Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How the Lost Generation Works


A tribute to the Roaring '20s and Prohibition at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London, England. Wearing authentic costumes from America's prohibition period, guests dance the Charleston and play roulette much like those of the lost generation did.
A tribute to the Roaring '20s and Prohibition at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London, England. Wearing authentic costumes from America's prohibition period, guests dance the Charleston and play roulette much like those of the lost generation did.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

After the dust of World War I settled and the troops came home -- or didn't come home --it became evident that the world was changed forever. World War I ushered in a modern era of warfare with new fighting methods that affected an entire generation of young people.

New technology introduced during World War I shaped the way wars would be fought from then on. For the first time, tanks, airplanes and machine guns made their way onto the battlefield. These new technologies magnified the effects of war, both in terms of how war was fought, but also how war affected people. World War I had a devastating effect on the world in terms of lives lost, with over 37 million casualties [source: Infoplease].

Countries that were hit hardest by the war lost entire villages of men. Those who came home were profoundly affected by their war experience. Feeling cynical about humanity's prospects, they rebelled against the values of their elders, seeking debauchery instead of decency, and hedonism instead of ideology.

The generation born between 1883 and 1900 that came of age during this time became known as the Lost Generation. This moniker is credited to writer Gertrude Stein, who passed on her garage mechanic's words -- "You are all a lost generation" -- during a conversation with writer Ernest Hemingway [source: Coale]. Hemingway used this phrase in the epigraph of his book "The Sun Also Rises," and the name soon stuck.

The phrase "Lost Generation" is also used to describe the literary landscape of this era. After the war, American writers felt lost and aimless. Many flocked to Paris during the 1920s to escape their traditions at home. These expatriates managed to capture the zeitgeist of the time.

What were the attitudes of this Lost Generation? Let's take a look at how disillusionment manifested itself in a generation of youth.


More to Explore