How is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway representative of the Lost Generation? What are the specific examples in the text?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hemingway tells the story in A Moveable Feast of how Gertrude Stein came up with the term "the Lost Generation."

She had some ignition trouble with the old Model T Ford she then drove and the young man who worked in the garage and had served in the last year of the war had not been adept, or perhaps had not broken the priority of other vehicles, in repairing Miss Stein’s Ford. Anyway he had not been sérieux and had been corrected severely by the patron of the garage after Miss Stein’s protest. The patron had said to him, “You are all a génération perdue.” “That’s what you are. That’s what you all are,” Miss Stein said. “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

It's telling that the phrase originates from Stein's dissatisfaction with having to wait for her car to be fixed, with her personal requirements for service, and it is characteristic that she effortlessly conflates this petty annoyance with the spirit of an entire generation. It was the sort of generalization that Hemingway was purposely trying to remove from his writing. Stein meant that the generation that had served in the First World War, and in particular the set of expatriate artists she entertained in her Paris apartment, were disoriented, or wandering aimlessly. I don't think Hemingway agreed, exactly. Hemingway's memoir, on the one hand, tells the story of his wanderings in Paris in the 20s, but on the other, it tells the story of how he came to master the craft of writing. Hemingway writes about wandering, but (at least in his memoir) there is a destination, which is his becoming a great writer.

Examples abound. Take, for instance, the beginning of the book, chapter one, "A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel." In this chapter Hemingway describes the squalor of the his neighborhood in Paris, the bad cafe with its "sour smell of drunkenness" and his freezing room at the top of the hotel, and his daily appraisal of the state of other chimneys on the street to determine if it was worthwhile to spend money on firewood that day. These details, which speak to his poverty, underline his commitment to his craft. In that first chapter, he tells about writing in a cafe, his engagement with the story he was writing (a story about Michigan), and about how a girl who comes to the cafe offers some inspiration. As Hemingway writes, he thinks of her:

I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil. Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself and I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St. James. I was tired of rum St. James without thinking about it. Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone. I hope she’s gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad.

The passage suggests that, if Hemingway is lost, he is lost in the act of creation. The Paris Hemingway knew was an incredibly fertile place for artists and intellectuals -- his comment, "All Paris belongs to me" -- is an expression of the artistic freedom he feels. And there is a sense in the writing of nostalgia or a longing for past times -- Hemingway at the end of his life, remembering the start of his journey, perhaps wishing he could be "lost" again.

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