The Lost Generation and the City of
The introduction of political, social, and technological changes during the turn of the century ushered in a new era called Modernism. Modernism was expressed in art, music, and especially literature. Few had as much impact on Modern literature as the expatriate writers of the 1920s, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, and Gertrude Stein. Their self imposed alienation from their home country and their common destination of
“The Lost Generation” of writers, as they would later be known, were born and raised during the first two decades of the 20th century with the rigid discipline of Victorian morals (Curnutt 12). These morals and values included a deep seeded belief in the Protestant work ethic that hard work and deferred gratification would lead to security and peace (Thompson 435). By 1918 the future expatriates’ sense of society and self had been shattered by trench warfare and World War I. Many of the expatriates either lived through or witnessed first hand the devastation of World War I and its many casualties (Badertscher). One such writer was F. Scott Fitzgerald who in his first novel, This Side of Paradise, summed up his despondency stating “a new generation…grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken” (Fitzgerald 213). This devastation led to a tremendous feeling of loss, disruption, and disillusionment. American society was in constant transition and upheaval and the expatriates no longer believed that the Protestant work ethic was valid. Furthermore, the expatriates had lost faith in their elders, believing the older generation had transformed society without having given the younger generation any viable substitute (Curnutt 20). John F. Carter stated:
The older generation pretty well ruined this world before passing it onto us. My generation is disillusioned and, I think, brutalized, by the cataclysm which their complacent folly engendered…And now they are surprised that a great many of us, because they have taken away our apple-cheeked ideals, are seriously considering whether or not their game be worth our candle (Curnutt 20).
In addition to the feelings of loss and disruption, expatriate writers had an overall dissatisfaction with American literature. Before Modernism, literature was controlled by structure and organization. As the world around them changed, the expatriates desperately sought to create literature that reflected the turmoil they saw around them. Some of the literary styles that spawned from this were fragmentation, juxtaposition, and stream of consciousness (Curnutt 11). The increase in foreign travel from the
The expatriates did not begin the Modern literature era however they were the most influential part of it. The changes they experienced and witnessed in the