The literature reflected what was happening in America on the social and political arena in the sixties. Authors wrote about gender, race, homosexuality, feminism and war, and they criticized society, just like the youth generation did.
An example of the 1960’s literature is the famous novel by Ken Kesey: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from 1962. The action takes place in a mental hospital and the book describes how the system is tearing down a patient who isn’t really sick, he had just pretended to be crazy to avoid jail. The book is meant as criticism to the methods used within psychiatry in the 50s and 60s.
From the Film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.
The Beat movement
As within music and fashion, the youth generation of the 1960s was also open-minded towards controversial literature. During the 1950s a small group of close friends got known as Beat Poets. They wrote with a non-conformal, wild and improvisational style about topics like drug use, sexuality, aberrant behaviour and rejecting of authorities, and the Beat Poets were an important part of the 60’s counter culture.
The Beat Poets got inspired by Eastern religion, jazz and wandering life. The core members of the Beat Generation were Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S Burrough, who wrote the most famous beat works: “Howl” (Ginsberg, 1956), “On the Road” (Kerouac, 1957) and “Naked Lunch” (Burrough, 1959).
Beat poetry is oral and repetitive, mainly because it developed out of poetry readings in underground clubs. The poetry is a cry of pain and anger at what the poets see as the loss of America’s innocence and the tragic waste of its human and material resources.
The beginning of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl:
I saw the best minds of my
generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical
dragging themselves through the
negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning
for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry
dynamo in the
machinery of night…
Several of the beat novels and poems got attention due to obscenity trials. The trials also helped to liberalize what could be written in America.
The Beat Generation
During the late 50s and early 60s the meaning of the terms Beat Generation and Beatniks expanded to consider a time period and a movement that in many ways was the predecessor to the hippie movement.
Some of the ideas, values and attitudes that shocked the parent generation in the sixties, are what we base our society on today. To (most of) us it is obvious that women, as well as men can work, black and white should be equal, sex is accepted before marriage and also accepted to talk or write about. Many people are protesting against the Iraq war today, though I think that we in a way are as much, if not more, materialistic than the parent generation in the 60s was.
It is much harder to shock society by writing something new and special now than before, what was controversial back in the 60s is normal to us now.
The USA became a mass media country in the sixties when radio, TV and film became common, and the evolution has just continued. Due to the internet the world is much “smaller” than before and we get inspiration from other parts of world and also from earlier time eras.
It is not possible to categorize the literature of today as one special type of literature. We have all kinds of genres, for example Crime fiction, Fantasy, Romance novels, Historical novels, Psychological novels, different kinds of poems, essays and also texts that are a mix of two genres or more. Also the authors are all kinds of people, men and women, black and white and from different social classes. Some writers criticizes society, some entertain us, while others have something important to tell. These varieties in literature reflect the varieties in today’s society and the open-mindedness that we have today, which began in the 60s.