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The Modern Age: Literature from 1900 to 1950

A presentation on the literature of the first half of the 20th century.
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alexis judith

on 24 March 2011

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Transcript of The Modern Age: Literature from 1900 to 1950

The Modern Age: 1900-1950 The 20th century began with the end of an era. The end of the Victorian era. But with that, also came change. The world was becoming more technologically advanced. People were asking for more rights and we suddenly began wondering more about ourselves. It was also a time for tragedy, violence and death. These moments though, were captured in time in one of the few mediums that withstands time: literature. The Time Period The first half of the 20th century, from 1900 to 1950, can best be described as a time of change. It is argued that no period of time changed more than those first 50 years of the last century. Countries that were once ruled by the empires of the past, were suddenly independent. People who were once ruled by kings were suddenly given new governments. And people who once could not vote, suddenly could. The following is a list of the ten most important events of the 1900 to 1950, and how they impacted literature. 1) Industrialism: This concept became one that our world had already been introduced too, but by the early 1900's, to a new level. More and more factories popped up in cities and more and more people began working for them. This changed literature because the way of life people were used too changed too. 2) Post-Impressionism/Cubism: While this was an art movement in Europe, it also highly affected literature and the world. People began seeing the world in a new way. These art pieces-and all cultural pieces including literature and music- highly showed how the world was thinking differently and changing. "The White Peacock" by D.H. Lawrence is said to be an example of post-impressionistic literature. 3) World War One: By 1914, the first World War had broke out. The world was in mourning of its losses, and in anger against its enemies. Literature highly changed during this time, and trench poets began emerging. One of the most regarded and remembered "trench poem" is Flander's Fields, by John McCrae. 4) Women's Rights: During the first World War, woman began showing their strength and helping in place of the fighting men. This lead to the Women's Rights movement. All over the world, women began fighting for their right to vote. The date women recieved the vote, is different in many countries-but in Canada, 1919 was the year all women received the vote-except for Quebec, who received the vote in 1940. Female authors like Nellie McClung not only championed for the effort, but also had their ideas reflect in their writings. 5) New Political Parties: During the early 1900's, the forms of government kept in place for years were being changed. In Russia, the Russian Revolution occured and the Bolshevik party came into power. In Italy and Germany, both countries suddenly had dictators (Mussolini and Hitler, respectively) and China became communist. This change shocked the democratic world and would become much more important in later years. Writers like Hugh McLennan and George Orwell showed their viewings on these issues, in their writing. 8) Spanish Civil War: While many countries were dealing with political changes, many countries were also facing civil war. Spain, was one of the them. And this war was not captured in literature better than in Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls". 9) World War Two: Because of Hitler's unethical and immoral ways, the world went to war for a second time, in 1939. Just like in the first World War, authors were influenced. But they were not just intrigued by the war, but the anti-semitism and Holocaust, as well. Writers like A.M. Klein (who wrote about Anti-Semitism in his poem, "Autobiographical"), again were influenced. 6) The Great Depression: On October 29th, 1929-the Wall Street Market crashed. For the decade to come, everyone would be scrapping up money to survive and hope to live on. Many people lost jobs and many dreamed of going to new places for new things. John Steinbeck wrote about doing so in "The Grapes of Wrath". 10) Nuclear Age: Just before the Second World War fully come to a close in the summer of 1945, the Americans bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima with nuclear atom bombs. The devastation was horrifying. It also brought upon a new fear of this happening everywhere. Many books to follow centered around a nuclear holocaust, including George Orwell's, "1984". 7) Prohibition: After the celebrations of World War One, prohibition-the banning of alcohol-came into play. Yet despite this, people began to party more and even drink more, during the "Roaring Twenties". F. Scott Fitzgerald's books like "The Great Gatsby" capitalize on this theme. So how would you characterize "The Modern Age"? The Modern Age began as a time of new ideas, hope, creativity and curiousity. Then it became fearful, violent, but hardworking. Pride and fun suddenly became seen-yet was quickly replaced by struggle and again, fear. Fear became seen throughout the rest of those 50 years, again with violence-but also with anger and mourning. The Modern Age began with high hopes, but ended with seemingly crushed dreams. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Creator of the Flapper F.Scott Fitzgerald, with his wife, Zelda "An author ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterwards."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald In the middle of the first half of the 20th century, one particular author didn't just write about the world around him-his writing INFLUENCED the world around him. Few authors have the privilege of saying they have done so. The writer of "The Great Gatsby" and "The Beautiful and The Damned", F. Scott Fitzgerald, can count himself as one. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 24th, 1896, he spent 4 years at Princeton University, but never gained a degree. Although a published amateur playwright and author, he was never a prolific sutdent. So by his 5th year, in late 1917, he enlisted in the army. While in his 1st year in the military, Fitzgerald finished his first novel. At the time, his editor told him to make revisions. During that time, he got a job at an ad agency in New York City. Unfortunetly, he hated the city and his job and moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota. But not long after, he got the news he needed: his revised book, "This Side of Paradise", was being published Born in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 24th, 1896, he spent 4 years at Princeton University, but never gained a degree. Although a published amateur playwright and author, he was never a prolific sutdent. So by his 5th year, in late 1917, he enlisted in the army. While in his 1st year in the military, Fitzgerald finished his first novel. At the time, his editor told him to make revisions. During that time, he got a job at an ad agency in New York City. Unfortunetly, he hated the city and his job and moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota. But not long after, he got the news he needed: his revised book, "This Side of Paradise", was being published
Within the year, Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" sold 40,000 copies and many began calling Fitzgerald-an avid partier-"the premier analyst of the American flappers".* Fitzgerald began attracting lots of attention-even from movie studios. His books and short stories appealed to both the flapper generation-who he portrayed in his books- and middle class, alike. Fitzgerald was becoming not just a celebrated author, but a celebrated trend setter, too. Fitzgerald began considering himself an expert on flappers, and a trendsetter for the culture. Yet, this was during the 1920's. The Prohibition Era, where some considered flappers to be "a new and devastating type of girl whose movements, thoughts and actions-to say nothing of the deed-have become matters of national importance".* As the 20's went on though, both Fitzgerald and flappers did not seem to leave center stage. In 1922, Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and the Damned" was published. It was followed by "The Great Gatsby" and "Tender is the Night". But as his popularity grew, the Great Depression also loomed and Fitzgerald's flapper era was coming to a close.

As the Roaring Twenties died down, Fitzgerald's demons began showing. His drinking became heavier and the economy became poorer. On October 29th, 1929, the day forever known as "Black Tuesday", shook the world. Wall Street had topped over and Fitzgerald's era had ended. The "Dirty Thirties", had begun. Fitzgerald released his next novel, "Tender is the Night" and while it had rave reviews, sales were poor. His wife since 1920, who he dedicated many of his books too, Zelda, was sick. In effort to help, he took a well paying but vanity job as a screen writer at the film company, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), in 1937. But in 1940, at 44 years old, with his last book still unfinished, he past away of a heart attack. F. Scott Fitzgerald's last novel, the appropriately named "The Last Tycoon", was still published. The man who had once inspired an entire generation still lived on. Excerpt from "The Great Gatsby"

"The relentless beating heat was beginning to confuse me and I had a bad moment there before I realized that so far his suspicions hadn't alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world, and the shock made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parellel discovery less than an hour before-and it occured to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the diffrence between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgiveably guilty-as if he had got some poor girl with child. " (118)

-The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Analysis: This small paragraph from the novel, "The Great Gatsby", written in 1926, explains how one character came to the realization that his wife is has been cheating on him. In the time of the 1920's, while this was common-it was still frowned upon, and generally not told to your spouse. In this paragraph, F. Scott Fitzgerald makes you feel for the character and be genuinely heartbroken for him. Moreso, he makes you wonder why he would feel so guilty-when it was his wife who committed teh crime. Fitzgerald's "The Greay Gatsby" does this through out the novel. You are always sympathetic towards characters and wondering why they would feel the way they did. "The Great Gatsby", by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is truly a well written book. Conclusion: The Modern Age In conclusion, literature was highly affected by the events of the first half of the 20th century. The events throughout the 1st 50 years impacted how authors wrote and how we interpret their work. Each event signicant to those first 50 years had an equally significant book with it. Each characteristic of the time period shined through, like fear during the 1940's in George Orwell's "1984". F. Scott Fitzgerald, a highly influential author of the time period, carried these ideas into his own books which reflected the Roaring Twenties. Literature of the early 20th century was highly affected by the Modern Age.
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