Which concept most closely defined American society in the first half of the twentieth century?
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After World War I, there were many Americans who felt a certain malaise after realizing that the reasons for the great war were rather unsubstantial although millions were killed. Clearly, this war changed the American voice in fiction as there was a loss of optimism and innocence. Now, rather than idealism, literature of the early twentieth century reflected a certain cynicism. In short, there was a disbelief in old ideals and traditions.
Poetry was very expressive of this Post-War period. T. S. Eliot, an American, who gave up his citizenship and became a British citizen conveyed the disillusionment of many as in the last stanza of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," he writes,
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
One of the Modernists of this period, Ernest Hemingway captured the disillusionment of men in war. In his short story "In Another Country," he writes of wounded soldiers, one of them an American who has driven an ambulance for the Italians. This American is the narrator of the story, who speaks of the others with him who are wounded, and go for therapy. In the opening line of the story, he narrates,
In the fall the was was always there, but we did not go to it any more.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of the loss of tradition and the war's introduction of the new moral codes in America after the war during the Roaring Twenties. There is, indeed, a cynicism that prevails in Fitzgerald's work as he portrays the superficiality of the rich who make the acquisition of wealth an end in itself; a degradation of the true American dream.
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