War on the twenties: the effects of World War I on the American public and the literary imagination of the 1920s
Document Type Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Throughout my education, I have become increasingly interested in the decade of the 1920s. I must confess, however, that I was first attracted years ago by the glitter and glamour of the life that F. Scott Fitzgerald depicts in The Great Gatsby and many of his short stories. Therefore, I began this project intending to focus on Fitzgerald and his role in the Jazz Age. Upon closer examination of the Twenties, however, I found that the frolicking mood of America and its celebration of hedonism during the Twenties were not merely celebrations of the World War I victory, but actually indications of serious domestic problems. Were these problems a part of the natural progression of civilization? Why did they surface so suddenly and why were they so blatant? As technology advanced, society underwent rapid change, but why was there no indication of such problems in the previous decade? As I endeavored to answer these plaguing questions, I found the First World War a significant contribution to my answers. War, I then realized, had such an impact on American society that its effects were internalized into the very social fabric of American life in the postwar decade. I could not just scrutinize Fitzgerald or the Twenties, without first contemplating World War I. However, an examination solely of the war would also not fully illustrate the degree of its impact. With these notions in mind, I have contemplated the effects of World War I on the American public and on the literary imagination of the Twenties, weaving together both historical fact and literary observation. Certainly this essay cannot even begin to encompass all that is pertinent to The First World War, the Twenties, or the novelists of the Lost Generation. What is does do, however, is attempt to bridge World War I and the Golden Age as interrelated topics, not merely as isolated events. In addition, it joins hand in hand, the two fundamental elements of American Studies: American history and American literature.