American Literature So Far…

This week for American Literature we had a reading week with no lectures or tutorials. Since we haven’t had any texts to read this week, I’ve decided to do a post on what I’ve enjoyed most about the module so far this semester.

For the first week of the semester we focused on short stories by William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. I enjoyed reading these short stories as both narratives are very interesting and cause the reader to have to analyse the text very closely to uncover what the main plot of the story really is. I particularly enjoyed studying ‘Hills like White Elephants’ by Hemingway as I had already looked at this story in one of my classes while on Erasmus last semester and found it really enjoyable to read.

After Faulkner and Hemingway, we moved onto W.E.B Du Bois, who was highly influential in the fight for civil rights for coloured people in America. I already did a blog post a few weeks ago on Du Bois where I wrote about his work The Souls of Black Folks and some of the ideas which emerged from his work, such as ‘double consciousness’.  It was fascinating to read about how people such as Du Bois fought for the basic rights of African Americans at a time when racial prejudice and violence against coloured people in America is such a current topic. It is terrible to think that despite the actions of Du Bois and other civil rights activists who came after him that there is still such a strong racial prejudice present in the US.

After Du Bois, we moved onto one of my favourite authors that we have studied so far this semester, Allen Ginsberg. I really enjoy reading the work from Beat Generation authors like Ginsberg and also Jack Kerouac as their writing is completely different from the other works that had been published in the years before, both in the style they wrote in and also the topics that they discussed. Ginsberg’s poems, such as Howl, deal with themes which would have been viewed as controversial in America at the time, such as homosexuality and drug use. His poetry is very thought-provoking and gives an insight into what life was like for him in America in the Sixties as a gay Jewish man.

I’ve really enjoyed the works we’ve looked at so far this semester and am hoping that the last few weeks of the module will be just as enjoyable.

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The Beat Generation

During this week in my American Literature module we have moved away from African American writers and race tensions, and have now moved onto the Beat Generation of the 50’s and 60’s. We are particularly focusing on the writing of Allen Ginsberg, who is seen as one of the most influential poets of this time period.

allen-ginsberg-jack-kerouac-gregory-corso

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso.

Source: Ginsbergblog,blogspot.ie.

For writers of the Beat Generation, such as Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, politics and society were significant topics of discussion. They wanted to move away from the conservative ideals of 1950’s America, and discussed more controversial ideas in their writing including alcohol, drugs and sexuality. Many of the Beat writers were also interested in Eastern religions, with Ginsberg moving his written focus from Catholic to Buddhist thoughts over time. Kerouac’s On the Road and Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ became celebrated classics of this particular time period.

howl-cover

Cover of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg.

Source: www.poets.org.

It was interesting to learn about some of these writers this week as I had read Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur a few years ago, and had also watched Kill Your Darlings, a movie about Allen Ginsberg’s time at Columbia University, where he met Kerouac and other writers such as Lucien Carr.  I learned things about the Beat writers that I was previously unaware of, such as the difficult and tumultuous relationship that Ginsberg had with his mother Naomi, who was often hospitalised with mental health issues. It was also fascinating to learn about the use of the term ‘beat’, and how this term could be applied to the writing of this time in different ways e.g. social, musical and religious.

I enjoyed learning about the Beat Generations and the writers of this era as their poems and novels are very experimental and enjoyable to read as they discuss topics that previous writers had been hesitant to write about. These lectures have now made me more interested in reading other works of the Beat Generation in the future.