The poem “A Supermarket in California” gives a synopsis of Ginsberg’s character as both a writer and a human being. As a writer, Ginsberg was known for being particularly outright and radical, speaking out against many of the traditions of American society in 1950s. But this poem also gives a view as Ginsberg as a normal person, literally depicting his trip to the grocery store. Throughout the piece, it goes inside Ginsberg’s admiration for Whitman as his role model, and how he wants to learn everything about him, and also touches on Ginsberg’s stance on homosexuality in those times.
A major component in all of Ginsberg’s pieces, including this one, was his outright stance on homosexuality. Aside from the fact that Walt Whitman was considered to be one of Ginsberg’s poetic models, he was also known to be homosexual. The same was suspected of Garcia Lorca, who, aside from Whitman, is the only other person referenced in this piece. By having called on several people of the same stance, it makes it appear as if homosexuality were to be common, or more normal, in those times. Ginsberg openly acknowledged his sexuality as he and Whitman are freely “eyeing the grocery boys” and the husbands in the aisles.
Walt Whitman was seen as very obscene and controversial poet for his time, which makes him fit to be Ginsberg’s poetic model. Ginsberg even referenced his adoration for Whitman when he admitted that he dreamt of Whitman just by touching his book. The whole poem is seen through the eyes of Ginsberg as he admiringly followed Whitman through the supermarket, doing all the same things that Whitman did. As he followed, Ginsberg played “detective” and tried to gain Whitman’s insight on every situation. While his adoration is understood, it borderlined inappropriate at times. For example, it was uncomfortable when Ginsberg offered to follow Whitman all night throughout the streets and back to their houses. It invites a closer view on Ginsberg’s inner workings, but sometimes went too far.
As radical as Ginsberg was in his poetry, he was not characterized as such in this piece. While he tried to make subtle stabs at capitalist America, such as going to the supermarket to “shop for images”, he and Whitman seemed more mundane than usual as they hardly stood out in this scene. They quietly milled throughout the grocery store, tasting foods and looking at whomever they please, but never spoke out like they do in their poetry. The rest of the poem remains the same as they went back to their quiet and lonely cottages, or walked through the solitary streets alone. The distinction between how Ginsberg acted in real life and how he did on paper is surprising, but can expected in the conformist times of 1950’s America.
Overall, “A Supermarket in California” invites readers to gain insight on Ginsberg’s actual life, apart from his life as a writer. It showed some of his thoughts and adorations for those wiser than him, but also stayed true to his radical stance on homosexuality and capitalist America.