Communication Through Literary Expression in Howl by Allen Ginsberg

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Merriam-Webster defines communication as a, “process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. However, communication extends far beyond the type of language one speaks. It effectively derives from one’s diction, syntax, and rhetoric. Being one of the most important aspects of a society, communication has allowed people across the world to connect. Rather than speaking by itself, communication through writing has been extremely powerful in uniting people. For years, literature has successfully informed, entertained, and persuaded people on a global scale, from teaching aspects of eclectic, southern asiatic cultures, to revealing the challenges of losing a loved one, writing has allowed people to assert emotions, logic, and morality to each other on a scale that oration cannot. It is crucial to remove people from isolation, and allow them to connect with others. Fortunately, writers often contain a talent to communicate with a specific diaspora. In order to connect to those who have faced identical marginalizations, literature has offered authors the opportunity to reflect on their own strifes through writing by emphasizing societal opinions through fiction, revealing true, personal experiences, and documenting historic perspectives of liberation.

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Writing has allowed authors to address their societal views indirectly, sharing their opinions through fictional characters. Through Giovanni’s Room, author James Baldwin parallels his personal opinions of sexuality through the white protagonist, David. During the rise of the civil rights movement, racial tension between white and black communities intensified, and homosexuality was a concept yet to be accepted across the nation. He could not identify with the white population, nor the heterosexual culture so, in response to this, he defuses his identity by making David white, allowing white, gay readers to resonate with this character. Doing so, Baldwin was able to criticize the pursuit of hypermasculinity, in which men strived to maintain their “manliness” through their physique and heterosexuality. He recognized that “an investment in racial or gender ‘purity’ is a phobic reaction to what is perceived as impure” (Thomas 613). This essentially explains that heterosexual men pursued to maintain their sexuality by conforming to the heteronormative standards of men during that time, in effort to avoid being percieved as feminine or homosexual (Thomas 613). This is reflected through David’s fear of being criticized by society regarding his relations with Giovanni. David desperately wanted to preserve his masculinity with Hella when he “kept kissing her and holding her, trying to find [his] way into her again” despite his affair with Giovanni (Baldwin 76). Being openly bisexual, Baldwin argued that fluid sexuality should be entirely acceptable; however, he witnessed the objectivity of sexuality in society, in which limited sexuality to two binary choices: heterosexuality and homosexuality. With David regretting every second he didn’t appreciate Giovanni enough, Baldwin reminds those who have been loved to not be afraid to love back. He emphasizes that love does not have to be linear, and that it must be pursued regardless of one’s sexuality. This was doctrine Baldwin lived by, which he was able to express through writing Giovanni’s Room to share with the world. Furthermore, Willa Cather produces something similar through Paul’s Case. Due the flamboyant carnation he wore in the beginning of the story, to his interest in opera, and his lack of observation in women, it can be alluded that Paul was less masculine than most men, suggesting that was gay. Cather could have established an obviously gay protagonist; however, she does not. 

Instead, she creates a character who alludes to being homosexual in fear of his own alienation (Nardin 32). Modern author and english professor, Jane Nardin, concludes that Cather’s awareness of the repercussions of constructing literature based on homosexuality has led her to “chose the mode of indirection in writing her story of a homosexual teenager” (35). This indirectly translates to Paul’s pursuit of the life he wanted, away from his isolation from the mundane and normal lifestyle he lived in Pittsburg. It was no secret that Paul was thriving in New York City, a place where he could “glance down at his attire to reassure himself that it would be impossible for any to humiliate him” (Cather 7). His comfortability in New York City results from the confidence he acquired through the use of wrongfully accumulated materialism which spawned his new identity, the identity he could not erect in Pittsburg. When his actions have been discovered, Paul chooses to end his own life, rather than being alienated and live through shame. Cather chose to suppress transparent aspects of homoesexuality in Paul to symbolize that he was not even transparent with himself. With the fictionalization of Paul, Paul’s Case echoed the feeling of isolation from one’s own sexual identity, granting Cather to inadvertently advertise that people are living in solitude, fundamentally connecting with these people. With this, Baldwin and Cather both expressed the dangers of condemning and disregarding sexual fluidity through their stories. With their experiences with homosexuality, both writers hoped to comfort those with real problems, with fictional characters.

In contrast, expression through literature can also manifest itself through genuine and non-fictional works. Writing has allowed people to document their own experiences, whether it be positive or negative. Poet June Jordan takes advantage of this concept through her work, “Poem about My Rights”. Jordan avoids the hypothetical nature of fiction by writing a poem based on her life events. She does not shy away from addressing her experiences with domestic and sexual abuse. By putting her life into words, Jordan strives to express the realism of her experiences. This allows her readers to not resonate with a hypothetical character facing a hypothetical scenario, but to empathize directly with Jordan herself. Jordan does not overexaggerate when she claims she is “the history of rape” (line 77). Rather than suppressing such experiences, Jordan shares them through poetry in order to facilitate “responses that have been buried, and to identify, name, and integrate feelings that have emerged in other contexts but incheotely” (Engel 225) from those have faced similar events, additionally allowing “them to understand and reconstruct their experiences in liberating ways...” (225). She does not write to remind herself of these tragedies; she writes to use these tragedies to connect with others who succumb from racism, sexism, and sexual assault. Out of all people, Jordan understands how hard it is to cope with tragedies in life. However, by using her own struggles, she validates her resiliency from becoming a successful writer in an effort to guide those struggling themselves, out of the darkness.

Furthermore, writing produces an outlet that allows personal perspectives to be recognized. While it is important to document historic phenomena, but the perspective of one’s own regarding their experiences encapsulates the authentic nature of these events. The Beat generation is popularized for its cultural disconformity; however, in order to effectively articulate his perspicacity of this movement, Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem “Howl”. Since the Beat generation consisted of countercultural concepts, Ginsberg was able to adapt this ideology into his poetry. Through “Howl”, it can be witnessed that he abandoned a traditional stanzaic structure of poetry, symbolizing the abandonment of societal norms. It is common for liberal movements to stray from the structure of conservative ideologies, which Ginsberg mirrored in his poetry. With a population of people who “lounged hungry and lonesome... seeking jazz or sex or soup” (Ginsburg line 28), the Beat generation desired to challenge traditional art through new music and literature. Being part of this post-war era, Ginsberg ultimately became an idol to those who follow the same doctrine. His poetry along with other works from this literary movement validated cultivation of the rebellious lifestyle exhibited through counterculture in the 1960’s. Rather than fictionalizing his mentality like Baldwin, Ginsberg specifically chose to poetically narrate his familiarity with the Beat generation in an effort to unite jazz enthusiasts, gay activists, and black artists under a centralized philosophy. Despite this, it can be argued that “for a poet to become a popular hero, he must ‘contain’ America” (Selby 64). By exposing Beat concepts through “Howl”, Ginsberg specifically pursued to unite the marginalized against the traditional American values that designed these societal margins to begin with. He failed to cater to those who conformed to the ways of the nuclear family, to those who condemned homosexuality, and to those sought to preserve segregation, but his did not make him any less a poetic hero. By writing poetry, Ginsberg was able to share his intimate understanding of Beat, and was able to lead a new generation into an evolved era.

In times of division, writers nationwide have denuded their lives and experiences all to centralize the community of those who have been oppressed themselves. Being minorities either sexually, racially, or both, these writers pursued to unearth their tragic endeavors and advocated for their beliefs in order to echo the voices of those who could not speak for themselves. Through fictional stories, and personal encounters, writers have allowed ideas to thrive through history, which would have otherwise disappeared from existence. With the power of literary expression, writers have been able to communicate and connect with the common people through the very words they composed. Imperatively now, with a nation more divided than ever, the unification of people across the country must be prioritized, to piece together a nation of peace itself. It is often said that history has a way of repeating itself; however, it must be understood that literature not only tells a story, it tells their story, and with their stories breed unity.  

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