Change of Literature in the 20th Century

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Revolution: The Change of Literature in the Early 20th Century

America went through many changes in the early 20th century. These changes greatly altered the American mind, and consequently the literature of the time. Large scale world events such as: The first total war—WWI, and the swift change from prosperity in the twenties to nationwide depression in the thirties, drastically changed the American mind. Times were progressive—on one hand, man had never before been so powerful before, and on the other, man had never been so vulnerable. The literature of the time reflected that tortured juxtaposition—man on top of the world, man under the foot of God. The culture shaping events of the early twentieth century are reflected in the literature of the time—man as man.

The very beginning of the twentieth century was a progressive time in science, warfare, and industrialization. With the mass advances in culture, the American people appeared to be on top of the world. However, those very progressions took the lives of thousands of American men in World War I. World War I was the first total war, meaning many nations all joined together and fought as a collective whole. This was a much different type of war than any other before; it involved the whole world. At the time, it was solemnly referred to as the Great War, and brought about unprecedented death and destruction (Sparknotes).

By the time World War I ended in 1918, it had claimed over nine million lives, and over twenty-one million had been wounded (A&E Television Networks). The world had never before seen this kind of total destruction. The History Channel states “the four years of the Great War [ . . . ] saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction”(Rosenberg). Man had never before been capable of killing so many at one time. Modern technology gave nations the ability to kill nations. New inventions such as the Machine Gun, tanks, and chemical weaponry made this possible. Invented in 1917, the most horrific of all these new weapons was called Mustard Gas, a chemical chlorine compound that quickly destroyed the victim’s respiratory functions. Victims died painfully, choking on the blood that rapidly filled their lungs (Michael Duffy). Mustard Gas was used widely, carelessly spewed out on groups of helpless men.

The horrors of this war affected the American Sprit and mind. We see this reflected in the literature of the time period. Even though the death toll of actual American soldiers was minimal compared to the millions of European men lost in the war, the American people witnessed humanity’s crimes against humanity and a sense of depression arose. “Victory had brought an emotional letdown—the slump of idealism” (Spirit of the 20’s). Many of the people had mixed emotions about the war. Some saw it as carnage, which it was, but others saw it as a beneficial stimulation of the economy. Nevertheless, the American spirit was shaken at the news of millions being slaughtered carelessly (Spirit of the 20’s).

Warfare was new, and progressive. Inventions like the machine gun, the tank, and the mustard gas enabled American soldiers to firmly accomplish the submission of troublesome European forces. However, in some ways these new inventions were also barbaric—great masses of men died with the careless spray of bullets, or dust of gas. This juxtaposition is clearly seen in Rupert Brook’s “The Dead” and Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” Rupert Brook’s poem “The Dead” is a balled written about the American Soldier. It praises his glorious service in fighting and dying for his country. In living he is a beautiful hero, and in dying, the soldiers become “[R]arer gifts than gold”(3). In his service and his death, Brook portrays the soldier as a hero. He ends his poem with these beautiful lines: “Honour has come back, as a king, to earth, /

And paid his subjects with a royal wage; /
And Nobleness walks in our ways again; /
And we have come into...
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