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The United States of America has had its ups and its downs over the past few centuries. One high point in our American history is the 1920 era. This time period was full of prosperous and blissful citizens. The economy, being exceptionally strong after World War I, contributed to the wealth and happiness of many Americans during this time period. The Roaring Twenties were a time where people felt they could capture any dream they want. This period was known as a time of living the American dream. In 1918 the treacherous World War I had finally ended. This war with countries such as Austria-Hungary, the British Empire, China, France, the German Empire, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Russia, and the United States of America, resulted in over 10 million deaths, one-fourth of which were American deaths. A flu epidemic that hit America shortly after the end of the war killed double that number. The upcoming decade of wealth and pleasure was much needed to Americans (Kallen). At the beginning of the 1920s America had Woodrow Wilson as our president. Unfortunately for him, they elected Warren Harding to take over the government (Kallen). “Although Harding was known as an easygoing and amiable leader, his administration was rife with corruption” (Kallen 12). Harding then passed away on August 2, 1923 resulting in his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, taking office (Kallen).
President Coolidge’s “hands off” approach to federal directive was an influence in the roaring twenties economy. The 1920s became known as a power age. The use of electricity increased in the twenties compared to before the war. With many Americans becoming more affluent during this time, the cost of bills for things such as electricity and cars were not a worry at this time. The proportion of homes with electricity started at twenty percent in 1919 and rose to sixty-seven percent by 1927. The jump in electricity usage also created an increase in productivity in factories (Kallen). Many soldiers returning from war did not come back to the high pays and short days they were used to working. Wages were cut for some and working environments were harsh. These new working conditions caused many workers to go on strike during the 1920s (Sann). Another cause to the shorter pays of returning soldiers was the fact that women were now working.
The women took over their jobs while most soldiers were away at war resulting in fewer jobs when they came home. The 1920s was a delightful time for women. The 1920 approval of the nineteenth amendment granted women the right to vote. Many conservative Americans were dismayed by the new roles women had acquired. They protested against these changes stating that the changes in traditional women’s functions would by an influence on the collapse of society (Hanson). Women’s participation in the war effort was a deciding factor in allowing them to have the right to vote. Although the House of Representatives passed the nineteenth amendment in 1918, it took two more years to be successfully passed by the Senate allowing women to participate in the 1920 election (Hanson). The roles of women had now developed in new ways.
During the war, women were given the jobs left open by soldiers fighting in Europe. They were no longer just housewives who stayed home to cook, clean, and raise the children. Women now had jobs and careers and were given the opportunity to advance in the world (Hanson). The media spread the word about the new women revolution that was sweeping the country. Magazines, newspapers, and tabloids were the forms of media used to inform Americans of what was happening. As certain newspapers became more popular and started being published in more cities across America, less and less local city newspapers were being published. We also see the introduction of a tabloid during the 1920 era. The tabloid often prints outrageous and astonishing stories that were not normally printed in local news (Hanson). This new culture of the 1920s was the first to be profoundly influenced by mass media. Radios took to the heart of many Americans. The sales of radios from the start of the 1920s to the end rose to nearly six hundred million dollars. Movies also became more popular during this time. Masses of people would gather at the theatre on a Saturday afternoon to watch a drama or comedy film (Kallen). We start to see that for the first time in history more Americans lived in cities than on farms. This changed was caused by the change in economy, primarily (“The Roaring Twenties”). The increase in numbers of motorists caused dirt roads to be paved over, changing the American landscape for good (Kallen). Also, more manufacturers started producing goods that were used by people all over the country, not just in one certain area.
This was due to the large nationwide advertisements. The 1920s were roaring to those who were young and thriving but to those who were not, it was a time of great conflict (“The Roaring Twenties”). “The powerful economy might of America from 1920 to October 1929 is frequently overlooked or simply submerged by the more exciting topics such as Prohibition and the gangsters, the Jazz Age with its crazies, and the KKK” (Trueman). America became the wealthiest country in the world during this decade. Our strength as a country was motivated and compelled by our immense economic power. Merely purchasing something had a major economic influence. This was a time before machines and robots created our merchandise and man actually worked to make what we bought. The worker then would get the money he earned and instead of saving it, he’d go out and spend it. This cycle is what kept the money circulated in our economy, keeping it strong. “The movies, radio shows, sophisticated advertising, and popular magazines all had an influence on the lives of 1920’s youth who saw themselves as different from the older generation” (Scott). The young generation centered themselves around glamour. They were rich and money was not a worry. The people of this generation partied often and had all of the finer things in life. The parties that were thrown were extravagant. The famous and rich all attended.
They also acquired many of the negative qualities of the people they were trying to model, like smoking, bad language, immorality, and selfishness (Scott). The time period of the 1920s was a time when the younger generations rebelled against the traditions of society. The young women started sporting short skirts and smoking cigarettes. The new songs and movies out at this time talked about and glorified drinking and wearing stockings lower than usual. These rebellious women were known as flappers. The flappers wore short sleeved, sometimes even sleeveless thin dresses. This new fad became alarming the people of America (Mcneil). “Criminals started supplying illegal alcohol. The simple act of drinking a martini became an exciting adventure for many Americans” (Kallen 17). The thrill of drinking helped drive the young rebellions that spread through society. Illegal bars started popping up everywhere in New York City. In some places an entire city block or more was flowing with them. These illegal bars and saloons were called speakeasies. (Kallen) The young men were supposed to be conservative and hardworking while the women were supposed to be proper and modest. During the twenties, this all changed. The morals of men and women had been lost. The younger adults living in America no longer wanted to act the way their parents or grandparents had for generations. Although the changes in clothing were harmless at first, it shocked the older generations who still kept to their traditional ways (Kallen) Another revolution that arose in the 1920s was the first sexual revolution. Sex had always been something that the public did not talk about.
However, in the 1920s, sex was everywhere you looked. Plays, music, and movies now based their themes on sex. Even books became more risqué. The government who were trying to stop this obscene outbreak banned some. The sexual obsession led to an obsession of appearance among women. For the first time the middle class women could get their hair and nails done. The privilege was originally only available to the wealthy women who could afford it (Kallen). Authors of the time period often had trouble comprehending the changes that were occurring in society. Some writers had enjoyed the changes and embraced them; others were disappointed to see the old ways of society disappearing. Literature was a good way to capture the changes of everyday life. 1920s authors wrote about what the saw around them. The described the way people lived and how they interacted with each other.
Reading formed a hefty part of their broader education. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the American lifestyle is that of the American Dream. His novel is very relative to how most Americans lived during the 1920s. “F. Scott Fitzgerald flawlessly captured the Roaring Twenties in The Great Gatsby and in exposing some of the emptiness of the era’s unfettered materialism, created a literary classic” (Drew) Although there are not many characters in the novel one would want to model their life after, we can still learn from what Fitzgerald wrote. (Drew) “I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others–young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life” (Fitzgerald 62). Fitzgerald portrays how many Americans were selfish and spent their life away partying and drinking or spending money. In the novel Gatsby believes people take life for granted.
He thinks that now is the time to connect with people and have fun but instead they are just throwing their lives away. It also implies that with all of the wealth Gatsby has, he is still lonely in life. People do not come to his parties for building relationships with those they meet. They go to be distracted from their everyday lives. He finds loneliness in this. Even almost ninety years later Americans can relate to life from the 1920s. We feel a sort of familiarity when reading novels such as The Great Gatsby. Some things are here to stay such as the Internet and some many are changing everyday in society. Things also repeat itself over the course of history. We notice people are still looking for happiness in life and fulfillment. Whether it is 2013 or 1920 the wealthy will always be prosperous and the poor will always struggle. That is how the human race is. People will always have a need for pleasing themselves and what they want. Selfishness is within each and every one of us.