Rising from the ruins of WWI, fated to end in the looming shadows of the Great Depression and then of WWII, the 1920s have that vitality that is not totally explainable. That X-factor that made them a time of excitement even in among terrible events.
The 1920s and the 1930s are often considered anxious decades. They were times of great change, of advancement for both people, technology and science, and still, there was always a sense of finality to them. Decades of movements and shifting, they never found real stability.
The 1930s, marked by the harsh times of the Great Depression and then by the Second World War, are undoubtedly times of trial and darkness.
But what about the 1920s?Rising from the ruins of WWI, fated to end in the looming shadows of the Great Depression and WWII,the 1920s have a vitality that is not totally explainable #history #1920s Click To Tweet
A time of opposites
When we think about the 1920s today, we think of prosperity and fun.
Things were getting better for workers. The middle class was expanding and generally becoming more affluent. More and more families could afford to have their children go to school rather than work.
Women were winning a different place in the world. Life was getting easier.
At least this was the perception in the big cities.
The situation was quite different in the country. Where the cities projected themselves toward a future that didn’t seem too far away, the countryside seemed to leg behind in the previous century. In the US, the countryside knew the first Depression in the 1920s. In Europe, the countryside was often the place of the most vigorous nationalism, which was bent to keep things as they always had been.
Why, then, we seem to see only the positive, lively, advancing face of the decade?
Because it did happen.
Even if not in as widespread a manner as we sometimes think, things were indeed changing, sometimes dramatically. In the aftermath of a terrible war, people were hungry for life and for experimentation. Especially young people were anxious to live now, in case something terrible happened again. And the anxiety let down barriers that had always been in place. Exploring was imperative. Experimenting was the most exciting and the most sensible thing to do.
It was so important that not even harsh criticism slew down the need to explore.
It was too great a need. Live. Be alive. Have fun. And run as fast as possible towards a future that might not be there for long.
In many respect, the 1920s did not fulfil its promises, as the 1930s soon showed.
Prosperity, which was maybe the greatest illusion, collapsed on itself when the stock market crashed on 29 October 1929. That was when the future the 1920s had imagined died. The flourishing of the arts, the advancement of women and minorities, the great mirage of fashion and of technology, all seemed to vanish. Making ends meet became the single most important activity of the majority of people.
Whatever was the X-factor that made the 1920s the incredibly sparkling decade that it was, by the opening of the 1930s it was no more.
It would take decades for some things to pick up the threads.
But it wasn’t for nothing. What the 1920s had created, especially in the minds and hearts of people, didn’t vanish in the ashes of the Great Depression. It slept, maybe. But never totally disappeared.
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002
Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992
Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007