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Post Ww1 American Literature Essay

1884 words - 8 pages

The Lost GenerationWhether they came before the war, discovered it on active duty, or were drawn to it by the hedonism and headiness of its salon and café society, the expatriated writers of post WWI Paris hold a prominent place in the history of American literature. Described by Gertrude Stein in the epigraph to Earnest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises as "a lost generation," the intellectuals, poets, and novelists who rejected the social and political conservatism of the 1920's America to revel in the less restrictive morality of post WWI Europe created a bohemian enclave. A counterculture flourished as the devalued French currency made for a favorable exchange rare against the American dollar, and with the lower cost of living came inexpensive printing. The openness of publishers gave choice to the young, unknown, and experimentalist writers who would become the architects of modernism. The absence of Victorian morale and structures, which so dominated the literature of previous decades, is indicative of the modern movement. In expressing themes of spiritual alienation, self-exile, and cultural criticism, the lost generation has left a distinct mark on intellectual history. Modernist literary innovations challenged traditional assumptions about writing. Employing style, form and meaning as a whole to illustrate the problems of modern life, Stein and Hemingway are the earliest and perhaps most influential writers in the development of modern American fiction. For Stein and Hemingway, structure was as equally important as content, and the two were inseparable.One of the most celebrated expatriates of her time, Stein once remarked that she had found in Paris the freedom and privacy to write and live as she pleased. Conservative in their habits, Stein and her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas lived the life of a modestly comfortable bourgeois couple, entertaining their friends and acquaintances, many of whom were the great and near-great artists of the time, to teas and dinners at their well publicized salon. The two decades between WWI and WWII were the period of Stein's most consistent literary production and of her greatest literary acclaim. Her contributions were sought by many of the editors who printed the Fledgling magazines and periodicals that thrived in Paris during the decade (Mellow 362, 365-66).In using language to convey meaning and involve the reader instead of traditional literary architecture, Stein was the most experimental of the expatriate writers. As Sherwood Anderson noted, "she is laying word against word, relating sound to sound, peeling for the taste, the smell, the rhythm of the individual word. She is attempting to do something for the writers of our English speech that may be better understood after a time, and she is not in a hurry" (Baym 1150). Abandoning accepted structures, Stein relied on simple word choice and diction to affect the reader. The author believed rhythm could reveal character; it was the...

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