In the 1920s, war novels, poetry, plays, and memoirs flowed off the presses. Novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front by German author Erich Remarque exposed the grim horrors faced by soldiers in World War I. Other writers heaped scorn on the leaders who took them into war. Their realistic works stripped away any romantic notions about the glories of warfare and reflected a powerful disgust with war that influenced an entire generation.
To many postwar writers, the war symbolized the moral breakdown of Western civilization. In 1922, the English poet T. S. Eliot published The Waste Land. This long poem portrays the modern world as spiritually empty and barren.
In The Sun Also Rises, the American novelist Ernest Hemingway shows the rootless wanderings of young people who lack deep convictions. “I did not care what it was all about,” says the narrator. “All I wanted to know was how to live in it.” In The Great Gatsby, American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald exposed the emptiness of the 1920s world of flappers and parties.
American poet Gertrude Stein considered herself, her writer friends, and young people part of a “lost generation.” They had become adults during or right after World War I and were disillusioned by the upheaval of the war and its aftermath.
Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud founded the field of psychoanalysis. In his later years, Freud used psychoanalysis to interpret religion and culture.
As Freud's ideas became popular, many writers began to explore the inner workings of the mind. Some experimented with stream of consciousness. In this technique, a writer appears to present a character's random thoughts and feelings without imposing any logic or order. In the novel Mrs. Dalloway, British novelist Virginia Woolf used stream of consciousness to explore the thoughts of people going through the ordinary actions of their everyday lives. In Finnegans Wake, the Irish novelist James Joyce explored the inner mind of a hero who remains sound asleep throughout the novel.
F. Scott Fitzerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby is a portrait of the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties. It emphasizes the glittering but empty life of parties and excess.
A more optimistic literary movement arose in the United States during the 1920s. The Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural awakening. It began in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City that was home to many African Americans. African American writers and artists expressed their pride in their unique culture.