World War I
With tensions running very high between the major European powers, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife in Belgrade sparked the beginning of World War I. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire formed the Central Alliance against Great Britain, France, Russia, and later many other countries, waging a devastating war on a number of fronts. The United States remained neutral for much of the war, but anti-German sentiment increased when passenger and commercial ships with American interests began to be attacked and sunk, and when Great Britain produced a decoded telegram from the German foreign minister promising Mexico control of areas of the United States if it entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.
President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in April of 1917, and the American assistance on the Western front helped to overwhelm the Central Powers despite the Russian withdrawal from the war in the spring of 1918. By November of the same year, the Central Powers had been defeated, and in January Wilson delivered his idealistic “Fourteen Points” statement about international conflict resolution. Instead of adhering to Wilson’s ideas, however, the embittered Allied Powers signed punitive treaties with Germany, Austro- Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire by 1919 that left these countries divided and in severe debt. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles also set up the League of Nations, a body intended to resolve international disputes, but opposition in the United States Senate blocked American entry into the organization.
The Dawn of the Jazz Age
In the years following World War I, the United States was beginning to enjoy the optimism and economic boom characteristic of the 1920s. Massproduced goods and household technology were becoming available, and people were investing in the prosperous stock market. In the final period before the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting alcohol took effect in early 1920, jazz music was popular and the social scene was notoriously flamboyant, particularly in large cities like New York. The beginning of the Jazz Age was also an important period for women’s rights: women were increasingly involved in the social scene; they had a much larger presence in the workforce; and the Nineteenth Amendment, enacted in August of 1920, gave women the right to vote.
The literary movement of modernism is generally considered to have coincided with World War I, an event that caused many assumptions about the world to change drastically. Writers and artists across the western world, feeling that they could no longer express themselves in old forms, responded with experimental techniques that borrowed from a variety of other movements, most notably post-impressionism, which dealt with a simplification of form in the visual arts, and naturalism, which tended to present a deterministic universe that involved a brutal struggle for survival.
Modernism is most commonly associated with Europe, and the nucleus of modernist writers lived in Paris, where Fitzgerald later moved, and with the Bloomsbury group living in London. Perhaps the most influential modernist writer was James Joyce, an Irish author who became known for his efforts to deal with a multiplicity of viewpoints that lead to an “epiphany,” or sudden moment of truth and understanding, as well as his later use of the streamof- consciousness style. There was also, however, a group of American modernist writers, including Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos, from the “lost generation” of an age to fight in World War I. Although many of them lived in Paris at some point, these writers often approached the literary movement by dealing with American social and political themes and did not necessarily identify with European modernism.
A specifically American modernist identity is noticeable in This Side of Paradise , for example, when Amory mentions that he...
(The entire section is 2,248 words.)