1920S And 1930S With Reference To Hemingway

And Fitzgerald Essay, Research Paper

The 1920’s exemplified the changing attitudes of American’s toward foreign relations, society, and leisure activities. The twenty years that fell between 1920 and 1940 were a time period that has shaped America not only because it is the darkest period in the countries? history, but also because of how many lives were affected for the worst. Disillusionment and isolationism were beginning to shape parts of America by adding to the confusion that had taken place after the conclusion of WW1. This was seen not only economically, but socially as well. Americans, in the years following the end of World War I found themselves in an era, where they simply wished to detach themselves from the troubles of Europeans and the rest of the world. During the years of the Twenties, the economy was prosperous, there was widespread social reform, new aspects of culture were established, and people found better ways to improve their lifestyle. Overall, the people, released from the pressures of a war government enjoyed life. The 1920s and 1930s defined America as a period when the society that so longed to forget the war, that they were slowly transformed into a population where self-love was rampant, and the morals that America had been so tediously grasping to, fell away. Through the novels of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, the attitudes of disillusionment and isolation are seen in Americans are a direct outcome of the weakening of societies moral codes, and the death of the ?American Dream.?

The effect of the war on the general population was one of discontent and isolationary feelings towards the countries that had caused them to see the cracks within their dream of a peaceful existence. Following World War I, many Americans demanded that the United States stay out of European affairs in the future. The United States Senate even refused to accept the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I and provided for the establishment of the League of Nations. The Senate chose to refuse the Treaty in the fear that it could result in the involvement of the United States in future European wars. Americans simply did not wish to deal with, or tolerate the problems of Europe and abroad. (Burg 167)A key factor that they did not recognize was that after the war, there was an increased flow of immigrants seeking a better life. These “new” immigrants were largely from Italy, Russia, and Ireland, countries the Americans regarded as uncultured and generally bothersome. (Burg 128) There was a mixed reaction to these incoming foreigners. While they provided industries with a cheap source of labor, Americans were both afraid of, and hostile towards these new groups. They differed from the “typical American” in language, customs, and religion. Many individuals and industries alike played upon America’s fears of immigration to further their own goals.

As a measure of relief, the war torn and disillusioned Americans turned their attention to problems at home that had festered while America was off at war. Unknown to almost the whole population, a time of despair and darkness was to soon fall upon them. During the 1920?s, the economy was high and generally prosperous for almost all Americans. During this time period, many people were content with their economic lives and there was no large complaint in the area of labor unions and workers complaints. However, the Great Depression in the 1930?s was a time of hardship and poverty for many workers. A large percentage of legislation that was created in the 1930?s, focused on the treatment of workers and the problems they experienced. Unions actually benefited with the help of Franklin D. Roosevelt who promised Americans a “New Deal”. The Wagner Act was passed which guaranteed workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively. The National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) was formed. (Cronon 235) The board could hold elections so workers could vote for the union they wanted to be represented by. The board could also stop unfair practices used by employers against unions. America was developing into the country it is today. The new immigrants were used by organized industries as a source of cheap labor. But as labor unions began to form and push for better pay, shorter hours, and improved working conditions industries saw that it was not as easy to exploit these immigrants as it had been before. They tied the American’s hostilities towards immigrants to the newly emerging fear of radicalism. (Stein 37) When workers went on strike, industry leaders turned public opinion against them by labeling the strikes as attempts at radical uprising. As a result, workers were often left with no other choice than to accept the terms of industry management. The fight for prohibition was aided by America’s antagonism for immigrants. (Stein 25)

It seemed that Americans were finally achieving their dreams, the economy was at an all time high, however, an event was coming that would drastically shatter the hopes and futures of the American population.The roaring twenties soon led into a time of despair and poverty, the Great Depression. In 1929 it seemed that America?s bright future was to be crushed. Shortly after Herbert Hoover was elected president, Wall Street was greatly affected by the greatest stock market crash in the history of the United States of America. The stock market was a very important aspect of the economy in the 1920’s. As the economy was flourishing, many Americans found it a practical investment to put money into the Stock exchange, as the return profit could be quite large. It was such promises of financial that convinced many Americans to buy stocks. When the market crashed America was plummeted into a great depression which effected all the world economics. During this period President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. President Roosevelt said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” (Burg 105). His first action of presidency was to implement what is known as the New Deal to help the country to emerge from the Great Depression. Many Americans felt that they were untouchable in society. The thought of the American Dream cemented in the heads of thousands of Americans overshadowed the real risk of business in the United States. When the American people saw that the economy was flourishing, they felt that they were on a pedestal, protected from the river of uncertainty, economic depression and the failure of the American Dream. The Twenties began as an era were Americans were feeling good. They had forgotten about the troubles of Europeans and began to better their lifestyles. Americans were finding new ways to earn a better living through an overall period of booming business and higher wages for workers. Many Americans began investing in the stock exchange in the hope of having a prosperous return. When the depression came, the people realized that life was cruel and their dreams were crushed by the lack of money, and after a time, hope. As fortunes were earned, and fortunes were lost, the reality of the American Dream was sinking in. (Burg 99) The dream of coming to the country and making it big came true for some Americans, but to others, it was not as sweet. Many lost all they had while trying to make it. Their dreams were short-lived and the so-called American Dream that had once surrounded them left them orphaned in a sea of debt. In this era, Americans soon learned that the American Dream was a legend that only few could achieve although it was wanted by all.

The literature of the time often reflected the desperation and despair of the people in the nation. Two of the books that most displayed the nations feelings of hopelessness and regret, were The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both men had entirely different lives but their writings reflect the same urgency. In both book the characters can be seen as looking for a way out, a search for the dying American dream. Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. He was the son of a very strict Doctor, who forbid him, as a child, to read books of any questionable material. His mother, who was seemingly na?ve to the darkening world around her, also treated Ernest, like a ?female baby-doll?. (Hemingway xii) When the time for WW1 came, he inlisted in the army, but was turned away because of a bad left eye. He became an ambulance driver in Italy, and there he was shot in the knee and sent to the hospital. He soon fell in love with his nurse and they were married. It was about this time, in 1925 that he began to write The Sun Also Rises. The book was based on his experiences in Pampolona, Spain. He also wrote other books such as Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, and Death in the Afternoon. A common theme throughout Hemingway’s stories is that no matter how hard we fight to live, we end up defeated, but we are here and we must go on. Hemingway also included much sex and cursing within his novels. It seemed as though he wished to shock the readers with all the propaganda he had been sheltered from in his early life. Sadly, Hemingway still battled with the demons within himself. After 3 failed marriages and a year of shock therapies and anti-depression drugs, Hemingway committed suicide July 2, 1961. (Hemingway xiii) Hemingway?s life represents a common trend of the 1920s and 1930s. While the individuals where sheltered as children and then grew up in the horrors of the depression. Many, like Hemingway felt suicide was the only way out. It is a pity that a man with so much potential would kill himself, but it is an ironic showcase of the era that ruined the lives of thousands of people.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, was another man whose life in the period of the 1920s-1930s was reflected in his writings. F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. From boyhood Fitzgerald experienced both the conflict and the fluidity of class in American life. On his father’s side, his family, though descended from Francis Scott Key and possessed of what Fitzgerald called that “poor old shattered word ‘breeding’,” (Bruccoli 11) His mother’s people were immigrant entrepreneurs who “had the money.” His mother nurtured social ambitions in her only son, and Fitzgerald was sent east to a Catholic prep school, and then to Princeton. (Bruccoli 32)

At Princeton Fitzgerald courted academic trouble as he pursued success on the parallel tracks which were to mark his career as a writer. He wrote lyrics for shows and published poems and stories in the Nassau Literary Magazine. In the fall of 1917, his senior year at Princeton, Fitzgerald received a commission in the U.S. Army and was assigned to a fort in Kansas. There and also in Kentucky, Fitzgerald worked on the manuscript of the novel that was to become This Side of Paradise. While at Camp Sheridan, outside Montgomery, Alabama, Fitzgerald met and instantly fell in love with eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre. When he was discharged in February 1919, Fitzgerald moved to New York and went to work for the advertising agency. When Zelda broke off their long distance engagement in June, 1919, Fitzgerald decided to quit his job, return to St. Paul, and rewrite his novel as “a sort of substitute form of dissipation.” (Brucolli 78) He wrote feverishly and by September, the book was accepted to be published. He and Zelda were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 3, 1920, and their life embellished what Fitzgerald had already called the Jazz Age. In all of his novels, Fitzgerald interprets the contemporary American scene in relation to an unfolding set of essential values. Foremost among these is a romantic sense of American history as “the most beautiful history in the world . . . the history of all aspiration–not just the American dream but the human dream.” (Fitzgerald epilouge)Yet Fitzgerald tempered the romantic in him with a skeptic’s cold eye. Nick Carraway, of The Great Gatsby, declares Gatsby’s dream dead not only personally but historically back in “that vast obscurity . . . where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” (Fitzgerald 5) And with the disillusionment of the idealist, Fitzgerald embraces “the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not ‘happiness and pleasure’ but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.” Americans, Fitzgerald thought, at their best managed to keep alive a “willingness, of the heart” essential to the pursuit of happiness and citizenship. (Heath 1333-1335)

Although the two authors, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway were both raised and lived with entirely different lifestyles, their stories are still reflective of the same disillusionment and discouragement. In the novel The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway describes a couple whom share a very strange and distant kind of love for each other. This story takes place immediately after World War I, a time of great hardship. This hardship results in a digression of values both morally and socially. The love that Brett and Jake share is symbolic of the general decline in values in that they tolerate behaviors in one another that would have been previously considered unacceptable. Jake knows that he will never be able to have her for his own, and he accepts this as fact. This is clear when the Count asks them ?Why don?t you get married, you two?? (Hemingway 68) To this question, they give a lame half -hearted answer that implies that it will never happen. Jake is tolerant of her behavior because he loves her unconditionally and is willing to overlook everything she does. Jake?s willingness to endure and forgive Brett?s promiscuity and infidelity is an indication of the skewed values of the age. In this story, there is a very different way of life from what people know today. The relationship that Jake and Brett share is one that would seem completely unrealistic in today?s time, but to them, it was acceptable. (Hemingway 17) Jake, no doubt, would have preferred to have it differently, but he is accepting of the way it stands. The hardship and the poverty that is so widely spread in that area during the post-war time caused the people to lower their moral standards. Jake and Brett?s love is the perfect example. It as if there is a carrot being dangled in front of Jake, that because of his war wound, he will never be able to achieve his dream, and be able to be with Brett.

Another story reflective of the difficult and isolation of the times is Fitzgerald?, The Great Gatsby. The novel is about the American Dream, and the downfall of those who attempt to reach its illusionary goals. In The Great Gatsby, for Jay, the dream is that through wealth and power, one can acquire happiness. To get this happiness Jay must reach into the past and relive an old dream and in order to do this he must have wealth and power. In the past, Jay had a love affair with the beautiful ?old money? Daisy. Knowing he could not marry her because of the difference in their social status, he leaves her to gather wealth to reach her standards. Once he acquires this wealth, he moves near to Daisy, “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay? (Fitzgerald 83), and throws extravagant parties, hoping by chance she might show up at one of them. He, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. Gatsby’s personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want. Later, in the scene at the hotel, Jay still believes that Daisy loves him. He is convinced of this as is shown when he takes the blame for Myrtle’s death. “Was Daisy driving?” “Yes…but of course I’ll say I was.” (Fitzgerald 151) He also watches and protects Daisy as she returns home. Jay cannot accept that the past is gone and done with. Jay is sure that he can capture his dream with wealth and influence. He believes that he acted for a good beyond his personal interest and that should guarantee success. Nick attempts to show Jay the fact that his dream will not come true, but Jay is too stubborn to believe that he is not correct. This shows the confidence that Jay has in fulfilling his American Dream. For Jay, his American Dream is not material possessions, although it may seem that way. He only comes into riches so that he can fulfill his true American Dream, Daisy. Gatsby doesn’t rest until his American Dream is finally fulfilled. However, it never comes about and he ends up paying the ultimate price for it. He dies, skilled for a murder he did not commit. Fitzgerald shows that with the passing of his life, his dream is also destroyed.

Both of the stories written by Fitzgerald and Hemingway have common themes. Perhaps the most recognizable one is that of disappointment, and finally leading to death or despair. Both of the novels are romances, one might say they were tragic romances. The main characters, Jay and Jake, are both deeply in love with two of literatures most complicated women. Daisy and Brett seem to be a reflection on the woman of the time as both of them are careless with the hearts of the men that love them, while at the same time possessing the innocence and gaiety that they are loved for. In both stories, they lead on the men, deeper and deeper into the dream that the reader knows will not be achieved. Both Hemingway and Fitzgerald expect the reader to feel sympathy for the main character, and when his dream is not to be, they almost want the reader to feel the same discouragement and loss that they are writing about. The novels both regard dreams as a waste of time and only leading to ones downfall. They reflect that the period of despair and isolationism that was felt in the 1920s and 1930s. The reader can see that the affects of loneliness shaped both authors writing styles, and with a further look at both authors? personal lives, they can see where that loneliness stemmed from. Basically, the two authors are reflecting the sadness and alienation that was felt by a majority of the population during the 1920s and 1930s. Fitzgerald and Hemingway, epitomize their own lives to let the reader experience the sadness that was so rampant in that era. These books are known as classics not only because of their detailed portrayal of the time period, but also because of the fact that they are two stories that the population can still learn from today. They display what will happen to our society if it attempts to isloate itselves and follow the dreams of the people. The novels are most likely popular today, because ever since the time of the depression, America has lost it?s dream. The forces that oppose it are magnanimous and the people of today can still relate to the disappointment of the characters in the two novels. The two plots are classics because they could take place today, and the characters would have the same feelings. It is almost as though America has drifted back into an era of materialism and utter disregard for life. The theme that unites the stories is eternal. The American Dream is lost and no matter how hard one would try, one can never achieve it again. Hemingway and Fitzgerald both portray characters who lost everything, their happiness, their dreams, and their lives in a way to define the feelings of isolation and bitterness that were experienced by the nation at the conclusion of the war.


Burg, David A. The Great Depression- An Eyewitness History. Harper: New York, 1996

Cronon, E. David. A History: Politics, Depression, and War 1925-1945. U. of Wisconsin: Wisconsin, 1994

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Simon&Schuster Inc.:New York, 1925

Heath, D. Heath Anthology of American Literature. Heath D.C.: Lexington MA, 1990

Hemingway, Ernest M. The Sun Also Rises. Charles Shcribner?s Sons: New York, 1926

Stein, Richard Conrad. The Roaring Twenties. West House: New York, 1994


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