A Supermarket in California Analysis

This particular poem was written by Allen Ginsberg, a Beats generation poet. In the Beat generation, the journey is important i.e the motion of going from place to place and that is exactly what this poem is. It is a journey. It is also an ode to Walt Whitman.

In the beginning, the poet describes himself thinking about Walt Whitman while wandering around in the streets, underneath the trees and staring at the full moon, all the while suffering a head ache and feeling very self conscious. Both these symptoms can point to the use of a psychedelic drug that results in hyper-perception and opening of the mind.

Hoping to take comfort in natural produce, the poet ambles into a supermarket which are also known as convenience stores. The supermarket becomes a symbol of America’s consumerism which makes Ginsberg feel trapped by. Convenience stores also represent how convenience does not foster thought just as the State did not encourage thinking.

Once inside, he sees whole families shopping at night and the use of the term ‘whole’ comments on how a family is presented as a husband, wife and children. He sees husbands in the aisles, wives in the avocados and babies in the tomatoes. This signifies America’s packaging of the perfect family just as fruits and vegetables are in supermarkets. He also sees Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who had written an ode to Walt Whitman, by the watermelons. It can be interpreted that those of the homosexual persuasion are also packaged separately from the whole families.

Moving on, the poet describes Walt Whitman himself in the supermarket as a lonely old grubber poking at the fruits and vegetables while eyeing the grocery boys, adding a sensual tone to the poem. These lines also provide insight into how America saw homosexual men as predators waiting to prey on young boys. Whitman is seen asking questions like ‘Who killed the pork chops?” which is an unusual way to ask who had butchered the meat. He also asks ‘Are you my Angel?” and the ‘Angel’ refers to a drug-induced state. Walt Whitman was always known fro having asked questions that no one else did.

Ginsberg begins following Whitman in the supermarket among ‘brilliant stacks of cans’ which he perceives to be brilliant because of his drug-induced state. He also thinks he is being followed by the ‘store detective’. This is also potential paranoia from his use of drugs and can also represent the state of paranoia America was in at the time what with the War.

Ginsberg samples artichokes in the supermarket with Whitman before wandering around in the streets asking him where they were going and there is no answer. The question could literally mean where were they going but it could also be Ginsberg asking where America as a nation was heading since he was displeased with its direction. He asks what America Whitman had while he was alive.

The poem ends in a metaphor of Charon ferrying lost souls across the river Styx to Hades symbolizing America’s destructive path to ruin as facilitated by the commodification of modern society. Walt Whitman got down the ferry and stood on the banks as it continued on the black waters of Lethe which in Greek mythology is a river from which you drink in order to forget your life before death. According to Ginsberg, Whitman got down and stood as a forgotten hero as modern society continued on without him.

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