The Moderns: 1914-1939

The Moderns:
Redefining the American Dream
“Men travel faster now, but I do not know if
they go to better things.”
-Willa Cather
Life during the early part of the 20th
Century was marked by tremendous
Each decade brought the new upheaval,
and each upheaval required a new
adjustment in attitude.
During this period of time, look for
answers to these questions:
What is the American Dream?
 What happened to the American
Dream in the
early twentieth century?
 In what ways did modernism
challenge tradition-especially in
what people valued in art and
War Changes Everything
World War I (the Great War) was one of the events that
changed the
American voice in fiction.
 The country lost its innocence
 Many Americans began to
question authority
(Modernist Movement)
- Disillusionment with
traditions that seemed to have become
spiritually empty.
The American Dream: Pursuit
of a Promise
American as a new Eden
 A belief in progress
 Triumph of the individual
America as a New Eden
America is a promised land of
beauty, unlimited resources, and
endless opportunities.
-The Great Gatsby
(F. Scott Fitzgerald) 1925
- Great wealth and pursuit of
pleasure had become ends
in themselves for many
- Gatsby was a self-made man
whose wealth has mysterious &
illegal origins.
- His extravagant gestures are in
pursuit of a dream.
A Belief in Progress
The American birthright in one
of ever-expanding opportunity.
Progress is a good thing.
We can optimistically expect life
to keep getting better & better.
Triumph of the Individual
The independent, self-reliant individual will
Everything is possible for the person who
places trust in his or her own powers and
Idea was championed by Ralph Waldo
Emerson who said, “Trust the universe and
trust yourself.”
A Crack in the World:
Breakdown of Beliefs and Traditions
The devastation of WWI & the economic crash a decade later
severely damaged the three tenets of the American Dream.
 Writers became skeptical of the New England Puritan
tradition & the gentility that
had been central to the literary ideal.
 Most writers came from New England,
where American started but
modernist writers came from
the South, the Midwest, and the West.
Two New Intellectual Theories
or Movements
 Psychoanalysis
Marxism and the Challenge to
Free Enterprise
Russia during WWI – Marxist revolution toppled &
murdered the anointed ruler, the czar.
Karl Marx’s socialistic beliefs powered the revolution
in 1917.
Karl Marx Believed…
The capitalist system could not be fixed and had to be
destroyed to make way for a classless society.
All property would be owned by everyone as a community and
people would receive equal benefits and rewards.
 Sounds great, right? However,
they followed the mantra:
“All men are equal, but some
men are MORE equal than others.”
 Hence, Animal Farm
Capitalism is Threatened
Some Americans believed that certain
elements of Marxism would provide
much-needed rights to workers.
Freud and the Unconscious
Vienna, Austria (1856-1939)
Sigmund Freud, the found of psychoanalysis
He said our actions were influenced by the
New understanding of human sexuality and the role it
plays in our unconscious thoughts.
His beliefs left little room for humans to have free will.
Unconscious Mind
A literary result of this study of psychoanalysis was a
narrative technique called stream of consciousness.
 Stories weren’t told chronologically
 Attempted to imitate the moment-by-moment flow
of a character’s perception & memories
James Joyce in Ulysses
 Katherine Anne Porter
 William Faulkner
At Home and Abroad:
The Jazz Age
Prohibition- In 1919, the Constitution was
amended to prohibit the manufacture and
sale of alcohol.
Prohibition Added the Following
Words to Our Vocabulary…
F. Scott Fitzgerald gave the
time period a new name:
The Jazz Age
The Jazz Age Continued…
1920- Women got the right to vote
 Gave women an opportunity to move into artistic,
intellectual, and social circles.
Expatriates Abroad
Many American writers & artists left
America to enjoy life to the fullest in Europe.
Living was cheap in Paris, the French Riviera, and Italy
Life was more exotic there
They could drink alcohol freely
American Expatriates were a hint that something had gone wrong
with the American Dream
American Expatriates
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(& wife Zelda)
 Ernest Hemingway
 Ezra Pound
 Gertrude Stein
Grace Under Pressure:
The New American Hero
Ernest Hemingway was
the most influential of
the post-WWI writers.
 He strove for plain style; reduced
literary style to
the bare bones-reflects
his past as a news reporter for the
Kansas City Star
 Introduced a new kind of heroThe Hemingway Hero
Hemingway Hero
Man of action (warrior, tough competitor)
 Has a code of honor, courage, & endurance
 He shows “grace under pressure”
 He has thorough disillusionment-at the
mysterious center of the universe lay
nothing at all-this is Hemingway’s
own philosophy.
 Belief in self: decency, bravery,
competence, and skillfulness.
Modern Voices in Poetry:
A Dazzling Period of Experimentation
The last traces of British influence were washed away and the
American writers began a period of experimentation.
Many writers went to Europe to soak up artistic influences
 Influenced by modernist artists like Matisse & Picasso
Period of Experimentation
Poets created works that invited new ways of
seeing and thinking (Ezra Pound,
T.S. Eliot, & E.E. Cummings)
- Symbolism
- Imagism
Voices of American Character
Many American poets rejected the revolution of
modernism and stayed home in America.
Their individual accents revealed the regional diversity
and character of American life.
 Example: Robert Frost’s
poems embodied “New England
speech” and subjects.
The Harlem Renaissance
In the 1920s, a group of black poets focused on the
unique contributions of African-American culture to
Poetry based its rhythms on spirituals and jazz and blues
based its diction on the street talk of the ghettos.
Why is it called the Harlem
Geographical center of the movement was in Harlem, a
New York City neighborhood.
People here were too long ignored, patronized, or otherwise
shuffled to the margins of American art.
When this poetry joined with music echoing from New
Orleans, Memphis, & Chicago, it became part of the Jazz Age.
The American Dream Revised
Writers of this era experimented boldly with forms and
subject matter.
Also tried to find answers to the following questions:
Who are we?
Where are we going?
What values should guide us on the search for our human
 This echoes the philosophy of humanism in the European
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