No group defied the rules that defined orderly life in 1950s America quite like the Beats. Ginsberg was no anarchist, but he believed that the severity of the justice and health systems stunted the creativity of the nation's most promising individuals. We have to take him at his word when he refers to all the poem's rebels as "the best minds of my generation." What could have caused them to go so awry? Howl praises people who stage political protests, smuggle drugs, engage in anonymous public sex, jump off bridges, and plot revolutions.
Questions About Rules and Order
- Why are university professors referred to as "scholars of war" (line 6)? Is the speaker referring to all professors, or only a select few?
- Does the poem attempt to justify breaking the law? Do the law-breakers in the poem espouse the principle of civil disobedience, or are they just common criminals?
- Is "Moloch" a convincing depiction of authority? What kinds of authority does Moloch encompass?
- Do you think the "best minds" have succeeded in escaping oppression through their actions, or have they only dug themselves deeper into a hole?
Chew on This
The discussions of crime and rule breaking in the poem are meant to be off-the-cuff ranting. The speaker really has no idea how the justice system actually works.