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The Roaring Twenties
THE ROARING TWENTIES Americans, in the years following the end of World War I found themselves in an era, where the people simply wished to detach themselves from the troubles of Europeans and the rest of the world. During the years of the Twenties, the economy was prosperous, there was widespread social reform, new aspects of culture were established, and people found better ways to improve their lifestyle and enjoy life.
The 1920's exemplified the changing attitudes of American's toward foreign relations, society, and leisure activities. Following the end of World War I, many Americans demanded that the United States stay out of European affairs in the future. The United States Senate even refused to accept the Treaty of Versailles which officially ended World War I and provided for the establishment of the League of Nations. The Senate chose to refuse the Treaty in the fear that it could result in the involvement of the United States in future European wars. Americans simply did not wish to deal with, nor tolerate the problems of Europe and abroad.
There were many problems running rampant throughout the country following the conclusion of the war. One of the greatest problems which arose was the Red Scare which was seen as an international communist conspiracy that was blamed for various protest movements and union activities in 1919 and 1920. The Red Scare was touched off by a national distrust of foreigners. Many Americas also kept a close eye on the increasing activities of the Klu Klux Klan who were terrorizing foreigners, blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics.
Once Americans put the war behind them, they were able to forget the problems of European affairs, and focus on the country, their town, and themselves. Americans found themselves in a period of reform, both socially and culturally. Many feared that morality had crumbled completely. Before World War I, women wore their hair long, had ankle length dresses, and long cotton stockings. In the twenties, they wore short, tight dresses, and rolled their silk stockings down to their knees. They wore flashy lipstick and other cosmetics. Eventually, women were even granted the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment. It was up to this time period that women were not seen as an important aspect in American society. As if rebelling from the previous position of practically non-existence, women changed their clothing, their fashion, and even cut their hair shorter into bobs which were very similar to the style of men. The similarities were no mere coincidence, but an attempt of the women in American society pushing towards equality. Once the women had the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment, they did not just sit back. The women of the 1920's strived for a position of equality for both men and women in society.
Literature, art, and music also reflected the nations changing values. There were many famous authors, playwrights, musicians and artists which left their mark during the Twenties. Sinclair Lewis authored Main Street (1920), a book which attacked what he considered the dull lives and narrow minded attitudes of people in a small town. Another great author of the time was F. Scott Fitzgerald whose works included The Beautiful and Damned, and Tales of the Jazz Age. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, exemplified the American Dream. The story shows the often misconception of the American Dream being a life of prosperity, parties, happiness, and utopian places. The book uncovers the characters' pursuit of this dream only to discover the American Dream as the American Tragedy. Many Americans who immigrated to the United States in the 20's were believing the same misconception, only to later find the hidden truth that the American Dream was not all what it was cracked up to be.
One of the greatest American authors to emerge from the Twenties was Ernest Hemingway. Some of Hemingway's most noted works in the Twenties included Across the River and into the Trees, and In Our Time. Many of Hemingway's finest works presented the attitudes and experiences of the era's so called "last generation."
Americans had a hunger for news in the Twenties. Every day they would flock to the newsstand for the latest information. They would find the information they needed from various newspapers and periodicals. From the New York Times they got top-notch foreign correspondence. In the New York World they could read Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun and other outstandingly witty columnists. In the Twenties the expose of evil-doing in high places became the mark of a good newspaper: The St. Louis Post- Dispatch forced an allegedly corrupt federal judge to resign; the Indianapolis Times exposed Indiana's Ku Klux Klan leader as a murderer. Newspaper circulation boomed in the Twenties. The total for the nation was about 25 million when the decade started and about 40 million at its close, (Cronon 341). Tabloids and magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, and the Literary Digest also became very big during the Twenties. One author noted for his work during the Twenties was H.L. Mencken in his witty magazine "The American Mercury" which ridiculed the antics of dim-witted politicians, and prohibitionists.
The artists and composers were inspired by both tradition and changes in American life. Joseph Stella painted soaring lines and precise geometric patterns to represent skyscrapers, his favorite theme. George Gershwin became one of the most popular composers of the 1920's. Two of his best known orchestral works "Rhapsody in Blue," and "An American in Paris," feature many elements of jazz. In the Twenties, Jazz was becoming very popular. Americans sang and danced to all of their favorite songs. Every time the turntable was flipped on, Americans just had to dance. It was a new feeling of pleasure, and enjoyment which came hand in hand with the beginnings of jazz music in America. With jazz becoming big, Americans veered away from traditional song and dance and began exploring other types of music such as jazz. The cheerful, light, easy feeling accompanied with jazz music was just an extension of American feelings during the Twenties; joyous and free spirited.
Americans found many ways to entertain themselves in the 1920's. They flocked to the theaters to see such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino. Other Americans swarmed to baseball stadiums to watch such top athletes as home run slugger Babe Ruth and boxing champion Jack Dempsey.
Radio also opened the doors for new entertainment such as nightly shows for audiences to listen to. Parents and their children would sit around the radio listening to such nightly comedy shows as "Amos and Andy". Families across the United States would gather around the radio to get the latest news and information from around the world. The radio gave the news hungry Americans what they wanted and took America closer to a more technologically advanced society.
When the Twenties rolled around, Americans found themselves engulfed in a bolstering economy. In the 1920's business was an obsession. Economic expansion created booming business profits which in turn raised the standard of living for most Americans. Large businesses were expanding. In 1920, for example, Woolworth had 1,111 stores. In 1929 they expanded to 1,825. J.C. Penney expanded from 312 stores to 1,395, (Time-Life 102). Small business entrepreneurs took advantage of the good times as they began popping up all over the United States. Americans were moving into a period of economic prosperity. Even industrial workers, whose strikes for higher pay had availed them little in previous decades, benefited. From 1922-1929, the national income was up 40% from $60.7 billion to $87.2 billion, (Cronon 341). The use of labor saving machinery in factories and on farms enabled workers to produce more goods faster and less expensively. This led to higher amounts of production. At some points, the American consumer could not buy the goods as fast as they were pr
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