The Lost Generation

Writers of the "Roarin' 20's"

What does "Lost Generation" mean?

"Lost Generation" hints to the lack of purpose resulting from the horrific disillusionment felt by those who grew up and lived through the first world war. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.

Who were the "Lost Generation" of writers?

The Lost Generation was the generation of writers that came after World War 1 and before the Great Depression. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway claims that Gertrude Stein, his then mentor and patron, heard the phrase from a garage owner who serviced her car. When a young mechanic failed to repair the car quickly enough, the garage owner shouted at the boy, "You are all a generation perdue." Stein, when telling Hemingway the story added, "That is what you are, That's what you all are... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."

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Literature in the 20's

Common themes in works of literature from members of the Lost Generation include:

Decadence and Decay- moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury, Sordid nature of the the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war, like the aimless travelling, drinking, and parties. (The lavish parties of Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.)

Gender Roles and Impotence- Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. (In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his girlfriend that acts like the man, manipulating intimate partners and taking charge of their lives)

Idealised Past- Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. (Gatsby idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment.)

Other popular themes include violence and alienation, historical discontinuity, loss and dispair, rejection of history, race relations, unavoidable change, a longing for a return to innocence, and a sense of place.

Writers in the "Lost Generation"

  • Ernest Hemingway (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954) author of The Old Man and the Sea
  • Francis Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby
  • James Joyce, author of Ulysses, considered the best work of literature in the 20th century.
  • Ezra Pound, author of The Cantos
  • Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio
  • Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sheep
  • Malcolm Cowley, author of Exile's Return
  • Sinclair Lewis, author of Babbitt (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930)
  • John Dos Passos, author of Manhattan Transfer
  • Kay Boyle, author of Year Before Last
  • Hart Crane, author of The Bridge
  • Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Ford Maddox Ford, author of The Good Soldier
  • Zelda Fitzgerald, author of Save Me the Waltz
  • Thomas Stearns Eliot, author of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948)

Harlem Renaissance

A major movement called the Harlem Renaissance flourished throughout the 1920's. Created in Harlem, New York, this artistic and intellectual movement expressed the uniqueness of African-American culture. (Palmer C. Hayden, Malvin Gray Johnson, and Laura Wheeler Waring) The Harlem Renaissance produced its own slew of African-American writers. Among the most well-known was novelist and poet, Langston Hughes. Other well-known writers include Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois.