Political and Social Movements

Beat Movement

What was the beat movement?

The post-World War II era bred unprecedented prosperity and an uneasy pace in the United States. Out of this environment rose the beat generation, alienated youths who rejected society’s new materialism and threw off its “square” attitudes to reinvent “cool.” The beat generation of the 1950s bucked convention, embraced iconoclasm, and attracted attention. Mainstream society viewed them as anarchists and degenerates. But many American youths listened to and read the ideas of its leaders, including writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (whose novel On the Road, 1957, was the bible of the Beat movement), William Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The “beatniks,” as they were dubbed by their critics, believed in peace, civil rights, and radical protest as a vehicle for change. They also embraced drugs, mystical (Eastern) religions, and sexual freedom—all controversial ideas during the postwar era. Beat writers and artists found their homes in communities like San Francisco’s North Beach, Los Angeles’s Venice Beach, and New York City’s Greenwich Village. The movement merged—or some would argue, gave birth to—the counterculture movements of the 1960s, including the hippies. Beat literature is the movement’s legacy.


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