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Many historians have characterized the period b/n the 2 world wars as the US-s' traumatic "coming of age," despite the fact that U.S. direct involvement was relatively brief (1917-1918) & its casualties many fewer than those of its European allies & foes. John Dos Passos expressed America's postwar disillusionment in the novel Three Soldiers” (1921), when he noted that civilization was a vast edifice of sham, & the war was its fullest & most ultimate expression.

Western youths were rebelling, angry & disillusioned with the savage war, the older generation they held responsible, & difficult postwar economic conditions that, ironically, allowed Americans with dollars -- like writers F.S.Fitzgerald, E.Hemingway, G.Stein, & E.Pound - to live abroad handsomely on very little money. Intellectual currents, particularly Freudian psychology & to a lesser extent Marxism, implied a "godless" world view & contributed to the breakdown of traditional values. Americans abroad absorbed these views & brought them back to the US where they took root, firing the imagination of young writers & artists. W. Faulkner, f.e., a 20th-century American novelist, employed Freudian elements in all his works, as did virtually all serious American fiction writers after WW I.

Despite outward gaiety, modernity, & unparalleled material prosperity, young Americans of the 1920s were "the lost generation" - so named by literary portraitist Gertrude Stein. Without a stable, traditional structure of values, the individual lost a sense of identity. The secure, supportive family life; the familiar, settled community; the sustaining sense of patriotism; moral values inculcated by religious beliefs & observations -- all seemed undermined by WW I & its result.

Lost Generation, a group of expatriate American writers residing primarily in Paris during the 1920s & 1930s. The group was given its name by the American writer Gertrude Stein, who, in a conversation with Hemingway, used an expression to refer to expatriate Americans bitter about their WW I (1914-1918) experiences & disillusioned with American society. Hemingway later used the phrase as an epigraph for his novel “The Sun Also Rises” (1926). The "Lost Generation" defines a sense of moral loss or aimlessness apparent in literary figures during the 1920s. WW I seemed to have destroyed the idea that if you acted virtuously, good things would happen. Many good, young men went to war & died, or returned home either physically or mentally wounded, & their faith in the moral guideposts that had earlier given them hope, were no longer valid...they were "Lost." The "LG-n" was said to be disillusioned by the large number of casualties of the WW I, pessimistic of the notions of morality & propriety held by their elders, & ambivalent about 19th-C. gender ideals. It was somewhat popular among people of this generation to spend large amounts of time in Europe, to complain that all topics worth treating in a literary work had already been covered, & to argue that American artistic culture lacked the sophistication of Europe. This "generation" was also involved with the beginning of jazz.

William Faulkner(1897-1962) Born to an old southern family, he was raised in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lived most of his life. F. created an entire imaginative landscape, Yoknapatawpha County, mentioned in numerous novels, along with several families with interconnections extending back for generations. Yoknapatawpha County, with its capital, "Jefferson", is closely modeled on Oxford, Mississippi, & its surroundings. F. re-creates the history of the land & the various races -- Indian, African-American, Euro-American, & various mixtures -- who have lived on it. An innovative writer, F. experimented brilliantly with narrative chronology, different points of view & voices (including those of outcasts, children, & illiterates), & a rich & demanding baroque style built of extremely long sentences full of complicated subordinate parts. The best of F.'s novels include The Sound & the Fury” (1929) & “As I Lay Dying” (1930), 2 modernist works experimenting with viewpoint & voice to probe southern families under the stress of losing a family member; Light in August” (1932), about complex & violent relations b/n a white woman & a black man; & Absalom, Absalom!” (1936), perhaps his finest, about the rise of a self-made plantation owner & his tragic fall through racial prejudice & a failure to love. Most of these novels use different characters to tell parts of the story & demonstrate how meaning resides in the manner of telling, as much as in the subject at hand. The use of various viewpoints makes F. more self-referential, or "reflexive," than Hemingway or Fitzgerald; each novel reflects upon itself, while it simultaneously unfolds a story of universal interest. F.'s themes are southern tradition, family, community, the land, history & the past, race, & the passions of ambition & love. He also created 3 novels focusing on the rise of a degenerate family, the Snopes clan: The Hamlet” (1940), The Town” (1957), & The Mansion” (1959). He was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Lit-re. F.'s writing is often criticized as being dense, meandering & difficult to understand due to his heavy use of such literary techniques as symbolism, allegory, multiple narrators & points of view, non-linear narrative, & especially stream of consciousness. Dos Passos, John Roderigo, 1896–1970, American novelist, b. Chicago, grad. Harvard, 1916. He subsequently studied in Spain & served as a WW I ambulance driver in France & Italy. In his fiction, Dos Passos is said to have mingled the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser with the modernism of James Joyce. His 1st successful novel, Three Soldiers” (1921), belonged to the group of socially conscious novels of disillusionment that appeared after the war. With Manhattan Transfer” (1925) his major creative period began. Intertwining accounts of a succession of unrelated characters, the novel presents a composite picture of the meaninglessness & decadence of the life of the typical early 1920s New Yorker. In his finest achievement, the trilogy U.S.A. (1937), composed of The 42nd Parallel” (1930), 1919” (1932), & The Big Money” (1936), he developed the kaleidoscopic technique introduced in Manhattan Transfer”.

The world depression of the 1930s affected most of the population of the United States. Workers lost their jobs, and factories shut down; businesses and banks failed; farmers, unable to harvest, transport, or sell their crops, could not pay their debts and lost their farms. Midwestern droughts turned the "breadbasket" of America into a dust bowl. Many farmers left the Midwest for California in search of jobs, as vividly described in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). At the peak of the Depression, one-third of all Americans were out of work. Soup kitchens, shanty towns, and armies of hobos -- unemployed men illegally riding freight trains -- became part of national life. Many saw the Depression as a punishment for sins of excessive materialism and loose living. The dust storms that blackened the midwestern sky, they believed, constituted an Old Testament judgment: the "whirlwind by day and the darkness at noon."

The Depression turned the world upside down. The United States had preached a gospel of business in the 1920s; now, many Americans supported a more active role for government in the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Federal money created jobs in public works, conservation, and rural electrification. Artists and intellectuals were paid to create murals & state handbooks. These remedies helped, but only the industrial build-up of World War II renewed prosperity. After Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, disused shipyards and factories came to bustling life mass-producing ships, airplanes, jeeps, & supplies. War production and experimentation led to new technologies, including the nuclear bomb. Witnessing the first experimental nuclear blast, Robert Oppenheimer, leader of an international team of nuclear scientists, prophetically quoted a Hindu poem: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."


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