Lost Generation: Cause and Benefits Essay

Lost Generation / WWI / Montparnasse / America

Essay Topic:

The revelation of the literatural significance of the term the “Lost Generation” as a group of famous and respected writers.

Essay Questions:

What is the definition of the term “Lost Generation”?

Who are the main representatives of the Lost Generation?

Why did Montparnasse become the place where the Lost Generation tried to escape the spiritual emptiness of the post-war American culture?

Thesis Statement:

According to Jill Tripodi and Jackie Gross it was the metropolitan culture that was so appealing to the representatives of the Lot Generation; they needed a culture in which all the values, backgrounds and beliefs had the right to exist.


Lost Generation: Cause and Benefits Essay

o Introduction

o Main representatives

o Montparnasse

o Conclusion


“-"It's great, hey? It's a feast, Paris."

-"Yes, I said, "but it's a sort of moveable feast, isn't it?

It leaves you with memories so powerful that you can never

really forget them. They stay with you forever”.

From Satterthwait’s “Masquerade”

1. Introduction

It is common knowledge that the term “Lost Generation” introduced by Gertrude Stein is generally used to define a group of people who left America for France in the years after the First World War. People belonging to this group were not ordinary people for they were American artists and writers who were so sadly impressed by the entire set of events, which occurred during the WWI. This disenchanting experience gave birth to an enormous desire to have another place to live in. The disappointment of these people made them relocate in Paris, Montparnasse, France. American culture and its “mutation” during the war changed the attitude of these writers and artist towards anything American. So, the 1920’s became the period when there was no other way for this group of people than to find their shelter in France. The Lost Generation rebelled against the new nature of American life, society and culture as America converted into a “business arena” where money was the most important thing for each society member. America was a slave of business and creative people could not find their place in it, as they did not have the literary freedom they needed so much. According to Jill Tripodi and Jackie Gross it was the metropolitan culture that was so appealing to the representatives of the Lot Generation; they needed a culture in which all the values, backgrounds and beliefs had the right to exist. America in its 1920’s was the country of white protestant’s values and nothing else was taken into consideration.

5. Main representatives

The American culture protested against new way of writing that the representatives of the Lost Generation proposed and so it tried to dictate them the subject, the direction and the style of writing. These generation rejected American materialism and was searching more “spiritual food” for their works. A lot of famous and respected writers joined this group called the Lost Generation: John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Erza Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle, Hart Crane, Ford Maddox Ford, Zelda Fitzgerald and others. They all were a generation of the “purest sense” and their emotional responses to the changes in the world around them were very alike. By the end of the war they were completely irritated by the numerous senseless patriotic slogans of the senseless war that too so many priceless lives. And Paris promised freedom, excitement, love and inspiration. The majority of these people got to Montparnasse, Paris through volunteering and obtained the status of American gentlemen volunteers.

It must be said that Ernest Hemingway was the informal leader of the Lost Generation for he was the one who helped all the other authors to acquire the naturalistic technique in writing. The reason he became an integral part of these generation was because the WWI influenced him irreversibly in the literary sense. He rejected the pathos of the American culture of that time with is self-proclaimed heroes telling people about what glory and honour is and American’s Protestantism that was not accepted by his new perception of the world. It can be easily seen in his works what a tremendous impact the WWI had over him: Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, Big Two Hearted River and others resembled the disillusionment of the post-war period. He tried to give every reader the notion of what war really was. He wanted to show what life back then truly was and his goal was to make the reader feel the hero of the novel:

”From the time he had gotten down off the train and the baggage man had thrown his pack out of the open car door things had been different. Seney was burned, he knew that. He hiked along the road, sweating in the sun, climbing to cross the range of hills that separated the railway from the pure plains” (from Big Two Hearted River).

John Dos Passos also wrote the novel that was the reflection of the values of the Lost Generation. His novel “Manhattan” resembled a dull, pessimistic, and grey-colored life of the greatest American city. This was not just his personal view of the American social life but the fact of treating the whole American culture without any acceptance.

Scott Fitzgerald was not an exception either. His famous “Tender in the night” told the world about the disillusionment of all the writers belonging to the Lost Generation: “This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer...See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes….another Empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation”.

It was for the Lost Generation that the world and America got their most prominent literature works because this generation became a major literary source of the pos-WWI era. This group of writers qualitatively changed the existing writing style and came up with something absolutely new: a new way of expression which included symbolism that in its turn left the Victorian style far behind giving the way to the modern literature. They changed the pattern of writing and created a completely transformed and positive attitude towards the American culture.

6. Montparnasse

Montparnasse became the place were the Lost Generation tried to escape the spiritual emptiness of the post-war American culture.

Montparnasse is a region of Paris known for having an extreme high concentration of talented people for each square inch. All types of creative people: artists, writers, sculptors came all over the world to find inspiration and freedom in this place. As it became the shelter of the Lost Generation it was also the place where such people as Manuel Ortiz de Zarate, Henri-Pierre Roche and Pablo Picasso were seen. Gertrude Stein was one of the brightest figures of Montparnasse. She was the one who opened the talents and guided them in their creative activity. She became the person who taught the Lost Generation how to make the best of the time of their “voluntary exile. She was the one who helped all these American writers to find a new style, their own idiom and unique writing techniques of emotional expression and therefore to develop as creative personalities. She explained them that they are the Lost Generation and they can gain a lot more from this “loss” than without it. And Montparnasse became the right place for these transformations…

The countless bars and cafes of Montparnasse, which was situated on the left bank of the river Seine, became the place of birth of ideas for numerous literary masterpieces. So, it became the place where wonderful American writers congregated and even more than that as it was their “voluntary exile” from the world that did not accept anything that went against its “old ways”.

Montparnasse was a place where many influential and famous people let their time pass by. Numerous artistic, musical and literature works that affected the whole globe in general and America with its innovation style can help to estimate the influence of that place and certain people. Montparnasse played one of the most important parts in the history of literature as it became the “headquarter” of the Lost Generation and the place of the ideas for the most brilliant masterpieces of the mankind which affected the life of ordinary people socially, culturally and even economically providing new patterns of living for the stereotyped thinking of the human minds. The Lost Generation brought many cultural endowments to American culture: “The great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The sun also rises”, “The old man and the sea” by Ernest Hemingway and many others.

Montparnasse also became the birthplace of the Dada. Dada gave the direction for the development of the literature creations of the Lost Generations. Dada was the: “ “nada hail nada full of nada” of Hemingway, the sociological zero of Dos Passos, the romantic hopelessness of Fitzgerald, the "nothing again nothing" of Eliot…the implicit denial of society in Stein…”[Aldridge, 19]. Dada could be found in any work of the representatives of the Lost Generation and it was reflected into a kind of Lost Generation motto:” "If you must speak of Dada you must speak of Dada. If you must not speak of Dada you must still speak of Dada”[Aldridge, 19].

7. Conclusion

“You are all a lost generation” once said Gertrude Stein and she was right and no wonder that Hemingway used his quotation as an epigraph to his legendary novel “The sun also rises” for he felt it with all inside his heart. He and his followers had the same heart bleeding from the materialism of America of the 20th century.

Yes, maybe all theses people were a generation that lost many things but they found and brought to life something very important for each living person of that time – new values. These values established a completely new culture in America – called a cosmopolitan culture and owing to the outstanding works of the Lost Generation America’s society and culture started being recognized by the rest of the world as a unique, exclusive and potential culture.

Montparnasse became the “fresh air” which the Lost Generation so desperately needed and the contribution of this “fresh air” to the original country of the “victims” of the “voluntary exile” known as the Lost Generation is immense. The immortal works of the Lost Generation take us back to the post-WWI time and let us inhale the air and the atmosphere of changes and new perspectives that were born there.

“We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rat's feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar”

from "The Hollow Men"

by T.S.Eliot


8. Tripodi, Jill & Gross, Jackie “The Lost Generation”.

9. Aldridge John W. “After the Lost Generation: a critical study of the writers of two wars”/McGraw-Hill/1951.

10. Bayne, Nina “The Norton Anthology of American Literature”/New York/1994.

11. “Modernism and mystery: the curious case of the Lost Generation” /Journal article by Carolyn A. Durham/Twentieth Century Literature/ Vol. 49, 2003.

12. Montparnasse

13. Glassco, John “Memoirs of Montparnasse”/Penguin Books/1963.

14. Crunden, Perkins, George & Barbara ”The American Tradition in Literature”/McGraudill/1994.

15. Patterson, Gerard A. “Lost generation endures in left bank neighbourhood of Montparnasse”/2000.

16. - Writers of the Lost Generation/2003.


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