Survey of American Literature II
Instructor: dr. sc. Biljana Oklopčić
May 4th, 2012
The Age of Wonderful Nonsense; its “Shallow” Flapper And the Other Side I of The Coin
Imagine you were a young woman in the 1920s. World War I is finally over, and you are lucky enough to have survived the horrors of the war, you returned home, live your life to the fullest. You are part of enormous social and economical changes; you gained the right to vote, you date, wear make-up, indulge in reckless parties, the consumer culture thrives; ideals and morals greatly shift. You are now able to dress, talk and walk like your male counterparts. You drive cars, smoke, and even drink in public. In other words, you are liberated in any possible way and part of a new rebellious generation. You are the so called Flapper of the Jazz Age.
Altogether, one might nowadays jump to the conclusion that it must have been an exciting, breathtaking, and thrilling time in history. Indeed, the two quintessential documents of the Roaring Twenties; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, do show this incredible side of the period. However, they also bear witness to the fact that there is as well, another, more gloomy and dark side to it. There is more to this than meets the eye. The term the Lost Generation was coined in order to explain that it was more difficult than expected to return to normalcy. Moreover, the young men and women who experienced the war become morally lost and could no longer rely on tradition. They lived meaningless lives and the empty pursuit of pleasure was just an escape from reality. They were emotional cripples, who suffered trauma and were no longer able to trust, love or respect each other:
They found themselves expected to settle down into the humdrum routine of American life as if nothing had happened, to accept the moral dicta of elders who seemed to them still to be living in a Pollyanna land of rosy ideals which the war had killed for them. They couldn't do it, and they very disrespectfully said so. (Allen)
Both Hemingway, and Fitzgerald document the enormous economical and social changes which take place and introduce the reader to typical Flapper characters in their works; Lady Brett Ashley, Daisy Buchanan, and Jordan Baker represent the common attitude of the time. At first glance, the reader often judges them to be rather shallow, careless, foolish, bored, seductive, craving sensation, even neurotic women. But, if one looks deeper into their personalities; one can see that there is more behind that and it becomes clear that such a narrow view and judgment of their characters is far too simplistic and that they , actually , do care. Certainly, Fitzgerald and Hemingway constantly provide the reader with details which make it hard to deny that these women are not indifferent, unworthy, selfish.
One finds out that Daisy seems to be totally indifferent to her little daughter, not being at all a devoted and caring mother. Still, the words she says after giving birth to her baby girl are somehow intriguing:
“Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ’All right’, I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (Fitzgerald 17)
In fact, here Daisy shows that she is vulnerable to emotions, she is not shallow, indeed, she has been hurt and suffered in the past. Her wish for her daughter to become such a “fool” sounds harsh, cruel, but it is a...