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Broken Dreams (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter B with a laurel wreath, representing the A to Z Challenge blogging event. Text below the logo says 'Blogging from A to Z April Challenge' and 'a-to-zchallenge.com'

The Lost Generation disillusionment is at the core of this group’s social and historical experience. It’s what most define them., their broken dreams and their broken relationship with the past and the previous generations.

In their twenties and thirties, when the war was over, these young people who should have been blooming, full of hopes and dreams for the future, planning their life, found themselves instead aimlessly gliding through life.
The massive loss of lives and the very way these lives were lost – in a senseless carnage where the individual action had no meaning – robbed them of the naturally youthful sense of purpose. The industrial scale of the war and the dominance of the power of the machines over the action of men had diminished their perception of the power of action and the sacredness of humanity. Therefore, they didn’t believe in these ideals anymore.

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation - Broken Dreams". The black-and-white picture is a still from the 1920 film "The Flapper" and is a closeup of actress Olive Thomas (who plays the main character) staring into the distance with a haunted expression.

Gone were for them the value of a person’s action. Bravery was useless. Visions were only dreams, and they were all broken for them.
The old values on which their society had rested seemed useless to them. But they were unable to find their own.

This disconnect between past and present also created a divide between this generation and their parents, which was also something new.
Their parents had lived in a peaceful world and developed ideals of hopefulness that led them to seek change and drive it with their actions. Their fathers had believed in acts of braveness and even heroism, in the value of the individual action.

The Lost Generation had learned in the trenches that a single action makes no difference and, therefore, is useless. They held some grudge towards their elders, who had lived their prime in a peaceful world but then had thrown them into the carnage of WWI and afterwards asked them to go home and take up their broken lives as if nothing had happened.
As Frederick Lewis Allen said in his book Only Yesterday, “The older generation had certainly pretty well ruined this world before passing it on to us. …They give us this thing, knocked to pieces, leaky, red-hot, threatening to blow up; and then they are surprised that we don’t accept it with the same attitude of pretty, decorous enthusiasm with which they received it…”

It used to be that the new generation learned from the old one. Slowly, a child would slip into adulthood by adhering to the norms and values of their elders.
But the divide created by the Great War made communication between generations extremely difficult, to the point that the old generation became incapable of understanding young people’s behaviours and desires and the new generation didn’t trust the old one to be a good leader.

Broken Dreams (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) The #LostGeneration disillusionment is at the core of this group's social and historical experience. It's what most define them #1920s Share on X

Expressing the loss

When we talk about the Lost Generation, we usually think about the artist who expressed it. But the phenomenon of the Lost Generation was more complex and more diverse.

  1. Although mainly an expression of the Western World, it touched the lives of people of the same age globally. The Great War had directly or indirectly affected nations across the globe. The same did its aftermath. The wind of change that invested America and Europe also blew in some nations of Asia, where young people adopted at least some of the Lost Generation’s behaviours (this was the case, for example, in Japan).
  2. Even in the Western World, experiences were different on the two coasts of the Atlantic. The Lost Generation in Europe was basically the entirety of the younger generation. None of the people born between 1883 and 1910 remained untouched by the war, whether they were veterans, young women who could not get married, or young men who didn’t find their place in the world again. The Lost Generation in America was instead a group of intellectuals and artists who, having experienced war, tried to express its explosive changing power and its consequences.
  3. Wherever they were, this generation was often unable to express themselves. The old vocabulary was useless for expressing their feelings, and often, they didn’t care to express themselves because they thought nobody could understand them. So they often remained silent and, therefore, misunderstood. In this environment, artists were indeed the ones who could shed the life of the Lost Generation’s feelings.

Whether they went to war or not, this generation experienced the inability to navigate a new world and even to express it. In their entirety, this generation felt rootless and uncertain, robbed of purpose and future. Lost.

A picture from the late 1920s or early 1930s depicting a group of people dancing and having fun outside a Paris cafe.
Credits: Keystone-France/Gemma-Keystone via Getty Images

RESOURCES

Robert Wohl, The Disillusionment of the Lost Generation and The Rejection of Traditional Values (PDF)

HTSchool – The Lost Generation: Who were they, actually?
ThoughtCo – The Lost Generation and the Writers Who Described Their World
The Atlantic – Germany’s Lost Generation


Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".

12 Comments

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 2, 2024 at 11:58

    Wow, that quote is well put… and also possibly true today.

    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2024 at 18:52

      Or maybe, that’s what people always think when they ‘receive’ the world 😉

  • Birgit
    Posted April 2, 2024 at 13:04

    Well written and so very sad. Like so many before and after, many drank nd had no idea what to do.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2024 at 19:01

      It must have been terrible. Especially because this people received little sympathy the more damaged they were. Not because the other people were cruel, but because nobody knew how to handle so many new problems. It’s sad.

  • Pearson Report
    Posted April 2, 2024 at 17:16

    I think a version of the quote by F L Allen is used by every generation when looking for the cause of the world’s current state, it’s the past generations that are frowned upon. Ah, the hardship of living in the present.
    I think of Bill Bryson’s book, At Home, where he describes the air quality of England, in its coal burning days. How lucky we are not to be living in that now. Yet, look back we do, I think it’s human nature when searching for answers.

    Great post, I learn a little each time I drop by. Thank you.
    Jenny @ Pearson Report

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2024 at 19:04

      I tend to agree with you. Handling the present is difficult, so we always think that it must have been easier for who came before us.

  • Debby
    Posted April 2, 2024 at 19:58

    What you describe really does sound similar to every generation to some degree.
    Enjoyable read.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 9, 2024 at 19:42

      Change is always hard to handle, no matter the era.

  • Pamela
    Posted April 3, 2024 at 18:45

    I am really enjoying the research and your thoughts about the Lost Generation.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 9, 2024 at 19:46

      Thanks, Pamela. I happy you are enjoying it 🙂

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 13:27

    You have a way to transport a person across time.

    Ronel visiting for B: My Languishing TBR: B
    Beware the Bogeyman

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