Society, Class and Individuality Outlined în Arts în The 1920s

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Many journalists and sociologists noted that culture in the 1920s was losing its social structure. After a decade of intense progressive reform, morality, and self-righteousness, the 1920s saw a restless culture, spearheaded by America’s youth rebelling against the moral restrictions of past generations. Some of the cultural events which characterized that period were the following:

a. The Sexual Revolution.

Young students of the 1920s began to challenge the traditional notions of proper behavior by throwing raucous parties, drinking illegal liquor and dancing new, sexually suggestive steps at jazz clubs. One of the symbols of this decade was the flapper, a name given to the fashionable women of the time. The flapper look was shiny and colorful including short bobbed hair, knee-length skirts, long draping necklaces and rolled stockings. All these brought with it changing ideas about women. Female sexuality was less suppressed, skirt hems were worn higher, and makeup became more common.

b. The Jazz Age

The 1920s is often called the Jazz Age because jazz flourished and gained widespread appeal during the decade. The improvisational character of the music was often associated with the loose morals and relaxed social codes of the time. Among the famous jazz performers of the period were Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington.

c. The Harlem Renaissance

Black artists explored the African American perspective through poetry and novels initiating the social and intellectual activity that was called the Harlem Renaissance. One of the most famous authors of the time was the poet Langston Hughes, who published “The Weary Blues” in 1926.

d. The Nineteenth Amendment

This important event that occurred in 1920 gave women the vote in national politics and symbolized their persistence in efforts to break out of old patterns of domesticity. The war had accelerated their entrance into business, industry, and the professions and their adoption of practices, such as drinking and smoking, traditionally considered masculine.

e. Entertainment and Pop Culture

Movies were the most popular entertainment attraction of the times, making stars out of Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford. Also, mass-circulations magazines like Reader’s Digest and Time enjoyed enormous success. Radio was another prominence source of news and entertainment during the 1920s: NBC was founded in 1926 and CBS a year later.

The economists of the 1920’s theorized that, in that period of time, the economy produced more than it consumed because the consumers did not have enough income. This unequal distribution led to a substantial difference of income between the upper class and the lower class. All these differences established, towards the end of the decade, the crash of the stock market known as the Great Depression.

The coal miners who worked in company towns and villages were part of the lower class. Their status is well described in Carl Sandburg’s poetry entitled Company Towns: “You live in a company house / You go to a company school / You work for this company, / according to the company rules. / You all drink company water / and all use company lights, / The company preacher teaches us / What the company thinks is right.” From these lyrics can be deduced the fact that the working class was seen as a whole, workers were all the same, devoted entirely to the company, without any sense of individuality.

David Herbert Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885 at Eastwood, a mining village. He was the fourth son of a father who was a coal miner and a mother who had trained as a school-teacher, and who had wider cultural and social aspirations. He was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D.H. Lawrence. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization, being valued by many critics as a visionary thinker and significant representative of modernism in English literature.

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