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How the Lost Generation Works


Famous Lost Generation Writers
American novelist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) during his convalescence in Milan, Italy, at an American Red Cross Hospital in 1918. After returning to America from the war, Hemingway and his contemporaries often felt lost, as if they didn't fit at home.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) during his convalescence in Milan, Italy, at an American Red Cross Hospital in 1918. After returning to America from the war, Hemingway and his contemporaries often felt lost, as if they didn't fit at home.
Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While the phrase "Lost Generation" classifies a generation of youth, it has a special connotation in the literary world. Many Americans who'd experienced Europe during the Great War returned overseas as a way to escape mainstream America. A community of expatriates formed in Paris, and in looking at America from a distance, these writers created a new literary culture that captured the futile spirit of the times.

Ernest Hemingway, who helped popularize the term "Lost Generation" in his novel "The Sun Also Rises," was one of the leaders of this group of expatriates who fled to Paris. Much like he and his contemporaries, Hemingway's protagonists tended to be honest men who lost hope and faith in modern society.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's work also delves into this feeling of futility. His 1920 debut novel "This Side of Paradise" captures a mood of a generation that has fought wars and no longer believes in God or man. Fitzgerald's later works also capture the hedonistic spirit of the Jazz Age with "The Great Gatsby," an exploration of the moralities of the wealthy, being a seminal work of this time.

Poet e. e. cummings served as an ambulance driver in France during the war but was captured and imprisoned by the French, who thought he was a spy. After the war, he embodied the persona of the Lost Generation writer, living in both Greenwich Village and rural Connecticut, with frequent trips to Paris. His poetry pushes the boundaries of form, and by playing with spelling and syntax, he created new techniques and structures for his work.

Among the Lost Generation writers, John Dos Passos stands out as a novelist who really attempted to assimilate European culture. American by birth, Dos Passos spent his formative years in Europe, returning to America for college before spending time in Spain. He eventually volunteered for the war effort, which influenced his work "Three Soldiers," the first major anti-war novel of this period. However, as time passed, Dos Passos became more conservative in his political views and was estranged from his contemporaries, who were very much disillusioned with the current ideology.

These writers all helped give a voice to the Lost Generation. Read on for more information about this age.


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