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Themes

"A Supermarket in California" doesn't use the word "America" until the end of the poem, but that doesn't mean this one's not all about our fair nation. Ginsberg imagines an America that fits a very 1950s ideal: blue automobiles in driveways of suburban homes, whole families shopping together. The speaker feels like an outsider in this America, which is all about the things you can buy; he conjures up Whitman who, he hopes, represents a "lost America of love," which was more about love than about things. But in the last line of the poem, the speaker calls all this into question: was there really ever an "America of love"? Or, like Walt Whitman, is this all a fantasy?

Questions About Visions of America

  1. What is the importance of the fact that the poem takes place in California? Does that tell us anything we need to know to understand the poem?
  2. Does the speaker participate in the American consumer culture of buying things? Or is he located outside of it? How can you tell?
  3. Does the speaker really believe that there was a "lost America of love"? 
  4. Does the poem represent 1950s American culture accurately? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"A Supermarket in California" is a critique of 1950s American consumer culture, and Ginsberg wishes that he could get back to the good old days before people went "shopping for images."

"A Supermarket in California" is a critique of 1950s American consumer culture specifically, but Ginsberg knows that America has always been this way. There's no such thing as a "lost America of love."

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