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Youthful Rebellion (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

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The Lost Generation was one of history’s first—if not even the very first—youthful movements. It had all the characteristics of later youthful movements but also one very distinct trait. 

A multitude of societal shifts and cultural transformations in the 1920s played a significant role in the birth of the concept of ‘youth’. 
This sector of society finally had space to separate itself from the rest. No more children, not yet adults, these young people had the space (the college) and the time (those years spent in college) to develop their own personality, their own values, and their own ideas, which would have been different from those of their parents in any case, but were markedly so because of WWI. 

Because ‘youth’ became so apparent and definite, sociologists took notice. In 1928, Karl Mannheim proposed a new definition of generation: not just an age group anymore, but an age group impacted by one common, significant, and defining historical event. 
This perfectly applied to the first generation ever defined in this way: the Lost Generation. 

The Lost Generation: The First Youths 

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Youthful Rebellion." The black-and-white picture shows a group of young men raising their arms as if in protest.

The social changes that would lead to the birth of the first modern generation had already started in the previous century.
The tendency of families to have fewer children and dedicate more resources to each one started in the Western middle class in the 1800s. This brought young people to concentrate in colleges right before and after the Great War. Parents wanted their children to be educated, and this very education placed them in a kind of limbo that wasn’t childhood and wasn’t adulthood but a totally new place in society. 
Away from their parents, free to influence and rely on each other, youth flourished in American and European campuses as something new and distinctive. 

As with all the generations of youths who came after them, the Lost Generation had their own values, lifestyle and language that no other age group would adopt. 
And they were rebels. 

In fact, rebellion was a thing that characterised this new concept of youth. 
While in previous eras, children slowly matured into adulthood by adhering to adult values and ideas, this new youth rebelled against everything that came before them.

The Lost Generation certainly differentiated themselves from their parents, drawing on their experience in the Great War. They tended to be more accepting of diversity because they had experienced in the trenches that a person’s value was the most important thing. So they were generally more open toward new forms of equality, both towards women and towards minority groups, including queer people. They were generally also more open to an idea of masculinity that was less military and more vulnerable without necessarily considering it weak.
In most cases, they were also pacifists, a concept that was in itself new. 

All of this indeed distanced the Lost Generation from their parents’ generation. 
But they were also different from the following generations because of their own defining characteristic: disillusionment. 

Youthful Rebellion (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) The Lost Generation – one of history's first – had all the characteristics of later youthful movements but also one very distinct trait #1920s #history Share on X

The sad rebellion of the Lost Generation

While rebellion would come to be one of the main characteristics of every young generation, the Lost Generation incarnated rebellion in a very unique way. 

Rebellion towards the older generation implies that the new way of thinking and acting is better and more effective than the old and will bring about changes that the older ways couldn’t. 

Colleen Moore and Milton Sills in a still from the 1923 film 'Flaming Youth'. Sills embraces Moor under an arch in an elegant house.

The Lost Generation rebelled against the old ways of thinking and acting. They were extremely critical of their parents’ values, beliefs, and choices. They rebelled and chose a different course of action. 
But they had no faith in their rebellion. They didn’t believe their new values and drives would bring a new future. In general, they didn’t believe in the future. 

As Walter Lippmann said: “What most distinguishes the generation who have approached maturity since the debacle of idealism at the end of the War is not their rebellion against the religion and the moral code of their parents, but their disillusionment with their own rebellion. It is common for young men and women to rebel, but that they should rebel sadly and without faith in their rebellion, that they should distrust the new freedom no less than the old certainties – that is something of a novelty.” 

This perfectly describes the uniqueness of the Lost Generation. 


Historic UK – Young Bright Things
20th Century History Song Book – The Disillusionment of the Lost Generation and The Rejection of Traditional Values
US News – World War I, the 1920s and Modern Cool
Prezi – Karl Mannheim’s Theory of Generations

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  • D.A.Cairns
    Posted April 29, 2024 at 21:15

    And every new generation has its youth and youth culture. Interesting to consider ‘youth culture’ as such was born in the interwar years.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 3, 2024 at 18:45

      Pretty recently, isn’t it?
      It’s something we take so much fo rgranted that it seems strange to think to a time where nothing like ‘youth’ existed.

  • Kristin Cleage
    Posted April 29, 2024 at 22:26

    I felt that way myself.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted May 14, 2024 at 13:32

    Ah, youths have been rebelling ever since, haven’t they? 🙂

    Ronel visiting for Y: My Languishing TBR: Y
    Cursed Werewolves

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