I: Historical background
World War I or the Great War was certainly the most significant event of the first part of the 20th century. As we are all aware, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter the war in 1917 on the side of the Allied Forces dramatically altered America’s political relationship with the rest of the world and set patterns of action and rhetoric which continue to influence US foreign policy to the present day. Three years after the war began, the United States Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 and thrust the nation into European politics. Troops began engaging in battle in the summer of 1918 in Cantigny, Chateau-Thierry, and Belleau Wood, France. More than 4,000,000 American soldiers were mobilized in the war, and at the end of hostilities the casualties numbered near 120,000 (with an estimated 10,000,000 dead on all sides). Though the involvement was of a short duration, American participation was instrumental in the defeat of Germany, and the armistice ending the war was signed on November 11, 1918. The United States became a financial superpower following the war, and military growth and weapons development expanded almost without political control. The survivors realized the meaninglessness of their sacrifice and the helplessness of the individual before the war machine. They were disillusioned. They were even more so when they returned to their hometown to see an unbridgeable gap between them and the civilians, who had been fed up with propaganda by newspapers and politicians. The structures of democracy came under severe strain. The country had never been totally united in support of the war, and in the years following the ceasefire, many poems, novels, and memoirs centered, often bitterly, on the experience of the individual soldier. In these works, the old civilized world went up in flames and the modern world was born.
This paper attempts to first examine the scores of writing that emerged on the First World War and then upon physical involvement of some selected American writers in the War and how it was reflected in their writing. The writers included for discussion are Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather and Langston Hughes. Also it will include the creative response in films. But before we go on to discuss the war and the different ways it affected individual American writers it would be interesting to examine some of the posters that were in vogue during this time. In most of them the euphoria to enrol in the war becomes very marked.
One of the early posters that draw our attention simply asks people to enlist. Then there are others requesting volunteers for driving ambulances, enrolling in the army, navy and air services. But what is most significant is the way women were depicted in these posters. For example, close on the heels of women still being primarily depicted as angel of the house; let us focus on the image of the woman in the poster ‘Columbia Calls’. With a sword on one hand and the American flag on the other, her long flowing gown is not something that is suitable for a woman to march up to the warfront. Similarly, the delicate feminine portrait of the woman with rosy cheeks who is peacefully sleeping in the poster entitled ‘Wake Up America’ reminds us of the languor and domesticity that accompanied pictures of nineteenth century Victorian women. If we compare this poster with that of ‘Rosy the Riveter’ flexing her muscle power in the famous poster made during the World War II, when women worked in factories and became at par with men in the job scenario, the difference in the position of women vis-à-vis the two wars becomes quite remarkable.
Created by Laura Bey
Created by Charles Livingstone Bull
Created by James Montgomery Flagg
Poster created by James Montgomery Flagg
Created by James Montgomery Flagg
Poster created by Keith Warren
Poster created by Lucille Patterson
Eugene O Goldbeck photograph of 1919 “Our girls who welcomed the 90th division”
shows women dressed up to greet soldiers coming home from World War I
III: American war novels
Though America’s direct involvement lasted a mere one and a half years, the First World War (1914-18) was a profoundly influential event in the development of American literature. Although the American Civil War (1861-65) and the Second World War (1939-45) exercise a stronger hold on the American imagination, and are more frequently dramatized in contemporary film and fiction, the Great War had, arguably, a deeper impact than either of these on the nature and scope of American writing. Most American young men ‘flocked into the volunteer services’ eager to save the world, to test their courage, and in John Dos Passos’s words, to “see the show”(qtd. in Minter : 68) – what war was like. But soon they were horrified by the carnage of mechanized warfare, with military leaders blindly and yet stubbornly sacrificing large number of men in wave upon wave of charges against an entrenched enemy. While for ordinary young people the paradigm shift in their belief system often led to a completely new and extraordinary life style, for those would be writers, one of the major results was a change in their notion of war as a literary subject. As Wen Zhou and Ping Liu rightly point out, the criticism of war novels during this period “was mainly concentrated on either the political debates of war novel’s truthfulness or the representativeness of the war writers.”(116)
IV: Details of a few writers
We are all aware that the phrase ‘Lost Generation,’ as coined by Gertrude Stein refers specifically to ex-patriot writers who left the United States to take part in the literary culture of cities such as Paris and London during the 1920s. In general, this generation was disillusioned by the large number of deaths in the War and rejected many of the previous generations’ ideas of appropriate behaviour, morality, and gender roles This group, including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot and others was sceptical about outmoded traditional forms of literary and artistic work, but optimistic about the potential of new forms. Its members were prolific writers and many produced classics.
According to Peter G. Jones “the war novel has become one of the most logical ways of writing about life in the twentieth century” (viii) after the First World War. Though war was also used extensively used in pre-World War I novels, it was treated only as “a narrative framework” or “a standard literary device” but now it became “the Chief Protagonist.” In other words, war was no longer only one of the subordinate elements contributing to an aesthetic whole, but the overwhelming chief determining everything else in the works. What Francis Hackett said of Hemingway was also true of most of his contemporary writers: “The primitive mood of war gave him the chance to dig down into himself for a native primitiveness that peace had long since ruled out of bounds in American fiction” (32-33). Thus the War provided a suitable and handy subject for the young writers and the bulk of war books produced was amazingly large – Arthur Train’s Earthquake (1918), Temple Bailey’s The Tin Soldier (1918), Della Thompson Lute’s My Boy in Khaki (1918) and Edith Wharton’s The Marne (1918) to name only a few. “While most of the wartime writings were written by women and were generally taken as mere propaganda, there appeared, after the end of the War, a bloom of war novels mainly by male writers” (Zhou and Liu: 120). Both the critics Malcolm Cowley and Emory Elliott et al cite a long list of writers who participated in the war. Beginning with John Dos Passos’s One Man’s Initiation, 1917 (1918) and Three Soldiers (1921) American war novel took on a new light. The flood of war novels, such as e.e.cummings’s The Enormous Room (1922), Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat (1923), Elliot Paul’s Impromptu (1923), Lawrence Stallings’s Plumes (1924), Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), William Faulkner’s Soldier’s Pay (1926), James Stevens’s Mattock (1927), Leonard Nason’s Sergent Eadie (1928), John Whiting’s S.O.S (1928), Bayard Schindel’s The Golden Pilgrimage (1929), Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed (1930), Theodore Fredenburgh’s Soldiers March! (1930) and William March’s Company K (1933) can all be called anti-war novels, permeated with a strong sense of disillusionment and protest. Of course, there were different voices, voices of affirmation rather than negation, which could be heard in Willa Cather’s One of Ours (1922), Mary R.S. Andrews’s His Soul Goes Marching On (1922), and Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front (1923). During and after the 1930s, while sporadic works could be found, there had never appeared such a bloom of WWI novels as in the 1920s. In his book Love and Death in the American Novel, Leslie Fiedler dismisses all war novels since Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage as mere sentiment, or to use his own term ‘cliches.’ Since many or most of these war novels are hardly read today, one interesting area of study could be to examine how much these writers actually were involved with the war in reality and how much they composed their novels through sheer imagination.
Let us now examine the involvement and creative output of a few American novelists in details.
a) Ernest Hemingway
Let me begin with a quotation:
A writer’s job is to tell the truth…If during a war, conditions are such that a writer cannot publish the truth because its publication would do harm to the state, he should write and not publish. If he cannot make a living without publishing, he can work at something else.
That was what Ernest Hemingway wrote as an editor in the introduction to a collection of stories called Men at War. No American writer is more associated with writing about war in the early twentieth century than Ernest Hemingway. He experienced it first hand, wrote dispatches from innumerable frontlines, and used war as a backdrop in many of his most memorable works. At the centennial celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Library on 10-11 April 1999, Henry Louis Gates Jr had stated that “The way we write about war or even think about war was affected fundamentally by Hemingway” (quoted in Putnam). He captured in stunning stories and novels the uncomfortable realities of his age and forced into public consciousness a realization of the brutalities of war and their lingering psychological effects. Hemingway’s personal experiences and involvement covered several wars – World War I, the Greco-Turkish War, the Spanish Civil War and the World War II and they are reflected in his writing through different perspectives. Beginning with the inter-chapters/vignettes of In Our Time (1924/revised version 1925) written in the journalistic style of reporting where the thematic emphasis is on ‘truth’ and ‘fidelity’ and the technical innovation is on the camera-eye narration, he moves on to the mental and physical trauma of war as Jake Barnes expresses in The Sun Also Rises (1926), the romantic love affair on the war front immortalized in A Farewell to Arms (1929), to celebrating the macho spirit of Robert Jordan (“you will have to win once you are in a war”) in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1937) and with the World War II as its backdrop, Across the River and Into the Trees is set in Venice at the close of the war and tells the story of an aging American colonel who falls in love with a young Italian countess.
Hemingway’s own idea about war of course comes out most clearly in retrospect when he went on to edit Men at War (1942) where he made the famous declaration in the introduction:
This book will not tell you how to die. This book will tell you, though, how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died…The editor of this anthology, who took part and was wounded in the last war, wants to end war, hates war, and hates all the politicians whose mismanagement, gullibility, cupidity, selfishness and ambition brought on this present war and made it inevitable. But once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in a war.
Among all the artefacts displayed in the Hemingway archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, one object on display, though not as conspicuous as the others is far more consequential. It is a piece of shrapnel from the battlefield where Hemingway was wounded during World War I . Had the enemy mortar attack been more successful that fateful night, the world may never have known one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Conversely, had Hemingway not been injured in that attack, he not may have fallen in love with his Red Cross nurse, a romance that served as the genesis of A Farewell to Arms, one of the century’s most read war novel. Hemingway kept the piece of shrapnel, along with a small handful of other ‘charms’ including a ring set with a bullet fragment, in a small leather change purse. Similarly he held his war experience close to his heart and demonstrated throughout his life a keen interest in war and its effects on those who live through it.
During the First World War, Ernest Hemingway volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. In June 1918, while running a mobile canteen dispensing chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire. “Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red,” he recalled in a letter home. Despite his injuries, Hemingway carried a wounded Italian soldier to safety and was injured again by machine-gun fire. For his bravery, he received the Silver Medal of Valor from the Italian government—one of the first Americans so honoured. Commenting on this experience years later, Hemingway wrote in Men at War:
When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.
At the end of the war Hemingway returned to his home in Oak Park, Illinois, a different man. Two short stories (written years later) offer insights into his homecoming and his understanding of the dilemmas of the returned war veteran. In “The Battler” we are told how Nick Adams meets a prize fighter as he returns from World War I. In “Soldier’s Home,” Howard Krebs returns home from Europe later than many of his peers. Having missed the victory parades, he is unable to reconnect with those he left behind — especially his mother, who cannot understand how her son has been changed by the war.
As a correspondent, Hemingway chronicled the outbreak of wars from Macedonia to Madrid and the spread of fascism throughout Europe. This war reporting was also revolutionary. Hemingway was committed above all else to telling the truth in his writing and to do so, he liked being part of the action. According to Seán Hemingway, his grandfather’s war dispatches “were written in a new style of reporting that told the public about every facet of the war, especially, and most important, its effects on the common man, woman, and child.” This narrative style brought to life the stories of individual lives in warfare and earned a wide readership. In a brief dispatch called “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topic” he states: “The first panacea for a nation is inflation of the currency, the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity, both bring a permanent ruin.” Hemingway often used scenes that he had witnessed as well as his own personal experience to inform his fiction. Explaining his technique twenty years later, he wrote once again in the introduction to Men at War, “the writer’s standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be. For facts can be observed badly; but when a good writer is creating something, he has time and scope to make of it an absolute truth.”
How far the war had cast its influence upon the writer is also understood when Hemingway wrote the novella The Torrents of Spring in 1926. Subtitled “A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race”, Hemingway used the work as a spoof of the world of writers and it was written as a parody of Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. Set in northern Michigan in the mid-1920s The Torrents of Spring is about two men, WWI veteran Yogi Johnson and writer Scripps O’Neill, both of whom work at a pump factory. Both are searching for the perfect woman. Yogi went through the war and spent a beautiful fortnight in Paris where something happened to him that he brought was beautiful and strange. Afterwards he decided it was not so good and it turned him against all the other women, too.
b) F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I was certain that all the young people were going to be killed in the war, and I wanted to put on paper a record of the strange life they had lived in their time.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to continue his artistic development at Princeton University. On academic probation and close to flunking out of Princeton, Fitzgerald took a commission as an infantry second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and left school on November 20, 1917 to report for duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Afraid that he might die in World War I with his literary dreams unfulfilled, in the weeks before reporting to duty, Fitzgerald hastily wrote a novel called The Romantic Egotist. Though the publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons rejected the novel, the reviewer noted its originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future. Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama. It was there that he met and fell in love with a beautiful eighteen year-old girl named Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. November 11, 1918 being the Armistice Day, the war ended before Fitzgerald was ever deployed, and upon his discharge in February he moved to New York City hoping to launch a career in advertising lucrative enough to convince Zelda to marry him. Never getting the chance to leave the US, his failure to see foreign combat remained one of Fitzgerald’s greatest regrets forever. In the essay titled “The Crack-Up” he states:
As the Twenties passed, with my own twenties marching a little ahead of them, my two juvenile regrets – at not being big enough (or good enough) to play football in college, and at not getting overseas during the war – resolved themselves into childish waking dreams of imaginary heroism that were good enough to go to sleep on in restless nights.
In another essay “My Lost City” written in 1919 he tells us of the aftermath of the war when the whole city of New York resembled a carnival with tons of streamers and banners welcoming the soldiers back home from the war.
New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world. The returning troops marched up Fifth Avenue and girls were instinctively drawn east and north towards them – this was the greatest nation and there was gala in the air.
Although F. Scott Fitzgerald is most commonly praised for his accurate description of the American Jazz Age, his writing also reflects the immorality and aimlessness of the Lost Generation post World War I. According to William Byron, Fitzgerald’s “imagination [was] lastingly impressed by [World War I]” and the Lost Generation. He moved back and forth from America to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, never settling in one city for long. Like many American men of the Lost Generation, he also became an alcoholic. Yet he did not seem to be ashamed by his affiliation with his fellow American expatriates.
The 1920s began with high hopes. World War I, the “War to End All Wars,” was over. The twenties ended with a huge drop in stock market prices that began the Great Depression. Fitzgerald was a representative of the years of fast living in between and became the spokesperson of “a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure.” As he mentioned in “Echoes of the Jazz Age”, “the wildest of all generations, the generation which had been adolescent during the confusion of the War, brusquely shouldered my contemporaries out of the way and danced into the limelight.”
However it is interesting to note that years later when he wrote Tender is the Night Fitzgerald makes the novel’s protagonist Dick Diver visit WWI battlefields in Europe. “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with great gust of high explosive love,”(57) says Dick Diver. Apart from the huge number of people killed in the war, what shocked Diver (and the author Scott Fitzgerald himself) was the great paradigmatic shift in people’s belief system the war had brought about. This is how he assesses the situation:
…this land here costs twenty lives a foot that summer…See that little stream we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk it – a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs (57).
c) William Faulkner
After leaving high school, William Faulkner seemed content with his life in Oxford. He spent his time working at the bank, writing poetry, and hanging out with childhood sweetheart Estelle, who was taking classes at Ole Miss. However, Faulkner’s world was turned upside-down in the winter of 1918, when Estelle discovered that her parents had arranged for her to marry Cornell Franklin, a handsome Ole Miss graduate and a Major in the National Guard. Faulkner had long assumed that he and Estelle would one day wed, and the news sent him into a downward spiral of depression and heavy drinking. In April, shortly after Estelle tied the knot, he decided to leave Oxford and stay with his friend and mentor Phil Stone, who was studying law at Yale. Aimless and dejected, Faulkner hatched a plan to join the British Army in hopes of serving in World War I. In June 1918, after months of practicing his British accent with Stone, William Faulkner—he added a “u” to his last name to appear more authentically English — went to the British consulate in New York City and successfully passed himself off as an Englishman ready for duty in the Royal Air Force. He was told to report for aircraft training in Toronto in three weeks.
While in Toronto, Faulkner continued to spin stories about his life, describing in great detail his supposed time as an East Coast boarding school student and Yale undergraduate. Though he never even got to sit inside an airplane, in his letters to his mother he claimed to have undergone extensive air force training. When armistice was declared in November 1918, ending the war, Faulkner’s hopes of ever seeing real military action were crushed. Nevertheless, the young ‘veteran’ returned home with a feigned limp and stories of combat injuries. In 1918, after the U.S. Army rejected him for being underweight and too short (5 feet 5 inches), Faulkner enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. During his brief service in World War I he suffered a leg injury in a plane accident. In 1918 he left the air force and returned home to Oxford.
When Ole Miss announced in the summer of 1919 that it would admit returning veterans — regardless of their previous educational experience — as undergraduate students, Faulkner decided to return to Oxford to take classes at the university. Soon however he got sick of school, and convinced that formal education was pointless, dropped out of Ole Miss in November 1920. Feeling stifled by life in Oxford, and itching for a bit of excitement, he moved to New York City in fall 1921, where he landed a job as a bookstore clerk. After only a few months away from home, Faulkner’s bohemian lifestyle was abruptly cut short when he was fired from his job. At the urging of his mother and Phil Stone, the aspiring author once again returned to Oxford and took a new position as the postmaster at Ole Miss. Although he was a lazy postal employee, he was a tremendously hard-working writer. At age 27, he met Sherwood Anderson and under Anderson’s mentorship, his writing blossomed. In 1924, he began work on Soldiers’ Pay, a novel about a veteran returning home from the war and finished the novel in May 1925.
The plot of Soldiers’ Pay (1926) revolves around the return of Donald Mahon a wounded aviator home to a small town in Georgia following the conclusion of the First World War. Mahon is injured beyond recovery and he is escorted home by a veteran of the war, as well as a widow whose husband was killed during the conflict. The aviator himself suffered a horrendous head injury, and is left in a state of almost perpetual silence, as well as blindness. Several conflicts revolving around his return include the state of his engagement to his fiancée, the desire of the widow to break the engagement to marry the dying aviator, and the romantic intrigue surrounding the fiancée who had been less than faithful to the aviator in his absence. When they reach his home, where he was believed to be already dead, his surprised family and friends receive him with a mixture of misguided hope for his recovery, curiosity about his experiences and condition, and disgust for his wounds. Throughout the novel, characters demonstrate their attitudes toward the war through their reactions to Mahon and other soldiers. While the townsfolk show respect for soldiers who died, those who survived remain on the fringes of society, present but not fully participating in social activities. Soldiers are simultaneously heroes, burdens, and bleak reminders of the war. Ultimately, none of the soldiers ‘gets his girl,’ and the war casts its shadow over the relationships and lives of all the main characters and townspeople. Many critics consider Soldiers’ Pay to be Faulkner’s commentary on the “lost generation” of Americans who reached adulthood during World War I and the early 1920s. “Once Society drank war, brought them into manhood with a cultivated taste for war; but now Society seemed to have found something else for a beverage.”
d) Gertrude Stein
During World War I, Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas left Paris for Mallorca. Both of them came to work as volunteers during the First World War, driving supplies to regional French hospitals (work for which they were decorated by the French government). This is how the incident is described in her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:
One day we were walking down the Rue des Pyramides and there was a Ford car being backed up the street by an American girl and on the car it said, American Fund for French Wounded. . . . We went over and talked to the American girl and then interviewed Mrs. Lathrop, the head of the organisation. She was enthusiastic, she was always enthusiastic and she said, get a car. But where, we asked. From America, she said. But how, we said. Ask somebody, she said, and Gertrude Stein did, she asked her cousin and in a few months the Ford car came.
Four years later Stein published another autobiography, called Everybody’s Autobiography where she tells the story of the acquisition of a dream house. She begins the story with characteristic indirectness:
The present tenant was a lieutenant in the army and as he was stationed at the garrison in Belley, they have a battalion of Moroccan troops there, it is always strange to see in a mountain French village these native troops. It is queer the use of that word, native always means people who belong somewhere else, because they had once belonged somewhere. …Anyway the lieutenant who was in the house that we had seen across the valley and that we had had to have was stationed in the garrison at Belley. . . . Why said everybody do you not get him made captain, then he would have to leave as there is no room for another captain there in the garrison. We thought that an excellent idea. . . .
Well we know a man he is a nice man his name is George. . . . When he was doing his military service he was clerk in the war office. He used to tell how everyone even a general would come in and ask him if he could not get something done a little quicker for him. . . .George went off and after some months of waiting in which you look anxious but ask no questions and he mysteriously said wait he came and said I have bad news for you, they say at the war office that he is not much good as a lieutenant, he is a war lieutenant, and cannot pass further examinations but as a captain he would not do at all and then besides when he retired he would have to be paid a pension as a captain and now in two or three years he retires and they only have to pay his pension as a lieutenant. . . A month after the proprietor wrote and said the lieutenant was going to Morocco and was ready to sublet the house to us.
The writer and editor Elliot Paul, in his book Understanding the French (1954) audaciously takes Stein and Toklas’s story and changes it into a plausible narrative:
It was four miles from Belley where Gertrude Stein had her country residence, a house she wanted so badly before she could buy it that she went to the Secretary of War himself, in order to pave the way for the deal. The house was occupied by a major [yet another promotion] who had been overlooked two or three times, for one reason or another, when promotions were in order. The Major would not sell his house for any price unless he was made a lieutenant- colonel and transferred to Northern Africa. Now Gertrude, with Alice Toklas, had performed such heroic ambulance-driving duty in World War I that she had been cited and decorated by the same Secretary of War, who was still in office when she coveted the Major’s little house. Gertrude, always a woman of direct action in the higher echelons, went straight to the Secretary and asked him to arrange the Major’s promotion, which he did.
Stein, of course, never went to the Secretary of War, nor did she buy the house—it was not for sale but for lease. Paul’s assertion about the major’s refusal to sell unless he was promoted and sent to Africa is fantasy. But Paul was right to stress how badly the women wanted the place.
e) Willa Cather
In 1922, only four years after the armistice, Willa Cather published the novel One of Ours, a character study inspired by her cousin’s wartime letters home. She presents the protagonist, Claude Wheeler, as a young man too sensitive to fit in with the hardy people of his Nebraskan farming community. Frustrated with his privileged yet ordinary life, Claude longs for an existence with deeper meaning and purpose. After dutifully leaving college to run the family farm and marrying a woman who ultimately abandons him, he enlists as an officer in the army and is shipped to France. Once there, Claude believes himself to be participating in just the kind of noble cause he has always sought. He dies on the battlefield, deeply present to the men under his command, feeling fully alive for the first time, and insensible to his own self-sacrifice.
Though the novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923, Ernest Hemingway sharply criticized Cather’s representation of armed conflict in it, saying that because she was a woman with no first-hand experience of war, she had to draw her material from unrealistic Hollywood films. This charge negatively influenced critics’ perception of the book for decades; only recently have readers come to see the ‘naïve romanticization’ of war in the novel as Claude’s, and not as Cather’s. From this point of view, Claude’s ‘heroic’ death becomes symbolic of the inexplicable near-suicide of the optimistic, confident civilization out of which the war sprang. Ironically, Cather suggests, this cultural attitude produced idealists like Claude, unable to comprehend the mechanized evil unleashed in World War I.
f) Langston Hughes
When black soldiers returned home, they encountered increased hatred and violence. In April of 1919, ten black veterans in uniform were lynched, some of them burned alive in the South. Langston Hughes addressed this vicious homecoming and the unanswered promise of equality to African-Americans in his dramatic poem “The Colored Soldier.” The poem’s narrator dreams that his brother, the fallen soldier, takes pride at the equality for which he fought and died. The narrator cries out, “It’s a lie! It’s a lie! Every word they said. And it’s better a thousand times you’re in France dead.” Written to be performed on stage, this poem dramatizes Hughes’s response to post-war discrimination and violence. Under Hughes’s stage direction, the rising sense of outrage expressed by the narrator is reflected in the “fierce and angry” reaction of the listening crowd.
Before concluding I just want to briefly mention how the ‘lost generation’ has affected the psyche of American creative artists. In 2011 Woody Allen wrote and directed a film called Midnight in Paris.
This romantic comedy/fantasy film tells the story of a successful but creatively unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter called Gil Pender vacationing in Paris with his fiancée Inez while struggling to finish his first novel centered round a man who works in a nostalgia shop. One night, Gil gets drunk and becomes lost in the back streets of Paris. At midnight, a 1920s Peugeot Type 176 car draws up beside him, and the passengers -dressed in 1920s clothing—urge him to join them. They go to a party for Jean Cocteau where Gil comes to realize that he has been transported back to the 1920s, an era he idolizes. He encounters Cole Porter, Alice B. Toklas, Josephine Baker, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald who take him to meet Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway agrees to show Gil’s novel to Gertrude Stein and Gil goes to fetch his manuscript from his hotel. However, as soon as he leaves, he finds he has returned to 2010 and the bar has disappeared.
Gil attempts to bring Inez to the past with him the following night, but while they wait, she becomes impatient and peevishly returns to the hotel. Just after she leaves, the clock strikes midnight and the same car arrives, this time with Hemingway inside it. He takes Gil to meet Stein, who agrees to read his novel and introduces him to Pablo Picasso and his mistress Adriana to whom Gil is instantly attracted. Stein reads aloud the novel’s first line:
‘Out Of The Past’ was the name of the store, and its products consisted of memories: what was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp.
Adriana says that she is hooked by these few lines and has always had a longing for the past, especially the 1890s. Gil spends each of the next few nights in the past. His late-night wanderings annoy Inez, and arouse the suspicion of her father, who hires a private detective to follow Gil. Meanwhile, Gil spends more and more time with Adriana, who leaves Picasso for a brief dalliance with Hemingway. Gil realizes he is falling in love with her, leaving him in conflict. He confides his predicament to Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and Luis Buñuel, but being surrealists they see nothing strange about his claim to have come from the future, finding it to be perfectly normal. They discuss the impossibility of Gil’s relationship with Adriana, and each of the artists envisages a different masterpiece inspired by such an unusual romance. Later on Gil suggests to a young Luis Buñuel a movie plot, which is none other than the plot of Buñuel’s own 1962 film The Exterminating Angel, and leaves while Buñuel continues to question the plot idea.
While Inez shops for furniture, Gil meets Gabrielle, an antiques dealer and fellow admirer of the Lost Generation. Gil later discovers Adriana’s diary from the 1920s on a book stall by the Seine and discovers that she was in love with him. Gil purchases earrings for Adriana and, returning to the past, declares his love for her. As they kiss, they are invited inside a horse-drawn carriage by a richly-dressed couple and are transported back to the 1890s Belle Époque, an era Adriana considers Paris’s Golden Age. They are taken to Maxim’s Paris, and eventually to the Moulin Rouge where they meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas. Having re-written the first two chapters Gil retrieves his novel from Stein, who praises his progress as a writer and tells him that Hemingway likes it. Gil breaks up with her and decides to move to Paris. Inez’s parents agree with Gil when he tells her that they are not right for each other. Amid Inez’s pique, Gil calmly leaves, after which Inez’s father confesses to her and his wife that he had Gil followed, though the detective mysteriously disappeared (it is revealed that he was transported to the 18th century). Taking a walk across the Seine at midnight, Gil meets Gabrielle and, after it starts to rain, offers to walk her home and learns that she shares his love of Paris in the rain.
From such random examples given throughout this paper one needs to reiterate in conclusion that for the young writers during the World War I, the War not only provided them with a change in their notion of war as a literary subject but also helped them realize their powerfulness of language. The skilful integration of reality, imagination and creative output in most of the writers is indeed an interesting phenomenon which probably never got repeated so well in any other war later on. This is where its uniqueness lies.
Allen, Woody. Dir. Midnight in Paris. 2011. Film.
Byron, William. Trans. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Andre le Vot. Garden City, new York: Doubleday, 1983.
Cather, Willa. One of Ours. Alfred A. Knopf, 1922.
Cowley, Malcolm. “Two wars and two generations.” New York Times Book Review July 25, 1948. 1, 20.
—. After the Genteel Tradition. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.
Elliott, Emory. Ed. Columbia Literary History of the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Faulkner, William. Soldier’s Pay. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926.
“William Faulkner: Air Force & Ole Miss.” william-faulkner/biography.html. http://shmoop.com. Web.
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Stein and Day, 1967.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Crack Up”, “My Lost City” and “Echoes of the Jazz Age” in The Crack Up and Other Essays. Ed. by Edmund Wilson, 1945.
—. Tender is the Night. New York: Scribner’s, 1934.
Hackett, Francis. “Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms.” Saturday Review of Literature XXXII (1949): 32-33.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Torrents of Spring. New York: Scribner’s, 1926.
—. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner’s, 1929..
—. Edited with an Introduction. Men at War. New York: Crown Publishers, 1942: 1-23.
—. “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topic” in By-Line Ernest Hemingway: Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades. Ed. William White. New York: Scribner’s, 1998.
Hemingway, Sean. Introduction. Hemingway on War. New York: Scribner’s, 2003.
Jones, Peter G. War and the Novelist: Appraising the American War Novel. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1976.
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Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.,1933.
—. Everybody’s Autobiography. 1937.
Zhou, Wen and Ping Liu. “The First World War and the Rise of Modern American Novel: A Survey of the Critical Heritage of American WWI Writing in the 20th Century.” Journal of Cambridge Studies Vol.6 No.2-3, 2011:116- 130.
Here are three excerpts from the film script of Midnight in Paris which Woody Allen uses to recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s in Paris.
EXT. LEFT BANK STREET – NIGHT
Car pulling up at some great old street. They all get out and take him inside to a party in progress.
INT. PARTY – NIGHT
There is a mixture of elegant plus bohemian types. In the background a MAN sits at the piano singing a Cole Porter tune. Gil looks at the revellers. A few CUTS. Music plays. Finally A WOMAN comes over to Gil.
ZELDA (glass in hand drinking)
You look lost.
If you count Alabama as America which I do. I miss the bathtub gin. What do you do?
Oh I – I’m a writer.
What do you write?
Right now I’m working on a novel.
Oh yes? I’m Zelda by the way. Oh Scott – Scott come over here. Here’s a writer from, where?
SCOTT (Scott joins)
Scott Fitzgerald, and who are you old sport?
I’m Gil Pen – oh you two have the same names as –
Scott Fitzgerald and –
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds. Isn’t she beautiful?
Yes – it’s a coincidence. I mean it is a funny coincidence.
You have a glazed look in your eye. Stunned, stupefied, anesthetized, lobotomized –
I – I – I keep thinking that man at the piano – believe it or not I recognize his face from some old sheet music – what am I talking about here?
I know if I put my mind to it I could be one of the great writers of musical lyrics not that I can write melodies – and I try – and then I hear the songs he writes and I realize I’ll never write a great lyric and that my talent really lies in drinking.
Yes but – he didn’t write that song- did he? That’s not possible –
What kind of books do you write?
I – I – I – I’m – I’m working on a – exactly where am I?
I’m sorry – Don’t you know the host? Some friends have gotten together a little party for Jean Cocteau.
GIL (looks around, drinks it in)
Hey lady, are you kidding me?
I know what you’re thinking – this is boring – I agree – I’m ready to move on – let’s do Bricktop’s, Scott, I’m bored, he’s bored, we’re all bored.
Whatever you say, sweetheart. See if Cole and Linda want to come with. Coming?
Gil stares open mouthed.
INT/EXT. CAR – NIGHT
Shot of group (Gil, Cole Porter, Fitzgeralds) piled into a period open top car tearing down a Parisian street. (Note: we can include Denise and Doug or Phil if we want)
INT. BRICKTOP’S CLUB – NIGHT
The group is watching someone like Josephine Baker. Gil is tunned by it all. The Fitzgerald’s drink a lot.
EXT. CAFE #3 – NIGHT
Group entering cafe.
INT. CAFE #3 – NIGHT
A little late night cafe, very bohemian. Scott, Zelda and Gil enter, the group having thinned out. The Fitzgeralds drink a lot.
Une bouteille de bourbon.
SCOTT (stops at another table)
Greetings and salutations. You’ll forgive me – I’ve been mixing grain and grappa ··· This is Gil – Gil? Yes, Gil.
Hemingway? Hey, is this some kind of a –
You liked my book?
Liked – I loved – everything you wrote –
Yes it was a good book because it was an honest book and that’s what war does to men and there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully and then it’s not only noble but brave.
Ernest Hemingway – this is – I –
HEMINGWAY (introduces his drinking partner)
Say hello to Pender – the bulls in the ring don’t frighten Belmonte – he’s killed many brave ones. Fine brave bulls.
I’m sure – good bulls, true bulls ···
Why are you smiling?
In New York you can’t buy this – it can only be made in a bathtub – and some of the bathtub mixtures are damn good –
Isn’t that so? She prefers her hootch from a homemade still – more kick.
Did you read my story? What did you think?
It began well – really well – then it became weak.
I might’ve known you’d hate it.
Darling you’re too sensitive.
You liked the story but he hates me.
There was some fine writing but it was not fulfilled.
Please old sport – you make matters extremely difficult.
I’m jumpy – suddenly I don’t like the atmosphere here anymore.
Where are you going?
Para reunirse con amigos en el St Germain …
He’s going to St. Germain. I’m going with him.
If you’re going to stay and drink with him I’m going with the toreador.
(to a polite Belmonte)
Get her back at a reasonable time.
She’ll drive you crazy, this woman.
She’s exciting – and she has talent.
What are you writing?
A man who works in a nostalgia shop.
What the hell’s a nostalgia shop?
Where they sell old things – memorabilia. Does that sound terrible to you?
No subject is terrible if the story is true. If the prose is clean and honest and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.
Would you do me the biggest favour in the world – I can’t even ask ···
Would you read it?
It’s only about four hundred pages – if you could just give me your opinion.
My opinion is I hate it.
If it’s bad I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing and if it’s good I’ll be envious and hate it all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.
But there’s no one I really trust to evaluate it –
Writers are competitive.
I could never compete with you –
You’re too self-effacing – it’s not manly. If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer – but you’re not the best as long as I’m around. Unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it.
No – no – that’s okay –
I won’t read your novel but I’ll tell you what I’ll do.
I’ll bring it over to Gertrude Stein. She’s the only one I trust to read my work. No one discovers new talent like Gert – whether it’s poetry, painting, music – She’ll tell you if you have a book or not.
You could have Gertrude Stein read my novel?
Give it to me.
Gil back in present in mid-argument with Inez.
You’re crazy – Paul and me? Where did you get such an insane notion?
From Ernest Hemingway. He thought it out and it makes perfect sense.
Gil, your brain tumor’s acting up again.
There’s nothing crazy about Ernest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein or Fitzgerald or Salvador Dali –
Nothing except they’ve all been dead for years.
It was William Faulkner who said, the past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.
Actually I ran into Bill Faulkner at a party.
You’re a raving lunatic.
I guess I’m too trusting. I’m jealous and also trusting – cognitive dissonance, Scott Fitzgerald speaks of it.
I know it Inez – you can fool me but not Hemingway.
Jesus Christ I’m dealing with a madman – okay – Paul and I had a few nights alone. We danced, we drank – you were always working – he’s very attractive, he spoke to me in French – the whole mystique of this corny city got to me – it’s over. We can put this all in perspective at home.
I’m not going back.
I’m staying here. It’s not the romantic fling. Paris is Paris. It’s that I’m not in love with you.