The 1920s were years of prosperity and peace in America. This period, also known as the roaring twenties, is a decade that started with the end of the First World War and ended with the start of the great depression of the 1930s.
America came out of World War I victorious and prospered in its economic growth becoming the world’s strongest economy. In addition, there was widespread modernization and increased consumerism. The modernization made most Americans to shun their mostly traditional culture and started embracing the new culture.
The level of innovation increased in America and this led to rapid industrial growth, increased consumer demand and aspirations as well as marked changes in lifestyle. In this period, literature also flourished with artists employing different forms of literary works for different reasons and functions. Even though this period seemed to have great achievements, most Americans were disappointed in some aspects of their lifestyle and reacted in different ways.
Most American writers were disenchanted with the turn of events during this decade. Some of these events included modernization that led to abandonment of the traditional culture, consumerism, materialism, societal stratification, and racial discrimination. The modernization led to marked cultural and social changes in the lifestyles of the American people.
This made people to concentrate more on modernization, industrialization, development and wealth creation. The American people were divided into different classes depending on their economic achievements. Those who were not very successful became less significant in the society. Most American writers of this time were against materialism and this made them to be discouraged with the lifestyle that most of their fellow citizens had adopted.
Consequently, with the increase in economic growth the culture of the American people changed. There was clear cultural contrasts and conflict between modernism and traditionalism. Some were holding to the new cultural practices. On the other hand, others, represented by the American writers wanted to cling to their traditional culture. Those who were intellectuals in the society “were quick to expose the era’s hypocrisies” (Norton, Sheriff & Blight, 646). This issue made the writers to feel out of place in the society and they started to oppose any attempts of conforming to the new cultures.
Most of the Americans, especially the African Americans, expected the new era to end racial discrimination; however, this was not the case. Racial discrimination against the Negros was common in America in the 1920s. Still, there were those people who believed in white supremacy and looked down on others. Some African Americans also felt inferior and struggled to embrace the culture and lifestyle of the white people. This did not please the Negro writers who wanted the African Americans to be proud of their culture and develop it.
There was also social stratification in the African American community, where three classes were distinct. The lower class African Americans were poor but liked their culture. The upper class Africans Americas were rich and wanted to emulate the lifestyle and culture of the white people. The middle class African Americans comprised of African elites and the majority of the African American writers. This middle class people discouraged racism and segregation; thus, this encouraged unity in the African American community.
The American writers expressed their discontentment to the situation in their country during this decade in varied ways. Some could not bear with the situation and decided to leave while others remained in the country and expressed their discouragement and disillusionment with what they were witnessing. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound fled America and sought refuge in Europe (Norton, Sheriff & Blight, 646).
They could not stand the materialism they witnessed and instead of facing it, they decided to run away from it. The writers who remained in the country include William Faulkner and Sinclair Lewis. These were novelists and used their writings to express their disillusionment with the kind of materialism they witnessed in America.
The discontentment also inspired the middle class African Americans to form a new generation. The 1920s was a period of artistic proliferation for these African Americans in what they called the Harlem Renaissance. This group of African Americans was proud of their African heritage and rejected the culture of the white people. Their expectation was to see an end of racial discrimination and white supremacy over them.
They strongly rose against these beliefs and practices. Therefore, they made their efforts to be felt not only in the United States, but also in the rest of the world. They used their literature to communicate their feelings and wants towards the white people as well as to the black people’s community (“Clash of Cultures” para. 8). Some of the African American writers who actively participated in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale, and Jessie Fauset among others.
In conclusion, World War I and the great recession of 1930s marked the boundaries of America’s 1920s history. This was a period of great economic growth and rapid industrialization in America. Even though America was successful then, its developments did not please some of its residents who held strongly to their traditional lifestyle.
Modernization, materialism and racism were common during this time. And “beneath the new era’s materialism, prejudice and ethnic tensions tainted the American Dream” (Norton, Sheriff & Blight, 650). This made some of the American writers to flee the country while others remained and used their literature to condemn the social, economic and political evils in their society.
“Clash of Cultures”. United States History. US Department of State, n.d. Web. December 7, 2010. http://countrystudies.us/united-states/history-92.htm
Norton, Marybeth, Sheriff, Carol, and Blight, David W. A people and a nation: a history of the United States since 1865: Volume 2. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning Inc., 2009. Print