BeatsRejection of Middle-Class Expectations of Conformity
BeatsRejection of Middle-Class Expectations of Conformity
AfterWorld War II, there was a wholesome reappraisal of the conventionsocietal structures. The postwar economic boom brought questions onthe rampant materialism in the American society. The priorities ofyoung people at the time were to marry and have children, then moveto the suburbs, and make wealth to add to their possessions (Douglas,2013). Jack Kerouac and his friends protested against this notion ofpursuing stability and disapproved blandness, conformity, and lack ofcultural purpose. They yearned for something bigger than the blandconformity of a common wealthy society, hence, opted to look forpersonal fulfillment from other areas. They formed the Beatgeneration. Their work made them the pioneers of the counterculturein America. This paper explores the reasons Kerouac and the beatgeneration rejected the white middle-class American dream despiteromanticizing others, such as the poor, immigrant laborers,philosophers, and the jazz musicians.
Tostart with, the Beat Generation saw the middle-class mainstream lifeas a kind of a prison. They desired freedom of movement and theability to pick up their belongings on a moment’s notice and travelto other areas in search of the true meaning of life (Douglas, 2013).However, conformity to mainstream life did not offer such anopportunity owing to family constraints. As a result of this lack offreedom, the Beat Generation rejected the middle-class mainstreamlife. The main goal of the beat generation was to acquire personalfreedom. They desired to do as they please without socialconstraints, a life which middle-class conformity could not offer.
Inaddition, the beats saw conformity to middle-class life as bondage.Their ideas presented a degree of spiritual liberation, sexrevolution, and liberation from censorship. The beats view of themiddle class as a burden is evidenced in the novel on the road fromthe first paragraph when Sal Paradise says “I first met Dean rightafter my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a seriousillness that I won`t bother to talk about, except that it hadsomething to do with a miserably weary split-up and my feeling thateverything was dead” (Kerouac, 1997). Thus, the middle-class lifeof marriage seems dead to the Beat Generation.
Tocounter this, the beat generation hits the road to look for a moremeaningful and authentic life. Their desire for freedom is evidencedin Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the road” as well. Dean Moriarty,who was Sal’s traveling companion, represents the physical exampleof freedom. The novel conveys a feeling of constant motion whereauthor undertakes a series of journeys with his friends across theUnited States to Mexico in search of meaning in life. They findmeaning in life in various places during their travels. However, suchfreedom could only be offered by avoiding the American middle-classlife hence, they detested it.
TheBeat Generation also rejected the middle-class expectations ofconformity because they believed that the American dream was notmeant for everyone. The existing opportunities of realization of theAmerican dream were not enough for the whole population.Subsequently, those who didn’t get a place in the prized Americandream became desolate and disillusioned. Instead of conforming tothe middle-class American dream and becoming desolate when lockedout, the beat generation redefined their American dream. Theyredefined it by pursuing a different dream but parallel to theAmerican one. The new dream entailed replacing material possessionswith pleasure and social conventions with individual ones. Accordingto the beat generation, this yields happiness unlike conforming tothe American middle-class mainstream life.
Thefear of death also made the beat generation to reject the Americanviews of conformity. With death being imminent, the beat generationopted to live each day as it comes in pursuit of happiness and avoidamassing wealth, unlike their conformed counterparts. Kerouac (1997)states, “young people believe that we`re all going down the drain.” This statement shaped the beat’s actions and attitude to life.They saw middle-class life as boring despite the fact that life had alimited time. Therefore, the beats desired to enjoy the short lifebefore their death. As a result, the beat generation detestedmiddle-class conformity on the grounds of not being enjoyable. Theypreferred a life of constant travel and movement in search ofhappiness, a luxury which middle-class conformity could not offer.
Theother reason why the Beat Generation rejected conformity to themiddle-class life offered by America was to accommodate the constantchange in the American society. The America portrayed in the novel isdifferent from the ideal middle-class country for settling down owingto its constant revolutions. Sal Paradise, the narrator in the bookdescribes a dynamic America with constantly changing landscapes andpeople (Kerouac, 1997). Such an American requires individuals to beable to adapt quickly to the changing times, which is difficult for aperson conformed to the American dream
Thebeat generation also believed that conformity to the Americanmiddle-class expectations led to marginalization in the society. Thebeat generation encountered the continued marginalization of peoplein the course of their travels. These people included immigrant farmworkers and black jazz musicians. The beat generation believed thatlack of conformity and freedom of making a decision withoutcensorship would eliminate marginalization in the society. The riseof bebop jazz was evidence of how the lack of conformity would getrid of marginalization. Professional black jazz musicians had beenmarginalized by their white counterparts and as a result, they werefrustrated with mainstream jazz. Therefore, they developed bebop jazzto counter this marginalization (Kerouac, 1997). Bebop jazz,therefore, revitalized jazz and reestablished freedom in jazz musicreducing marginalization.
Finally,the beat generation counterculture represented an escape frompersonal boundaries presented by conformity to American middle-classexpectations (Douglas, 2013). The strict upbringing in Americanmiddle-class homes presented some boundaries that could not becrossed. Such boundaries kept an individual from discovering his/herfull potential. Leading an “on the road” life, on the other hand,helps an individual to break free from such constraints and grow tohis/her full potential by exposing him to opportunities all over theworld. It also allows for interaction with other people fromdifferent backgrounds and identify with them.
Inconclusion, the beat generation rejected everything that the Americanmiddle class stood for. They cited various reasons for thisrejection. Some of the reasons were that the middle-class life was aprison with less freedom, the American dream was not meant foreveryone, and the middle-class life led to marginalization. Tocounter this, the beat generation was in the constant move to searchfor an alternate life to that of the American middle class.Therefore, according to the beats the search for a freedom requiresthe abandonment of personal ties of the middle-class life.
Douglas,A. (2013). Holy Fools: The Beat Generation and the Cold War. Reviewsin American History,41(3),525-532.
Kerouac,J. (1997). Onthe road.New York: Viking.