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The Change of Morality in the 1920s

1920's Flappers

Above: The New, Rebellious Generation of the 1920s

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2.The Changing Variables

3. Sexuality in the 1920s

4. Prohibition

5."Jazz Age"

6. The Lost Generation

7. Closing

List of Refernces

Link to Home Page


(1) The 1920s, the decade of which Ernest Hemingway's bestseller The Sun Also Rises takes place, was a time period that changed the world and its people. Traditions were tossed out the window and people had a hard time knowing how to direct their lives. A war that was more ghastly than anyone had ever imagined had just ended. Troops were the first to see a new, even more deadly form of mechanized warfare. This war made the public question their beliefs and especially, their morals. It seemed like religion was no longer important and they were only trying to live 'each day to the fullest". Drinking, smoking, partying, staying out late, wearing scandalous clothes, spending extravagant amounts of money, and forgetting 'the typical" were all in style. While the '20s were a confusing time for a new generation, it also was the decade that defined a new classification of morality.


(2) In the 1920s, people were changing almost every aspect about how they lived. They were leaving small towns for big cities like New York, Chicago, London, and Paris. A new wave of consumerism was also hitting hard. People were finally starting to achieve financially as a whole in the decade and therefore people were spending loads of money of over the top cars, homes, clothes, and parties. All of the world, youths were outgrowing the previous traditions of the Victorian Age. Their parents’ old and stuffy reformed ways were more unappealing than ever and many revolutions were about to take place.


(3) The ‘20s saw a shocking new change in people’s ideas of sexuality. “Proper” behavior was banished and the young decided to break free from what was not normally spoke of in public. Sex was openly conversed and premarital sex no longer seemed outlandish. It was accepted as merely a part of life and not a private element that should be kept secret.  In The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley has had relations with almost more men than she can keep track of. She is fully aware of what she’s doing, but rarely even acknowledges it. Her attitude has in part to do with the new, radically different moral standards of the 1920s.


(4) Another large part of the changing social structure of the ‘20s was the Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution made it against the law to make, sell, and transport alcohol, starting in the first month of the new decade. The new amendment was not as strictly enforced and therefore, many people slipped underneath the rule. Many northern US cities were notorious for their bootleggers and speakeasies.  The Sun Also Rises takes place in Europe (mainly France and Spain) so the characters were not affected the 18th Amendment. However, Jake Barnes (the narrator) was from the United States. This new law would have severely altered Jake’s alcohol consumption, as he was one of the heaviest drinkers in the novel. In Paris, his current home, drinking was both appreciated and even encouraged on a daily basis.


(5) The 1920s are often referred to as "The Jazz Age". This is because jazz started gaining popularity and appeal during this time. Jazz’s new improvised sound was connected to the “loose” moral structure of the decade. Up and coming jazz artists were Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington. In the novel, when Jake and Brett go to a club in Paris, Brett dances to jazz music. She is also suspected to have slept with one of the drummers in the band later.


(6) Another aspect of the "Roaring Twenties" was The “Lost Generation”. The “Lost Generation” is a term coined by author Gertrude Stein. It applies to the popular writers and artists, most of whom spent their time in Paris, who were emotionally changed after the Great War (World War I). They experienced mental strain from all the tradegy they had seen. Everyone Has Their Breaking Point.These men and women were known to congregate together in the small cafes of Paris and they all became quite close. They are “lost” because, according to the social normalcy of the day, after the war they were supposed to go back home to the US, and live a happy life with two kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs.They all chose against this and made a life of staying in Europe, writing, painting, and drinking their lives away. Some of the most prominent members of the “Lost Generation” include Ernest Hemingway (author of The Sun Also Rises), Gertrude Stein herself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Pablo Picasso. The official definition from Britannica Online Encyclopedia of “The Lost Generation” is,

            in general, the post-World War I generation, but specifically a group of U.S. writers who came of age during the war and established their literary reputations in the 1920s. The term stems from a remark made by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway, “You are all a lost generation.” Hemingway used it as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.”

As mentioned in the definition, the idea of the “Lost Generation” was used to model The Sun Also Rises.


(7) The 1920s were unlike anything anyone had seen before. It was the perfect example of a radical change in the history of the world. Ernest Hemingway simply used this dramatic new time to model a plot, which later became known as one of the most popular novels in the twentieth century.



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Last modified at 12/12/2010 1:29 PM  by McWaters, Megan