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Beat Generation Essay

2753 words - 12 pages

Beat Generation 

For many people in America, the years immediately following World War I and World War II were characterized by anger, discontent, and disillusionment. Society had been devastated by a global conflict that resulted in unprecedented death, destruction and resentment. Survivors who came of age during these eras — termed the Lost Generation after WWI and the Beat Generation after WWII — were left disjointed and alienated from both the world before and the new world that emerged after. Unable to identify with either pre- or postwar values, both of which, after the war, seemed deceptive and perverted, these social exiles were abandoned by their country and left to rediscover ...view middle of the document...

While spontaneous and meaningless when first spoken, the expression would unwittingly go on to become the label for the expatriates from the United States and England who had rejected traditional American and British conventions for the more appealing lifestyle of Left Bank, Paris. Congregating in cafés located along the Boulevard Montparnasse to drink, talk and watch the crowds pass by, the Lost Generation was comprised of exiles who had spurned the pre-war values of love, romanticism, optimism, prosperity and hope that they had grown up believing in, all shattered by the war, as well as the glitter and potential of the Great Boom of the 1920’s, which they now saw as American-based, and therefore corrupt and insincere. Unable to reconcile themselves with their past beliefs, and unwilling to accept those of their present mainstream society, the Lost Generation was left morally bankrupt and spiritually sterile, with only the fleeting pleasures of alcohol and sexual promiscuity as comfort. Many Americans in Paris became bohemian writers and artists as a reactionary protest to the business- and consumer-based culture in the United States, their days spent lounging in cafés and their nights hopping from one meaningless relationship to the next. For the Lost Generation, love, hope and religion were foreign concepts after WWI, replaced by a world of sexual liberty and moral indifference.
In 1926, Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, a semiautobiography based on his adventures in France and Spain in 1924-25. Despite having already received moderate critical acclaim for his prior works, it would be this novel that would gain him international success and make him the leader of the so-called Lost Generation. Focusing on the events that took place between a group of American and English expatriates traveling from Paris to Pamplona, The Sun Also Rises was an immediate success and almost instantly became a bible for many disillusioned individuals after it was published because it was the first piece of fictional literature that had fully captured the feelings of moral decay and social alienation shared by the Lost Generation: “You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil … Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You’re an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.”
The satirical portrayal of the Robert Cohn, the last chivalric hero and defender of an outworn faith, and his absurd willingness to endure public humiliation for Lady Brett Ashley’s unforthcoming affection, served only to reinforce the Lost Generation’s belief that love had died in WWI, as did all the other prewar values that Cohn unwaveringly stood for. While tragic in that the source of Cohn’s persecution came exclusively from those who simply could not understand his obstinately idealistic outlook, the fact that his mere existence was nonetheless a painful reminder to the...

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