Historical Context

A Farewell to Arms was set in the year 1917, right in the middle of World War I.  The Great War began in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His assassination set in motion a chain of events which culminated in a world war (Foner, 2006).  The United States didn’t enter into the War until 1917, after a telegram was intercepted in which the Germans were trying to get Mexico to invade the United States.  1917 was also the year that Vladimir Lenin led poverty stricken Russian peasants to revolt against the Czar (Foner, 2006).   World War I ended with the German surrender in 1918.  World War I was a brutal war which changed western society.  The introduction of poison gas into the fight, as well as suffering in the trenches, changed how wars were fought.  With the end of the Great War came the end of  household servants and tycoons.  A new era was ushered in.  Those who had lived through the horrors of trench warfare tried to forget, an entire generation of men was effected.

The 1920s were a decade of extremes.  The eighteenth amendment went into effect on January 1, 1920.  Prohibition was the climax of a decades long battle of the Temperance movement.  They wanted Americans to focus on God and family, believing that alcohol was evil.  This same year, women earned the right to vote with the passing of the nineteenth amendment.  Suffragists were fighting for the right to vote throughout the Western world.   1920 was the beginning of the Red Scare in America.  The United States began its war on Communism, with J. Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI (FBI.gov).  This was mainly because of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which had taken place within World War I.  Czar Nicholas II had been fighting a war on two fronts; one against the Germans and Austrians, one against his own people.  The Bolshevik Revolution showed the world that oppressed people had a limit and that they could topple governments.  The United States feared that disgruntled communism would spread to America, thus they fought to keep it out.

Post-War, women demanded freedoms which had hitherto been denied to them.  Along with the right to vote, women also began dressing differently, less feminine.  Many women adopted men’s styles and habits, loose fitting clothes, the discarding of corsets, smoking and drinking.  In 1921, Margaret Sanger developed the birth control pill, which gave women control over reproduction for the first time (Foner, 2006).  Labor laws were also being developed at this time, unions were forming.  In 1923, U.S. Steel implemented the first 8 hour work day.  In other ways, people were expanding the limits of acceptability.  In 1925, John T. Scopes was fined $100 for teaching the Theory of Evolution to his Tennessee class (Campbell, 2013).

In 1927 the first talking movie was released, The Jazz Singer, changing the way entertainment was created and viewed.  In that same year, the first Model T Ford was produced.  In 1928, President Herbert Hoover was elected in part thanks to his slogan, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.”  (Campbell, 2013).  People were beginning to notice economic disparity.  In October of 1929, the Stock Market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression.  Although there had been a steady financial decline in the years prior to the crash, this was viewed as tangible evidence that the United States, and the world, was in financial ruin.

The 1920s also saw a mass exodus of American authors to Paris.  Their reasons for leaving America were as varied as the lengths of their stay.  Gertrude Stein, a contemporary of Hemingway’s, created the term the “Lost Generation.”  This referred to the alienation that many of the authors felt after experiencing the ravages of war (Wilson, 2003).  Hemingway popularized Stein’s term in his book The Sun Also Rises.  Authors who were part of the Lost Generation include: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Zelda  and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.  The Lost Generation had their own English language publishing world which allowed the publication of poetry, short stories and other works by these writers living in Paris  (Wilson, 2003).  Although there were other cities which were adopted by the Lost Generation, Paris was considered their capital.  One of the reasons why Paris was so attractive to them was because it was possible to live there on very little money (Mills, 1998).

 

lsot  lostgeneration

 

 

 

 

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