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What is the Lost Generation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Lost Generation is a term used to refer to a collective group of artists and writers who settled in Europe in the wake of the First World War. Members of this group lived in Europe in the 1920s and early 1930s, and they had a profound impact on society and the arts. The generation is referred to as “lost” not because it has faded from memory, but because the individuals often expressed a sense of emotional confusion, feeling lost in their own society.

Many members of the Lost Generation saw combat in World War I, sometimes as volunteers who traveled to Europe early, protesting America's lack of involvement in the early years of the war. Others lived through the war in Europe, or had close relationships with people who had. As a result, many had a deep sense of disillusionment created by the violence of the war, with many members viewing the war as an extended act of senseless brutality that destroyed the innocence that dominated society at the turn of the 20th century.

Members of the Lost Generation often lived a very bohemian lifestyle. They challenged conventional attitudes about appropriate behavior, especially for women, and many also expressed disdain when it came to morality, especially around sexuality. As they struggled with their disillusionment, members also questioned society as a whole, and targeted the arts with barbed commentary that suggested that most artists were simply repeating the work of previous generations.

Some well-known members of the group include Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Lost Generation included the modernist movement in art and writing, along with the Surrealist movement. Many members of this generation were deeply political, often holding radical political views that led to their marginalization in mainstream society. While some of these people are famous now, many attracted much less attention in their time; The Great Gatsby, for example, only sold 25,000 copies when it was released, although it is widely regarded as a classic in modern times.

The members of the Lost Generation struggled with shattered ideals about society, gender roles, diplomacy, morality, and other issues. Their commentary on society may not have been well-received at the time, but it went on to make icons out of many of them.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon273374 — On Jun 06, 2012

The Lost Generation had, prior to the war, seen the world changing rapidly -- from the arts to the end of the Victorian movement. They were young with a young person's view of the world as a wonderful place but still in need of much improvement.

The mass carnage of the second world war shattered for many any hope that man could resolve issues by peaceful means. Any student of history came to see that war as unnecessary. It was from Austria's and Germany's love of war that the horror followed the millions of lives destroyed. The sacred spots of Europe, and towns left in an ash heap. There could be no time limit to the misery for those who survived. This was a war that was fought and was unnecessary to the last hour of the last day of the last month.

It is truly not hard to understand the lessening of morals ans beliefs. Those old beliefs were in play before the war ever started.

By cardsfan27 — On May 13, 2012

@Emiliski - You're absolutely correct. I really feel like the answer is quite obvious and that is because these were books that were written well ahead of their times and they simply needed time in order to be appreciated.

Most great writers are like that, as Edgar Allen Poe made very little money during his lifetime yet he is appreciated much today decades after his death.

Ernest Hemingway was at least appreciated towards the end of his life but most of the great writers of the Lost Generation did not get the respect they deserved until after they died, simply because their writing did not appeal to the times they wrote it in.

I really do not feel that the politics played a major issue at the time, and that it was simply a case of marketability and the fact that books were not publicized in such a way that they are today. I really have to wonder if Hemingway had wrote today how famous he would be and how much more notoriety he would receive?

By Emilski — On May 13, 2012

@jmc88 - I have to say that despite what type of marginalization the Lost Generation may have had, a lot of their work revolves around the time periods they wrote in and to be honest I do not really feel like a lot of people were turned on to books that reflected the current state of society.

Just reading some of these books it makes me think that they were books that really were works meant to reflect on society during that time and that takes time in order to do.

The Great Gatsby for instance probably did not sell well because it was a book that was based completely on the aspect of the Roaring Twenties and people that experienced that time and were experiencing it during that time did not really care about this fact.

However, a couple of decades later one could look back at the work and see that it was a period piece that perfectly represented the time period that it was written in, and this I feel is a major aspect of the Lost Generations writing.

By jmc88 — On May 12, 2012

@Izzy78 - I have to agree with you on that to an extent. Although the Great Depression would limit book sales some, people would still read, but they would not buy near as many books as they would today.

As far as other reasons the politics of the people that were members of the Lost Generation led to a lot of books that polarized their readers and led to a lot of their books being on the banned list.

I know that "The Great Gatsby" is still a banned book at a lot of schools and to be totally honest I do not really understand exactly why it is, as it simply frames the hey day of the Roaring Twenties and the country's recovery after the Great War.

I really feel like this Lost Generation was simply a group of geniuses that was overlooked because they took chances and they are being appreciated for who they were today.

By Izzy78 — On May 11, 2012
I find it so interesting to think that such great writers existed during this time and how they were so under-appreciated during their times.

I know for a fact that although Ernest Hemingway was regarded as a great writer during his time, he was still not near as well known and appreciated as he is today and it was not until he wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" in the 1950's that people started to appreciate the literary genius that he was.

I really have to wonder why people did not appreciate these writers and if it had something to do with how much people read back then? I know that the Great Depression came soon after the Lost Generation and if this affected book sales greatly?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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