“The Vanishing American Hobo”, “I am waiting”, “America”, and “Howl” all have something very important in common: they convey a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are. Some may call it “whining”, but I like to call it “knowing that things can and should be better, and not wanting to settle for anything less.” Maybe that’s just the sociologist in me.
Sociology plug. Source
For me, “The Vanishing American Hobo” had the most similarities to “Howl.” Like “Howl”, it describes the plight of marginalized people, living on the outskirts of society and not really having a place to call home. In both stories, people are discriminated against for the way they chose to live their lives: “In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation” (2977). In “The Vanishing American Hobo” it doesn’t seem like the hobos are doing anything to hurt anyone. They are being punished simply for being outside when it is deemed socially inappropriate to be so. People are afraid of hobos, seeing them as “the rapist, the strangler, the child-eater” (2977) because of the way hobos are portrayed in the media. Kerouac describes “hoboing” as a way of life that is interrupted by police surveillance and the media depicting hobos as dangerous. (As a side note, I liked all the references in this reading, from pop culture references to religious references – Br’er Rabbit, Shirley Temple, Einstein, Jean Valljean, Jesus, Buddha. It made the reading more relatable and enjoyable for me).
“I am Waiting” kinda reminded me of the beginning of a Disney movie. The protagonist, a wide-eyed dreamer, sings an upbeat song about the miserable conditions of their life and their hopes for a better future. (Exhibit A, B , C …you get the picture). Like the Disney characters, the speaker of this poem doesn’t seem to have a plan as to how he is going to achieve his goals and improve his life (don’t get me wrong, though. I love Disney). Ferlinghetti continually repeats “I am waiting”, suggesting a passive nature as opposed to an active, get-out-there-and-do-something-about-it attitude. This could be because he’s afraid to take action. He mentions “the Age of Anxiety” (15) that could be preventing him from doing something about his plight. He’s stuck. I also got the sense that although he hopes for a better future, he is also anxious about the future. In this way, the poem really resonated with me. I’m also anxious about the future, and at this point, still unsure what I’m going to do with my future. As my college career nears the end (one more semester after this one!), The Future is getting closer and I don’t know how to feel about that. At the risk of sounding cliche, I’m at a crossroads in life, and it’s pretty scary. So in a weird way, I kinda relate to these Beat guys.