Story Time with Mr. Beat – The Lost Generation Writers
Here’s the story of the writers, poets, and artists who came of age during World War One, commonly referred to as The Lost Generation.
Once upon a time there was city, named Paris, France. During the 1920s, lots of Americans moved there to escape institutionalized racism and the associated race riots, xenophobia, censorship, materialism, and Prohibition. Perhaps most importantly, they escaped there because they could get a lot more stuff for their money due to a strong American dollar compared to a weaker French franc.
Many of these American expatriates, or people living outside their home country, were writers and artists. They felt like they had more artistic freedom there than the United States. Perhaps the most famous of this group was a writer named Ernest Hemingway. He wrote a book called The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, the book is about a group of American expatriates who travel from Paris to watch the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, among other things. At the beginning of the book, Hemingway quoted his friend and fellow writer Gertrude Stein, who called him and his friends “The Lost Generation.” Stein herself apparently heard the term from someone else, but regardless, from this point forward the writers who came of age during World War One widely became known as The Lost Generation.
All of these writers were American. While Hemingway, Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T.S. Eliot were among the most famous associated with this group, other authors and artists that get lumped in include James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, Isadora Duncan, and Alan Seeger. Even composers like Aaron Copland get associated with the group.
The Lost Generation writers often wrote about exaggerated experiences from their own lives. Generally these experiences revolved around World War One and the years following it. They
used common themes in their writing such as the pointing out the ridiculously frivolous and materialistic lifestyles of the very rich, the breakdown of traditional gender roles, or the death of the American dream. Perhaps no novel better demonstrates all of the themes than the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925.
Why were they called a lost generation? Perhaps it was the general lack of purpose or ambition caused by having our their hopes and dreams crushed by the war. Having seen pointless death and destruction on a wide scale, many of them had lost faith in the more traditional way of life. Because of this, some became careless with their actions, not setting goals or working toward something great.
Eventually, the term Lost Generation referred to ALL Americans who came of age experiencing The Great War. Basically, we’re talking Americans born between 1883ish and 1900ish. It’s through the art, though, we feel like we really get to know who this generation was and what they truly felt while going through such a stressful and anxious time.