Alan Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” is a homage to his poetic hero, Walt Whitman. Ginsberg admired Whitman for various reasons, as both were Jewish men who identified as bisexual or homosexual. In the poem, Ginsberg adopts Whitman’s style and continues his critique of an industrialized society and the rapid growth of corporations and industries.
The poem “A Supermarket in California” serves as evidence of this assault by highlighting “neon supermarkets” and using groceries as symbolic family members to represent a society focused on the idealized nuclear family. The poem employs vivid imagery to create a specific impact. At the start of the poem, we picture Ginsberg strolling beneath trees and a full moon. This imagery reflects the contrasting aspects of life.
There are two contrasting aspects of Ginsberg’s life depicted in the poem: the urban scene of Berkley, California and the natural world symbolized by trees and the moon. Ginsberg finds himself torn between these two sides, unsure of what he truly desires. The poem employs uncommon words to describe both aspects, adding to the descriptive but perplexing nature of the writing. Unusual vocabulary is a characteristic trait of Ginsberg’s work and is heavily utilized throughout this poem.
Once again, Whitman’s influence is evident. The concept of the “Neon Fruit Supermarket” is revisited, with neon symbolizing a harsh and deceiving light that hints at the inevitable letdown Ginsberg will encounter. The lines “Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!” allude to the sinister aspects of a society driven by industry, where an idealized nuclear family is heavily expected.