Low Minimum Wage Equivalent
The Beats use of Weltschmerz itself didn’t affect the social or literary conventions of their time as it has been visible for so long in literature, but the catalysts for this ‘world pain’ were what changed. This led to a more personal response to the world around the beat poets and writers, and more awareness in society to the causes of these responses.It challenged people to question the existing state of society, what they saw, heard and experienced, and rethink the conventional attitudes to social behaviours or values.
The catalysts for the wold pain experienced by the Beat poets and writers are expressed in literary works such as America by Allen Ginsberg and I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In his poem America, Ginsberg does the unthinkable by critiquing the beliefs and values of post-World War II America. ‘America’ was one of the first widely read literary statements of political unrest in America. Throughout the poem, Ginsberg converses with a personified America like an abandoned friend or lover, eventually recognising much of America in himself and criticising it for its militaristic culture, reliance on media and paranoid politics.
Ginsberg’s disillusionment with American society is evident within the first line of the poem; “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” . This line sets the tone of exhaustion and world weariness commonly associated with weltschmerz. Ginsberg then proceeds to mention the ways in which America is inconsistent with the image it portrays and the ideal America pictured in Ginsberg’s head. In the second line of the poem Ginsberg expresses the hopelessness that his or anyone’s life and work could have any importance in a society so rampant with censorship and injustice. He does this by criticising the poverty of the time, with reference to the low minimum wage equivalent to just a few dollars and cents.
The following lines of the poem start Ginsberg’s conversation with personified America. Ridiculing the militarism of the nation, Ginsberg begs “America when will we end the human war?” . The stanza then adopts a more hostile tone as Ginsberg interrogates America, talking to America as if it is a lost lover or friend that Ginsberg once saw a great potential for salvation in. This perhaps represents the potential and promise that America once offered his family as immigrants. He asks America when it will be the land it promised it would be, when it will be “angelic”, when it will recognise the devastation it has caused and understand that its own political oppression is more destructive than the “Trotskyites” (communists) . Ginsberg asks why Americas libraries, representing free information and expression are “full of tears” . Ginsberg then claims America made him “want to be a saint” . This confession portrays the love and optimism he once felt for America. Ginsberg says he cannot “give up [his] obsession” . In this line Ginsberg is admitting he cannot give up his ideal America along with the values he holds and believes should be America’s priority: Justice, freedom and acceptance.
As the poem comes to a close, Ginsberg condemns America’s discriminatory attitude, thoughtless patriotism and prejudiced treatment of minority groups. Ginsberg uses colloquial speech to imitate and mock the uneducated and ill-informed Americans who blindly follow patriotism. He makes fun of the citizens paranoia about communist Russia with statements such as “Russia wants to eat us alive” and “She wants to take our cars from our garages” . Ginsberg imitates and taunts those who choose to believe what they’re told rather than think and learn for themselves about the political state of their country. Those who think Russia and all communist sympathizers want to steal the non-existent American dream.
It is evident that throughout Ginsberg’s poem he is dissatisfied with America. A nation gone wrong. Neurotic in their politics and thoughtless in their patriotic beliefs and actions.
In Ferlinghetti’s I Am Waiting, he communicates his disillusionment with American society through the repetition of the phrase “I am waiting” . Ferlinghetti utilises this phrase in order to provide commentary on many issues within American society. Ferlinghetti states he is “waiting for someone to truly discover America and wail” insinuating that nobody has recognised the issues within society . Additionally, he states he is “waiting for the American Eagle to really spread its wings and straighten up and fly right” suggesting that America and its freedom are in jeopardy, that the nation needs to undergo a moral change . In the second stanza Ferlinghetti expresses his dissatisfaction with America’s justification of decisions with religion as well as the government and destruction of the environment. He is waiting for the “lost music to sound again in the lost continent” . In I Am Waiting, Ferlinghetti demonstrates his perceived inconsistency between the ideal America and reality. This inconsistency resulted in the pessimistic emotional response that is weltschmerz. The catalysts for this emotional and personal response unique to writers in this era included, war and the increasingly violent culture, a reappraisal of prudery warranting increased censorship, a growing reliance on the media, a growing opposition to discriminatory attitudes and behaviour and rampant materialism.
The Beats belief that “the writer should refuse inhibition and self-censorship” significantly impacted the writing scene. If the Beat movement had never occurred, the content or structure of today’s writing would not be the same. In regard to art (literature, music, art etc.), what was acceptable was broadened immeasurably. Censorship to moderate public discourse for literature at least, ceased. People were able to express themselves freely without criticism with more creativity and flexibility possible. Unconventional lifestyles were also more accepted. Homosexuals could be more open about their sexual orientation which had previously not been accepted.