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Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down

In Howl, every line seems to move to a new setting. We're constantly on the move. However, the place that gets mentioned more than any other is New York City. We're not talking about Wall Street, folks. We're talking about the underbelly and the outer boroughs, the places where people are struggling to make ends meet: Paradise Alley, the Bowery, Staten Island, the Bronx, Harlem. We travel through dive bars and diners, cramped apartments and cemeteries. We spend a lot of time on the subway, and jump off not one but two major landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. We find ourselves in public parks late at night, where men have quick, furtive sexual encounters and try to avoid the police. When life gets too crazy, we skip town and head for New Jersey, which may in fact be "Zen" (line 20). At the end of the poem, we willingly return to the Rockland Psychiatric Institute (in real life, the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, also in New York) in order to support our friend Carl Solomon.

New York is like "home base," in this poem, which takes us around the country and the world. In terms of world travel, think lax drug laws. Mexico, Morocco, East Asia. These were all places where, at the time, a person may have been able to find drugs and easy sex without worrying about getting arrested.

Howl also journeys all over the United States, on long cross-country trips driving days on end, and stashed illegally in boxcars. Houston, North Carolina, Alabama, Harvard, California, Chicago. On the road from one coast to the other, our favorite place to stop and meet up with friends in Denver, where our "secret hero" Neal Cassady ("N.C.") lives. Did we mention that Denver also has a great jazz scene? But we don't stay anywhere too long or we get antsy. By the end of the poem we're sitting in our cottage in Berkeley, California, dreaming about Carl Solomon back in New York.

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