Thesis: The 1920s and the 1950s were times of economic prosperity, technological advancements, and increasing conformity as people started to become enamored with a new way of life. Conformity and disillusionment after the world wars, seen in both eras, were regarded negatively by influential writers and poets. While life during these times was good for many Americans, critics expressed their increasing discontentment with the "New America" and the conformity that came with it, by speaking and publishing their views to the world....

The 1920s (The Lost Generation)

These critics did not aim to reform, but to isolate themselves from the evils they saw existing in their worlds. They believed that America no longer provided individuals with pathways they could follow to achieve personal fulfillment.

Causes of Discontentment:

  • World War 1
    • Critics found the aftermath and the return to "business as usual" as harsh and unnerving
    • Watched America fall back into its obsession with materialism and consumerism--believed that thousands of Americans had died in vain
    • War fought for business and rich class, not the people
    • "The Lost Generation" refers to people who witnessed the war and the return to "business first" that followed
  • Poverty
    • The Middle class may have prospered during this time, but there were still millions of families who lived below the poverty line and millions more who fluctuated above and below it frequently
  • American Society
    • Thought society lacked idealism and individualism
    • Americans were conforming with new technology and ideas
    • Clash of ideals
      • Scopes Monkey Trial
      • Religion v. Science
The Lost Generation/Debunkers:
  • Isolated themselves from American society (many went to Paris)
  • Art was the only way they could express themselves
  • Some famous critics during this time period (below)
Ernest Hemingway "A Farewell to Arms"
Ernest Hemingway "A Farewell to Arms"

T.S. Eliot "The Wasteland" and "Hollow Men"
T.S. Eliot "The Wasteland" and "Hollow Men"

F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby"
F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby"

Sinclair Lewis- "Babbit" and "Main Street"
Sinclair Lewis- "Babbit" and "Main Street"

H.L. Mencken- criticized democracy and religion
H.L. Mencken- criticized democracy and religion

Shows Ernest Hemingway and other members of the Lost Generation who isolated themselves in Paris, Ernest Hemingway wrote the Influential novel A Farewell To Arms, which criticized WW1.

The 1950s (The Beat Generation)

The Beat were the harshest and most influential critics of 1950s America. As writers and poets, they criticized the conformity and sterility of America, and advocated for a more "free" lifestyle. They laid the foundation for much of the cultural revolution (the Hippies) that occurred in the sixties.

Causes of Discontentment:
  • Era of Conformity
    • "Cookie Cutter" houses
    • Suburbs
    • Everyone had to have the newest technology-every one getting TVs, Cars, etc.
    • People want to fit it
  • The Cold War
    • "Darkening Shadow"
    • Constant threat of attack from Soviet missiles
  • Women's role
    • Not a good place for women in the workroom
    • Women not always treated well
  • Division between Generations
    • The "old generation" did not like the youth culture (Rock and Roll music, etc.)
    • Young generation felt restricted by old ideals
    • Beats generally appealed to the younger generations

Some Famous Critics:
Jack Kerouac
external image jack_kerouac.jpg
Often considered the most influential beat poet. His book, On the Road, inspired many and was considered the "bible" of the beat generation.
Allen Ginsberg

external image 8_aginsberg.jpg
Wrote Howl, which criticized conformity and many other aspects of 50s life.
"invincible suburbs!...demonic industries!" (quote from this famous poem)
J.D. Salinger
external image j-d-salinger.jpg
The Catcher in the Rye. Holden says "I don't understand boring guys. I really don't." Highlights that these critics valued individualism!

Clip- The Beat Generation:


  • Both the 1920s and the 1950s had underlying problems, but they were masked by the "glamour" of American life during this time

  • Critics highlighted these unseen issues
  • Critics especially vilified the conformity of American Culture, they thought that people weren't being individual
  • Overall, critics provided an interesting contrast with the mainstream ideas presented in each of these eras.