Lost Generation

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The Lost Generation was the generation that came of age during World War I. Demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe outlined their Strauss–Howe generational theory using 1883–1900 as birth years for this generation. The term was coined by Gertrude Stein and popularized by Ernest Hemingway, who used it as one of two contrasting epigraphs for his novel The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway credits the phrase to Gertrude Stein, who was then his mentor and patron.

In literature[edit]

Gertrude Stein with Ernest Hemingway's son, Jack Hemingway (nicknamed Bumby) in 1924. Stein is credited with bringing the term "Lost Generation" into use.

In A Moveable Feast, published after Hemingway's and Stein's deaths, Hemingway claims that Stein heard the phrase from a garage owner who serviced Stein's car. When a young mechanic failed to repair the car quickly enough, the garage owner shouted at the boy, "You are all a "génération perdue."[1]:29 Stein, in telling Hemingway the story, added, "That is what you are. That's what you all are ... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."[1]:29 [2]

Lost in this respect means disoriented, wandering, directionless—a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war's survivors in the early post-war years."[3]

The 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises popularized the term as Hemingway used it as an epigraph. The novel serves to epitomize the post-war expatriate generation.[4]:302 However, Hemingway later wrote to his editor Max Perkins that the "point of the book" was not so much about a generation being lost, but that "the earth abideth forever"; he believed the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been "battered" but were not lost.[5]:82

In his memoir A Moveable Feast, published after his death, he writes "I tried to balance Miss Stein's quotation from the garage owner with one from Ecclesiastes." A few lines later, recalling the risks and losses of the war, he adds: "I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought 'who is calling who a lost generation?'"[1]:29–30

Literary themes[edit]

The writings of the Lost Generation literary figures tended to have common themes. These themes mostly pertained to the writers' experiences in World War I and the years following it. It is said that the work of these writers was autobiographical based on their use of mythologized versions of their lives.[6] One of the themes that commonly appears in the authors' works is decadence and the frivolous lifestyle of the wealthy.[7] Both Hemingway and Fitzgerald touch on this theme throughout the novels The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby. Another theme that is common for these authors was the death of the American dream, which is exhibited throughout many of their novels.[8] It is most prominent in The Great Gatsby, in which the character Nick Carraway comes to realize the corruption that surrounds him.

Other uses[edit]

The term is also used in a broader context for the generation of young people who came of age during and shortly after World War I, alternatively known as the World War I generation. Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, well known for their generational theory, define the Lost Generation as the cohort born from 1883 to 1900, who came of age during World War I and the Roaring Twenties.[9] In Europe, they are mostly known as the "Generation of 1914", for the year World War I began.[10] In France, the country in which many expatriates settled, they were sometimes called the Génération au Feu, the "Generation in Flames".

If one goes by Strauss and Howe's birth years, the last U.S. member of the Lost Generation to live was Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was born on July 6, 1899 and died on May 12, 2016. This makes the generation fully ancestral in the United States. Nabi Tajima (born 4 August 1900) from Japan is believed to be the last living member of this generation.[11]

In Britain, the term was originally used for those who died in the war,[12] and often implicitly referred to upper-class casualties who were perceived to have died disproportionately, robbing the country of a future elite.[13] Many felt that "the flower of youth and the best manhood of the peoples [had] been mowed down,"[14] for example such notable casualties as the poets Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen,[15] composer George Butterworth and physicist Henry Moseley.

Notable members[edit]

Sample members include Sinclair Lewis, who was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, United States Army General George S. Patton, Russian-born composer Irving Berlin, American writer, reporter, and political commentator Walter Lippmann, Earl Warren, American theologian, ethicist, and commentator on politics Reinhold Niebuhr, Actress Mae West, American poet and satirist Dorothy Parker, Norman Rockwell a painter/illustrator, J. Edgar Hoover who was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States, baseball player Babe Ruth whose career in Major League Baseball spanned 22 seasons from 1914 through 1935, Actor George Burns, American novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, American bass singer and actor who became involved with the Civil Rights Movement Paul Robeson, Actor Humphrey Bogart, Al Capone, American novelist, short story writer, and journalist Ernest Hemingway, entertainer Al Jolson, top Broadway star of the era and first star of "talking pictures", American musician, singer and occasional actor Louis Armstrong who was one of the most influential figures in jazz, U.S. politician Adlai Stevenson II, British-born film director Alfred Hitchcock, composers George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, and Italian born Nicola Sacco.[16]

Because the United States was a safe haven from the persecution, repression, and murder characteristic of fascist and Communist regimes, the United States often became a refuge for entrepreneurs, scientists (like Enrico Fermi), and creative people (like Bohuslav Martinů) who did much of their best work in America.[citation needed]

U.S. presidents were Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Notable international members were Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo, Marc Chagall, Vidkun Quisling, Adolf Hitler, Charles Chaplin, Charles de Gaulle, Ho Chi Minh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maurice Chevalier, Nikita Khrushchev, Sergei Prokofiev, Joan Miró, and Mao Zedong.[17] Russian-born Golda Meir spent most of her formative years in the United States before becoming prime minister of Israel.

Sample cultural endowments are: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald;[18] The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot; Babbitt (novel) by Sinclair Lewis; The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Monkey Business (film) starring the Marx Brothers; Creed of an Advertising Man by Bruce Barton; An American in Paris by George Gershwin; Ain't Misbehavin' by Duke Ellington; The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; the musical score of the ballet score Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland; and The View from Eighty by Malcolm Cowley.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hemingway, Ernest (1996). A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-82499-X. 
  2. ^ Mellow, James R. (1991). Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company, p,273. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-47982-7.
  3. ^ Hynes, Samuel (1990). A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture. London: Bodley Head. p. 386. ISBN 0 370 30451 9. 
  4. ^ Mellow, James R. (1992). Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-37777-3. 
  5. ^ Baker, Carlos (1972). Hemingway, the writer as artist. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01305-5. 
  6. ^ "Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and the Lost Generation: An Interview with Kirk Curnutt | The Hemingway Project". www.thehemingwayproject.com. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  7. ^ "Lost Generation | Great Writers Inspire". writersinspire.org. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  8. ^ "American Lost Generation". InterestingArticles.com. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  9. ^ Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations: The History of Americas Future. 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow and Company. pp. 247–260. ISBN 0-688-11912-3. 
  10. ^ Wohl, Robert (1979). The generation of 1914. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-34466-2. 
  11. ^ Lekach, Sasha (2017-09-16). "World's oldest person dies, giving title to Japanese supercentenarian". TravelWireNews. Retrieved 2017-09-18. 
  12. ^ "The Lost Generation: the myth and the reality". Aftermath – when the boys came home. Retrieved 6 November 2009. 
  13. ^ Winter, J. M. (November 1977). "Britain's 'Lost Generation' of the First World War" (PDF). Population Studies. 31 (3): 449–466. doi:10.2307/2173368. 
  14. ^ Rosa Luxemburg et al., "A Spartacan Manifesto, The Nation, March 8, 1919, pp. 373-374
  15. ^ "What was the 'lost generation'?". Schools Online World War One. BBC. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  16. ^ Strauss, William; Howe, Neil (1991). Generations: the history of America's future, 1584 to 2069. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-11912-3. 
  17. ^ Strauss, William; Howe, Neil (1991). Generations: the history of America's future, 1584 to 2069. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-11912-3. 
  18. ^ Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J. United States History: Modern America. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011. Print. Page 238
  19. ^ Strauss, William; Howe, Neil (1991). Generations: the history of America's future, 1584 to 2069. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-11912-3. 

Further reading[edit]

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