The Expatriates of the 1920's
Length: 2126 words (6.1 double-spaced pages)
1: to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one's native country 2: intransitive senses: to leave one's native country to live elsewhere; also: to renounce allegiance to one's native country Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Nothing before, or since has equaled the mass expatriation of the 1920's. It was as if a great draft of wind picked up these very peculiar people and dropped them off in a European life style. Europe and the rest of the world were beginning to see a large population of these American expatriates. "... the younger and footloose intellectuals went streaming up the longest gangplank in the world." (Cowley 79) Along with the intellectuals went the wealthy élite, the recent college graduates, the art students, and the recent war veterans aptly called "The Lost Generation". Although many went all over the world, the largest density of these expatriates was in France. "Indeed, to young writers like ourselves, a long sojourn in France was almost a pilgrimage to the Holy Land." (Cowley 102)
Many expatriates flocked to Paris to follow forerunners in the movement such as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Most of the expatriates wished to have an introduction to Gertrude Stein at her apartment. There they would discuss art, literature, and the ideals of America for hours on end. Gertrude Stein characterized the expatriates' view of America when she said, "America is my country, and Paris is my home town". (Stein) This idea, of having a place that you consider your home, but not your homeland, is the basis of the expatriate movement.
The writing of this era was influenced by a few things. With the new ideas of America, there also came much criticism of it to. After World War One, many Americans became somewhat dissatisfied with the way that their own country's people and leaders acted. This was also a catalyst in the massive expatriation that occurred. Also, it is speculated that many war veterans could have developed various and unknown disorders caused by the type of warfare in which they had taken part. The optimistic culture of The Roaring Twenties also could have been a factor in the attitudes towards America and the writing that developed from it.
Through a close study of the Expatriates, I will propose this list of probable influences towards the attitudes and writing that occurred. 1.) World War One, and the physical affects that it created among American and European Citizens.
2.) The Roaring Twenties, and how it could have affected the writers of the time. 3.) Post War psychological effects including disillusionment and other Post traumatic disorders.
On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated. Immediately, a Serbian National secret service group called the Black Hand was blamed. Austria and Hungary demanded that the Serbian assassins be brought forward to the Austrian government for punishment. Without any reaction from the Serbian government, Austria officially declared war on Serbia that same day, June 28, 1914. Russia, who at that time was bound by a treaty to Serbia announced that it would mobilize an entire army ready for combat. Very quickly countries began to take sides and the United States announced a state of complete neutrality. In 1917, threatened by Germany's sub abilities, the United States was forced declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917. So began the war to end all wars.
As many wars are characterized by the movement that takes place, World War One was actually characterized by the complete lack of movement. On the Western front, it was a complete standoff. This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer...See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk it--a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation. (Fitzgerald)
In the trenches, the soldiers lived, fought, and died. Death seemed to be a constant companion. Even when raids or shelling was not expected, many random enemy shots killed soldiers either lying in a dugout or lounging in the rest trenches. "We always told young kids not to look over the parapet of the trenches and gaze out into No Mans Land; those who didn't listen usually came back without their skull." (Kauffmen 33)
With the constant chance of being hit with a sniper bullet, many soldiers found themselves holding very still for many hours of the day entertaining themselves by reading and writing. The Lost Generation writers, who all had some involvement in the war, first began to tone and build their emotion and skill during these times. This proves that the principle influence of the expatriates was World War One. The disillusionment of the war, in terms of it being "The war to end all wars" had a lot to do with the Expatriation that occurred. Many writers, after experiencing the war first hand, and even some being called heroes, were fed up with the disillusionment that much of the world, especially America had experienced.
By the time the war ended in 1918, many of the soldiers had gone home to resume living their lives. For the Lost Generation, this meant that they would find a place where they could be comfortable, and write about what they had experienced. This brought forth the greatest collection of war theme books that the world had ever seen. Many writers were made famous at this time by their early works, such as Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, a book in which Hemingway writes about the expatriate movement in Paris. Other writers such as Jon Dos Pasos wrote epics that take the reader to the trenches and the relationship that occurs between soldiers. Overall, the best literature about wartime, and post-war life occurred during this period of expatriation.
Along with much of the literature based on wartime and post-war experiences, quite a bit of the modern influence occurred because of the time in which it was written. The Roaring Twenties was a time of post-war optimism. Many people had let loose of the confining ideas of the past decades and tried to live their life as if no one had before. Ideas of hedonism and carefree disillusionment predominantly took over the larger cities. The Jazz Age had moved in and there was nothing to stop it. What came with the Jazz Age in terms of attitudes of people came a large influx of economical optimism. People were getting rich fast, and not spending enough of what they made. Kevin Rayburn describes it:
Just being another decade on the timeline was not good enough for the 1920s. When its brief turn came, it had to be the biggest, the loudest, the brightest. A calamity gave it birth, and a calamity ended it. It was a decade of giants, like none before or since. (Rayburn)
By 1920, the urban population of the United States was actually larger than that of the rural areas. Late night jazz parties seemed to characterize that of the modern wealthy lifestyle, and many felt that it was necessary to attend, to a your place in society. People who revolted against modern rules blamed the Puritan roots of our country for the harsh conservatism that had existed previously to World War One. To many people, America now was a place for money to be made, without any catch. It was a truly accepted fact that "the sky was the limit", and the optimistic attitude was that there would never be a stop to the lifestyles they were living.
Many authors grew famous writing their modern works about this Roaring Twenties society. Authors such as Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, a story about the introduction of a young man into a society of seemingly endless possibilities. It was seen that even the Lost Generation was very optimistic about America's future in the world. This central theme of optimism seemed to dominate many novels at the time. Unfortunately for many people, the optimism that once made them forget all that held them down, caught up to them. A decade that was to begin with a very prolific event was going to close with yet another truly momentous one. In 1929, the fall of the New York Stock Exchange plummeted people into a downward spiral of poverty. The greatest decade of all was going to come to a close very quickly and it was the beginning of the end of the Lost Generation.
The massive expatriation would last a few years more before declining into history books. Authors who were made famous during the previous decade continued writing, but their works are now in the shadow of what was written during these times.
Post war generation: It seems that throughout our twentieth century, we always seem to find these generations, a bit odd compared to those of others. A reoccurring trend that we see is the disillusionment of many veterans and civilians. With the disillusionment of mass amounts of people, came the attitudes of hostility, fear, and helplessness. There was a brief explanation for why these different effects might have taken place. Shell shock and combat fatigue seemed to be the most common diagnosis for the recent returned veteran. The only problem with this diagnosis is that it implied that the effect was only short term. It would be another 50 years until the next diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress or Combat Syndrome would be introduced. AS we know now, the effects of this disease can cause complete attitude, personality, and life changes that can alter the state of mind and being. This is a beginning point to understand why the Lost Generation wrote with the intensity and raw attitude that it did.
Shell Shock, or Combat Fatigue, as many called it, was a very commonly diagnosed disease at the time of the Lost Generation. It has been described as:
A neurotic disorder caused by the stress involved in war. This anxiety-related disorder is characterized by (1) hypersensitivity to stimuli such as noises, movements, and light accompanied by overactive responses that include involuntary defensive jerking or jumping (startle reactions), (2) easy irritability progressing even to acts of violence, and (3) sleep disturbances... (Britannica)
Shell Shock gave many people a very raw and unprotected attitude. They existed without the consideration of many other people. They had no influences from the outside world thus providing a very unique and individual experience from person to person. One can see that the effects of living in a wartime environment can have detrimental effects to the human body and mind. Whether or not this had a direct role in the lives of the writers of the Lost Generation, it surely shaped the views and opinions that they had towards people and life in general. It seemed that the innocence that these young people once had was now replaced with anger, hate, and fear that really changed the state of mind of many living during this time.
The Lost Generation gave birth to a new literature, one that had no boundaries and one where feeling and emotion could be placed on paper. Expatriation is a natural phenomenon that will always follow a very patriotic society. This expatriate phenomenon has yet to be seen since in such great magnitude, but is certain to take place in thee future.
Was the attitude of Expatriation healthy? I would say it is, but it was defiantly necessary for the continual journey of American literature to arrive at where it is today.
A Farewell to Arms By Ernest Hemingway Copyright 1929 by Charles Scribner's Sons
The Sun Also Rises By Ernest Hemingway Copyright 1926 by Charles Scribner's Sons
The Great Gatsby By Scott F Fitzgerald Copyright 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons
Expatriates and Patriots By Ernest Earnest Copyright 1968 by Duke University Press
Trenches on the Web (ONLINE) By Joseph Monson http://www.worldwar1.com/tlindex.htm
The Great War: an interactive timeline (ONLINE) By Public Broadcasting Station http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/timeline/
The Roaring Twenties Rayburn, Kevin (1997-2000). The 1920s. [Online] http://www.louisville.edu/~kprayb01/1920s.html
The Shell Shock James Veloney Shell Shock (ONLINE) http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWshellshock.htm
What is the Lost Generation? Authors name Ommitted by request (ONLINE) http://ok.essortment.com/whatlostgenera_nkj.htm
1.) "...the younger and...." Malcolm Cowley "Exiles Return" pg 79 "Indeed, to young...." Malcolm Cowley "Exiles Return" pg 145 "America is my...." Gertrude Stein "An American In France" pg 23 3.) "This land here cost us...." Scott Fitzgerald "Tender is the Night" 13 "We always told young...." Lenix Kauffmen "ABC special: veterans" 4.) "Just being another..." Kevin Rayburn "The Twenties" Online 6.) "A neurotic disorder..." Britannica.com (ONLINE)