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A Supermarket in California

A Supermarket in California


by Allen Ginsberg

The Supermarket and Everything in It

Symbol Analysis

We don't know about you, but Shmoop would love to see an episode of Supermarket Sweep featuring a showdown between Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. But that would probably involve a lot of slow meandering and pondering over which brand of ice cream to pack in their carts, so then again, maybe not. In any case, "A Supermarket in California" has got all the goods they'll ever need. In this poem, the market (and all of its delicious fruits and vegetables) seems to represent traditional family values, a consumerist culture obsessed with buying, and even America itself. As far as symbols go, the supermarket is a pretty all-encompassing one for American culture.

  • Line 2: The speaker enters the supermarket because he's "hungry for images." Not food, but images. Well that's new. It's like he's been brainwashed by the media and its tantalizing pictures of food. His hunger isn't bodily; it's a mental hunger for pictures and visual stimulation. There's also a poetic element to this line, though. Perhaps those images he's hungry for are poetic ones. Maybe he's in the market, looking for a little inspiration. Good thing Federico and Walt are in the building.
  • Line 3: The speaker sees American families shopping together—husbands, wives, babies. In stark contrast, the speaker is alone, with only his imaginary friend Walt to keep him company. 
  • Lines 4-5: Someone else is alone in the poem: the imaginary Walt Whitman. Like the speaker, he's lurking around the supermarket alone. And he's checking out the grocery boys, looking out for sex, or maybe even love. 
  • Lines 6-7: The speaker imagines that he and Whitman are being stalked through the supermarket by a detective, perhaps because they're breaking the rules, in that they're stealing little snack for themselves. This is a slightly darker side of the supermarket. It's not all babies and tomatoes. A little paranoia enters the poem. 
  • Line 8: The closing time of the supermarket acts as a catalyst for the speaker's big questions about life. Where will he go when the store closes? Not just literally, but figuratively, too. Where will his life take him? Who can he follow?

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