WWI defined the lives and the souls of all people of the interwar years. That is, until another unthinkable tragedy happened: WWII.
The Lost Generation was the generation of youths who, born right before or right after 1900, came of age during the war. But the feeling of disillusionment they experience affected even younger people who never took part in the war.
The words most often used to describe this generation are disillusionment, rebellion and alienation.
This was a generation who entered the war with enthusiasm. Born at the end of the long 1800s – a century of peace, but in many ways also of stagnation – these young people thought that war was the right way to set things right. The way to revitalise a stuffy society that fed on itself and didn’t create anything new.
The war was everything but renewal.
It was death and illness. It was destruction and desolation.The Lost Generation was born right before or right after 1900, and came of age during WWI. But their disillusionment affected even younger people #history #AmericanHistory #EuropeanHistory Click To Tweet
The only thing that it effectively managed to do was destroying the trust and hoped these young people had for their fathers. The Lost Generation felt betrayed by all the old values and robbed of any future. There could be no future that rested on those old, useless values, but a different set of values was hard to see from where they stood.
Stripped of the past and of the future, what remained to this generation was the present, and they set out to enjoy it at its fullest, while they could.
The Lost Generation in the United States
In the United States, the Lost Generation refers more specifically to a group of young intellectuals and artists (writers, most of them), who fought in the war and felt the betrayal of their hopes sharply.
These young men and women were rebels who rejected everything they fathers had created. They didn’t believe in the capitalistic way of life, especially the brutal incarnation it was manifesting in America. They hated the consumer market that seemed petty and middle-class to them. Rejected the traditional gender role and enthusiastically embraced the rebellion of the New Woman and enjoyed a freer relation between men and women. They refused to abide by the accepted law. Openly against Prohibition, they consumed alcohol in speakeasies and private parties and enjoyed the modern, devil music.
The only thing they seemed to believe in was the present and the enjoyment of the present since the past was rotten and dead, and the future was blurry and uncertain, and probably not worth living.
It was in many respects, more of an intellectual stance than a general feeling. Most of American young people was occupied to enjoy one of the most prosperous moments in its history.
The Lost Generation in Europe
Or the Generation of the Trenches, as Europe called it. It refers to the young men and women who fought in the Great War and who lost a lot more than anyone had the right to demand of them.
The loss of lives was staggering. Entire villages in Europe lost most of their young male population. Even when both men and women who had served in WWI came home, they were not the same who left. Many (especially young men) had lost parts of their bodies and were going to be invalid for the rest of their lives.
But many men and women had wounds that weren’t visible and only lived in their minds and souls. Those wounds they also had to live with the rest of their life. Wounds that often were not acknowledge as such by anyone. Not even by themself.
The terrible experience of war chanced these youths forever. They could never trust their elders again, who they felt had created that devastation, and robbed them of any possible future.
These were young people educated at the very end of the Victorian era for a Victorian world. That world didn’t exist anymore after the war. And so they felt they lived in a world nobody had prepared them for, but the war had sucked away the strength and the will to create a new one.
On a larger scale, this transferred to all that generation, whether they had experienced the war or not. These young people had a general sense the life was senseless, and one would get as much fun as possible while they could because the world was ephemeral. Any success was ephemeral. Life itself was ephemeral.
Britannica – Lost Generation
ThoughtCo. – The Lost Generation and the Writers Who Described Their World
Jazz Age NY to Paris – Art and Literature in the Jazz Age: From New York to Paris
Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007
Perrish, Michael E., Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., New York, 1992
Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008
JOHN T. SHEA
Thanks for this, Sarah! It’s interesting now in the midst of a pandemic to recall a vastly worse pandemic a century ago, the so-called Spanish Flu, which infected 500 million people, a quarter of the world’s population, and killed about one in ten of those infected, 50 million people, about twice the toll in the recently ended WW1! Yet most accounts de-emphasise that pandemic, if they mention it at all. Will the current Coronavirus be similarly forgotten, perhaps much quicker?
I’m really quite shocked about the similarities between the 1918 pandemic and our own pandemic. One would think that there should be more differences one hundred years later. Though thanksfully, we won’t have that much dead.
But you know? I think the Spanish Flu had changed our lives in ways that we don’t really realise, because they were tangential. They happened because of the pandemic, but we don’t make the connection. I do think our pandemic will similarly change our lives substantially, but we won’t realise that the change came because of the pandemic.
That’s how history often happens, I think.
Nothing more agonizing than being deprived of hope and faith at the hands of values that had no meaning in the world that was changing. I felt really sorry for the lost generation or the generation of trenches as they are called. No wonder why this generation got disillusioned. Oh God can’t imagine how the atmosphere must have been on those days, mostly suffocating I suppose.
Thanks for a well-researched insight.
I agree. And I think that today, with this pandemic, we may understand them a little bit more. OUr world is changing no less than theirs did.
Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Such a sad way to look at life… It’s horrible what war does to people.
An A-Z of Faerie: Galno
Every time I watch and read about the experience of WWI, I’m shocked to think that we have forgotten most of it. One would think that such an experience would make humankind wiser.