A Supermarket in California Summary and Analysis by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg- Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet of Jewish origin, and one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture that soon would follow. Ginsberg was born into a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby Paterson. As a young teenager, Ginsberg used to write letters to The New York Times on political issues, such as World War II and the workers’ rights. While in high school, Ginsberg had begun reading Walt Whitman. “A Supermarket in California” is a poem by American poet Allen Ginsberg which was first published in Howl and Other Poems in 1956. He was one of the many influential American writers of his time known as the Beat Generation.

Setting of A Supermarket in California-

The poem opens under a moon lit sky with the speaker trudging along the streets of America with hunger and headache. He then enters a nature contrasting neon lit store which is symbolised by the state of America and the customers inside represent the public of the country. In there, the writer introduces the famous poet Walt Whitman, who is the backbone of the whole poem. The speaker fancies the figure and then talks and strolls with him in the corridor tasting his favourite delicacies. The poem ends with the scene near the river, Lethe, the river of oblivion, where the imagined friend leaves the speaker in a vague, lost state of mind.

Poetic Devices in A Supermarket in California-

Supermarket- The supermarket is symbolised as the present state of America and the people living there. While the supermarket is shown being full of families, the speaker stands in contrast all alone by himself imagining his ideal with him.
Walt Whitman- During the full course of the poem, Whitman is symbolised as a subject of the 19th century America and the writer’s role model. In the end, Whitman is shown leaving the speaker alone near Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.

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The poem has a free verse and does not have a rhyme scheme or a meter.

Summary of A Supermarket in California-

The poem is written in a free verse, just like Walt Whitman’s style. It is a poem showing the daily, ordinary views on the streets of America and the views inside a supermarket, chosen as the setting of this poem. He describes how the families have been picking up fruits at different corners and how he encounters two poets, Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman inside the supermarket. Ginsberg writes the poem in first person so it tells the readers of his experience in America and his personal call towards Walt Whitman and his poetry.

Central Idea of A Supermarket in California-

The main idea of the poem is to present a sense of personal viewpoint towards the country America and the nature by relating with the moon and creates a contrasting man-made choice representations by referring to the neon lights. The speaker trudges along the moonlit path with a tired body and a hungry headache.  When he enters the supermarket, he very carefully observes the scene and the positions of every individual around every corner. The speaker then conveys to the reader the presence of two famous poets, Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman. Later in the poem, he fancies a company with perhaps his favourite poet, Walt Whitman. He enjoys observing Whitman and then he follows him around. Some moments later, the poet can be seen strolling in the open corridors and tasting every favourite delicacy Whitman likes and savouring it with him. The speaker, lost in the big questions of life asks the imagined Whitman if they will walk all night or will it all end.

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Tone of A Supermarket in California-

The tone of the poem is set in a theme of the twentieth century America which has stood on its promise of opportunity, freedom, and liberty. The poem is an ironic counterpoint to “a song of myself” “written by Walt Whitman. The poet conveys the view and imagery of the American street of those times. He cleverly shows his interest in the political issues surrounding the country and focuses on the facet of a family-loaded supermarket. Each individual is shown at a different fruit counter representing a democratic republic. He wanted to show the irony of being ‘free’ Americans of the 19th century, as highlighted in the poem by Whitman.
Conclusion- The poem concludes on some questions which the speaker asks to Walt Whitman while he is lost in his thoughts about America. He asks him if they will stroll all night and raises issues surrounding the political debates and the course of changes in America during his days. He stands on the river Lethe, and remains deep in his thoughts of irony.