The Search for Self in the Lives and Works of Hemingway and Steinbeck
The First World War and the great depression forever changed the way the world viewed America, but it also changed the way America viewed itself. As the upheaval of traditional lifestyle lead to an upheaval of traditional values, the American consciousness struggled to combat feelings of aimlessness and hopelessness. The journey through this period can be seen best in the works of its writers. Authors Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck grew up in an America that struggled through the effects of the First World War; this, coupled with lifelong difficulties maintaining personal relationships, influenced them to include themes of companionship in literary works centering on middle aged adults in search of meaning and belonging in a changing world, often using animals as symbols.
World War I began over an assassination that drew much of the civilized world into conflict, including America near the end. Although the United States officially participated in World War I for only nineteen months (Bradley). Against the wishes of the Americans who had fought against the prospect of war in hopes of peace, most Americans became “engulfed in the euphoria of patriotic nationalism (World War I and the Economy).” The American government worked hard to get Americans into this frame of mind. After President Wilson declared that the aggressive behavior of other nations required "the organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country,” a prime objective of the government became winning the hearts of the American public to be behind the war effort (Bradley).
The cost of the war in human lives alone by the time the treaty at Versailles was signed turned out to be worse than even the Americans who opposed participation in the war could ever have imagined. Historians estimate that up to 10 million men died on the battlefield, although the exact number is impossible to know, and 20 million more were wounded (The War to End All Wars). The First World War didn’t just cost the world the lives of men, for many survivors it also cost the way of life. The resulting economic upheavals created depressions across the globe, including the Great depression that would shape Steinbeck’s worldview, and led many of the earth’s traumatized citizenry to begin to question their place in the world. This search for self and meaning is what Hemingway ultimately found himself in, as reflected in the themes of The Sun Also Rises. For the USA it marked the first time it would intervene in European affairs, with “more than 100,000 American troops killed helping to guarantee an allied victory (The War to End All Wars).”
In a time where it seemed much of American was struggling with personal problems and the search for self, Hemingway had difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Like Steinbeck, Hemingway’s relationship issues grew up out of the strained relationship he had with his parents...