THE LOST GENERATION: AMERICAN WRITERS OF THE 1920'S

                
Ernest Hemingway                     F. Scott Fitzgerald                 Gertrude Stein

During the 1920's a group of writers known as "The Lost Generation" gained popularity. The term "the lost generation" was coined by Gertrude Stein who is rumored to have heard her auto-mechanic while in France to have said that his young workers were, "une generation perdue". This refered to the young workers' poor auto-mechanic repair skills. Gertrude Stein would take this phrase and use it to describe the people of the 1920's who rejected American post World War I values. The three best known writers among The Lost Generation are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. Others among the list are: Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle, Hart Crane, Ford Maddox Ford and Zelda Fitzgerald. Ernest Hemingway, perhaps the leading literary figure of the decade, would take Stein's phrase, and use it as an epigraph for his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. Because of this novel's popularity, the term, "The Lost Generation" is the enduring term that has stayed associated with writers of the 1920's.

The "Lost Generation" defines a sense of moral loss or aimlessness apparent in literary figures during the 1920s. World War I seemed to have destroyed the idea that if you acted virtuously, good things would happen. Many good, young men went to war and died, or returned home either physically or mentally wounded (for most, both), and their faith in the moral guideposts that had earlier given them hope, were no longer valid...they were "Lost."

These literary figures also criticized American culture in creative fictional stories which had the themes of self-exile, indulgence (care-free living) and spiritual alienation. For example, Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise shows the young generation of the 1920's masking their general depression behind the forced exuberance of the Jazz Age. Another of Fitzgerald's novels, The Great Gatsby does the same where the illusion of happiness hides a sad loneliness for the main characters. Hemingway's novels pioneered a new style of writing which many generations after tried to imitate. Hemingway did away with the florid prose of the 19th century Victorian era and replaced it with a lean, clear prose based on action. H also employed a technique by which he left out essential information of the story in the belief that omission can sometimes strengthen the plot of the novel. The novels produced by the writers of the Lost Generation give insight to the lifestyles that people lead during the 1920's in America, and the literary works of these writers were innovative for their time and have influenced many future generations in their styles of writing.

              

Paris during the 1920's              A scene from The Great Gatsby

Check out these links about the Lost Generation writers:

Hemingway, Fitzgerald & Faulkner
Overview of The Lost Generation
More on Writers of The Lost Generation
About Ernest Hemingway
F.Scott Fitzgerald and his novels
About Gertrude Stein
American writers in Paris during the 1920's