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Roaring Twenties (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

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The 1920s was a complex era. It was everything and the opposite of everything. Very different things—some a heritage of the past, some shockingly new—coexisted. The trauma of the recent past and the relief and hope for the future were both characteristic of this decade and of that generation, which was its most lively force. 

When we think about the 1920s, we mostly think about the Roaring Twenties.

We see the bright surface of the era—the lights and the parties, the young women who experimented with makeup and lighter dresses, the winning of the vote and more freedom. We see the excitement of young men who first flew solo across the Atlantic, who excelled in the Olympic Games or created economic empires. We see people making art and music in new ways. We see the rise of cinema and a new, more comfortable lifestyle and higher, more steady income for a larger section of the population. 

The 1920s were indeed all of this. 

Yet, there was also a darker side. A submerged feeling of anxiety and insecurity that had not disappeared with the end of the war or the pandemic. 

With the general well-being, incredible technological advancements, and notable civil rights advancements, it was easy to let that disquiet lay on the sideline, forgotten for a while. Yet, at times, it would surface in American isolationism, for example, or the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. 

The 1920s were complex times and the Lost Generation of artists who worked in the interwar years caught that ambivalent feeling exceptionally well. 

The art of contrast

Pinterest pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Roaring Twenties." The black-and-white picture shows a wild Roaring Twenties party with people in their glad rags dancing and drinking.

Like the time in which they lived, the Lost Generation expressed an art of contradiction and contrast.

For the American novelists, the contradiction was in the contrast between the life people could afford (or tried to achieve because it was now possible) and the dying out of the old values. 

The relationship between characters’s desires and the reality they live in is always central to the story, as is the inability or impossibility to realise one’s dreams, given their circumstances. 

Whether it’s Fitzgerald’s sparkling world of city parties or Steinback’s rural world, there is a disconnection between what the characters aspire to and what they can achieve. A void that they perceive but are unable to fill. 

This is true for the Harlem Renaissance authors, too. Though the Lost Generation tended to fatalistically accept the situation as unchangeable, the Harlem Renaissance authors were generally more proactive. But all of them felt that disconnection—that caesura of the new, almost unexpected present and a past that was more familiar but gone forever. 

These artists depicted their world with a very simple, almost naked language. And yet, that language, which was very mundane and often depicted very mundane events, also created symbolism and hidden meanings that delved into the darkness of insecurity and anxiety. 

This was the world the Lost Generation lived in. 

Life in the 1920s was exceptionally ‘new’ in so many ways. Life before and after the Great War was different in everyday activity, in the houses people lived in, in the kind of jobs available and how they were performed, and in the availability of money and goods. But also in the mixing of people and the evolution of societies and their mores. In the relationship with technology and people’s new social roles – like women, minorities and also youths. 

Most people – and this included young people too – didn’t know how to handle so much change happening at the same time. 

The recipe of the Lost Generation was to enjoy it as it lasted – with a lot of questions that were better buried very deep down. 

Very dark places existed under the sparkling surface. 

European artists, like their American counterparts, were very critical of how life was generally lived, but the war was always extremely present in their art. 

Roaring Twenties (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) – The Roaring Twenties were everything and the opposite of everything. The trauma of the recent past and the relief and hope for the future characterised it #history #1920s Share on X

The very language they used was not just naked but also violent and unapologetic. Many of these artists – Otto Dix was particularly influential – depicted the horrors of war in a way never seen before, devoid of any romanticism or heroism. But even when the matter of war wasn’t apparent, the language always went back to that violence. Many of the artistic vanguards of the interwar year used a language that intentionally tried to shock those who consumed that art in an attempt to shake off the perceived apathy of a life that was often more comfortable than before but could not be the answer to the insecurities that permeated most of the countries who had participated int he war. 

The Lost Generation on both shores of the Atlantic was exceptionally receptive to this contradiction. The contradiction of a world that was advancing and should have been more comfortable and fulfilling and to them was instead scary and devoid of meaning. 


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