemporaries as being the prophets of the myth who are loosing the battle against Moloch.

Further, Jung goes on to state that the demons found in primitive mythology are nothing compared to "the terrors that stem from our elaborate civilization." He further states, "The attitude of modern man sometimes reminds me of a psychotic patient in my clinic..."(Jung, p. 45). This notation on the terrors and demons that exist in a non-myth-based society has interesting connotations… [END OF PREVIEW]

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American Literature Myth in the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg a Jungian Analysis.  (2007, May 8).  Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/american-literature-myth-poetry-allen/1250848

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"American Literature Myth in the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg a Jungian Analysis."  Essaytown.com.  May 8, 2007.  Accessed December 11, 2018.
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