Analysis of Literary Works with Themes of the Lost Generation and the American Dream

WWI had devastating effects all around Europe and America and left the young population growing up during that time questioning life and everything it encompasses. There had to be more to life than just war and death; there had to be more than to just follow orders blindly and do what was expected. Young adults, in the 1920’s era, were uncertain of what to do with their future, but knew they were not willing to settle down and continue as it was done in the past; those young adults are known as the Lost Generation.

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 A generation that was searching, but not sure of what they were searching for, where they were supposed to look for it, and how they were supposed to achieve it. Authors like Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald emerged during that time, expressing their emotions and feelings of a post-war society in their literary work. Novels like The Sun Also Rises, and The Great Gatsby became well known all over the world and later are part of historically literary greatest works. Characters in their novels, the relationships, and themes are drawn from their personal life experiences and are influenced by war and the aftermath just as the authors were in real life. Honor and nationalism didn’t mean much anymore and things that were important before WWI, ideals and passion to strive finding ones’ own identity in society, are lost. 

A disillusioned ideal of how to find happiness was growing in Europe and in America. In America, during the same time frame the philosophy of the American dream started to grow and the thought behind it was full of good intentions, ideals and vision of a future that anybody can get out of a low life state and make something out of their life. The American dream was raising to the challenge and make a better and happier life for yourself and your family, working hard to get the job that you want, and being a morally upstanding citizen, that your family can be proud of. But with the growing despondent feelings in the years after WWI the lost generation has tainted the ideals of the American dream. Relaxed social values, corruption, and money that was earned through illegal measures had negative underlining influences on the meaning of the American dream. Fulfillment of one’s own happiness was still in the forefront, but it was achieved with whatever measures were deemed necessary. That said, if the sale of illegal alcohol was making a person happy and rich, then that’s what was done. Moral and regard for others was out the window, in order to achieve the disillusioned ideal of the American dream.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is famously known for being a lost generation-themed novel. It is influenced by Hemingway’s own experiences in the aftermath of WWI, although the book hardly mentions the war at all. The characters in the book are searching for exciting things to do, for entertainment, no matter the cost. Drunkenness and euphoria are part of the 1920’s era lost generation life style and the book illustrates all that. The main character Jake Barnes, a journalist, is living in Paris France. It is mentioned that he served in WWI and became impotent due to an injury during the war. The daily lives of Jake and his friends is characterized by living the typical life of the roaring 20’s, with a steady alcohol consumption, hanging out in bars in the Latin Quarters, escapades, parties, and a general carelessness.

 The main event in the whole book is when Jake travels together with his friend Bill Gorton to Spain to relax, and go fishing, and the city Pamplona to the festival of San Fermin. Together with Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn, and Lady Ashley, friends, who joined up with him, they take part in the festivities and spectacles of bullfighting. Though at the beginning of their adventure everything was fine, after days of partying and drinking and increasing tensions between them, due to jealousy, it comes to a fight between Jake and Robert. Brett Ashley, the woman of interest in this fight, is not interested in dealing with jealous men and takes off. Though Brett is married, she doesn’t care about her husband. She flirts with every man, drinks and wants to enjoy life. Jake Barnes moves on to San Sebastian to take a break from all the excitement of the festivities and fighting. He wants to just lay under the sun on the beach and relax while swimming in the ocean; take a breather. 

The licentious time in Pamplona, the excessive life style in Paris and the tranquil days spend in nature create a sharp contrast. Jake views life as it comes; everything that happens, is as it is. Nothing impresses him, and he is not too overly concerned about it either. Jake, Brett, and the other characters are a mirror image of the lost generation; they want it all. They want to have fun and party, they want to drink whenever they feel like it without any rules or regulations they must abide by, and they want to relax and do nothing. All that they want to achieve with or without money. If they don’t have it, they’ll figure out how to get it or how to get around it. 

The theme in the whole novel is a representation of post war futility, and Hemingway’s simple, and factual writing style enhances the lack of emotions and sensibility of the characters. Another lost generations themed novel is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The main character Jay Gatsby is a young man of a modest background who fell hopelessly in love with Daisy, a woman of high society and wealth. To break down the barrier of the social differences between them and win her for himself, he needs to become rich, and fast. With varies legal and illegal business adventures he manages to obtain enough money to be considered wealthy and is finally able to win over the woman of his dreams.

 Gatsby is blinded by his love for Daisy and holds on to this love by providing material things like the great mansion they live in and extravagant parties. After a series of bizarre coincidences and misunderstandings the novel ends in a bloody tragedy with Gatsby dead in the swimming pool. Like the characters in The Sun Also Rises, the characters of The Great Gatsby are living in the 1920’s era. The period of the lost generation and their dream of glitter and glory, richness and fame, and endless parties; the period of the roaring twenties.

 The misguided view of wealth and the disillusioned love story allude to the destructive power of that time and the fleetingness of everything on earth, including money. Money is perceived as something that brings happiness and gratification, health and beauty. It opens the door to paradise and allows the fulfillment of the wildest dreams. But, in reality, money is not everything; being rich is not the last stop on a train to happiness. The power of money can turn into cold calculation where everything in life, including people, are measured and valued by their wealth and wealth only. Jay Gatsby displays that throughout the novel. He is the personification of a man, who rises out of mediocre circumstances into a self-made business man, marries the love of his life and has everything he ever wanted. Money has made it possible to achieve his dreams, at least that’s how it seems. The achievement of his dreams turns out be rather superficial, not bringing the happiness that was so hoped for, but rather a muddle of reality and illusion.

Conclusion

The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises are novels that express the authors’ bitterness of the aftermath of WWI and the discontent in the fictitious ideals of the American Dream and how they play out in society. Hemingway and Fitzgerald reveal the problems of the 1920’s respectively of their own society with these novels. They include biographical features to increase the credibility and arrange corresponding characters to enhance understanding of the lost generations influence on the American dream. Mental and physical wounds caused by WWI, leading to the pursuit of material happiness and ultimately to the corruption of the American Dream are expressed with great truthfulness, minuteness, and vividness (Shen, 2012).

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Analysis of Literary Works with Themes of The Lost Generation and The American Dream. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved October 5, 2022 , from
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