F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Decade That Changed America – Part II

F. Scott Fitzgerald was both a keen active observer and a full participant in many of the most exciting changes that were taking place in the 1920’s. He stated that “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it.” in this column, Part II of my Fitzgerald series, I will discuss some of those key trends that were taking place in society during this period. In subsequent Litchatte columns, I will discuss how his short stories and novels reflected the lifestyles of the people he observed in the Roaring 20’s. I want to give credit to the Time-Life  Magazine on the Roaring 20’s for some of the topics and ideas I used in this and my earlier blog on Fitzgerald (See Below):

Time Life Roaring 20's
Time Life Roaring 20’s Special Magazine

The United States and the European countries were changing rapidly after World War I. In the 1920’s, the old nineteenth-century Victorian values of restraint, morality, and modesty were bring replaced with an “Anything Goes” philosophy. There were new fashions, new forms of fun were everywhere you looked, and the world was becoming a different place.

Roaring 20’s Fashion of a Flapper

The parties were wild, the jazz was hot, the fads were completely off the wall. Women embraced new freedoms, cutting their hair, applying makeup, and tossing out dowdy fashions of the past for shorter skirts and slinkier form-fitting attire, and sex was the new openly hot topic. The old rules were swept away as young women and men began exploring romance, dating and partying away from the supervision and prying eyes of their parents.

The Parties Were Wild
The Parties Were Wild in the Roaring Twenties

The wealthy had more leisure time and more forms of extravagant recreational opportunities available to them than ever, such as golf, tennis, and sailing.

sailing in the 1920's
Sailing in the 1920’s


tennis in the 1920's
Tennis in the 1920’s

It wasn’t just different beats,, the exciting new sounds of jazz captured the new mood of the America. The hottest jazz musicians of that period were: Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, and Fletcher Henderson. Prohibition was made the U.S Law in 1919, but people made booze at home, drank it in speakeasies or sipped it anywhere on the sly.

jazz club of the 1920's
Jazz club of the 1920’s

The jazz clubs were popular in their locales, such as Chicago, New York, and Kansas City, but it was the radio that brought popular jazz music to mainstream audiences all across the United States and Europe.

1920's radio
1920’s family listening to the radio

The wealthy had access to new styles of leisure and more time to enjoy it after World War. The rich lived differently than everyone else. Newly minted millionaires indulged in every whim. The gap between the rich and everyone else was very great in 1928, with 1% of the households controlling over 50% of the wealth.

Luxury auto like the one in Gatsby
Luxury auto like the one in the Great Gatsby

Under the new emphasis on consumerism, women became the main target advertising campaigns for all kinds of new products.

advertising in the 1920's
Advertising in the 1920’s

But with the new right to vote, women also began to express themselves at the polls. They also took up vices that long had been the province of men: smoking, dancing, drinking, and all-around bawdy behavior. Cigarettes became chic, as celebrities, athletes, and even doctors promoted smoking.

Lucky Strike Cigarettes
Lucky Strike Cigarettes

International travel in luxurious ocean-liners was frequented by those who had the means. Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and several other American artists spent time in Paris, France in the early 20’s, gathering inspiration for future works of literature, such as Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises. Gertrude Stein, an older established writer of that period, who already had lived in Paris before the 1920’s, called those American expatriate artists, “The Lost Generation,” because they moved frequently to different activities and locales without any purpose.

 luxury of 1920's ocean-liners
The luxury of 1920’s ocean-liners

The wealthy had more opportunities to attend prestigious colleges than the average person who was consumed with working fulltime to strive to obtain new consumer products and enjoy the same lifestyles of the rich and famous. Fitzgerald’s family sent him to Princeton University, where he attended for about four years but never finished. Instead of attending classes, he was concentrating on writing for the school’s drama club and newspaper. While there, he was also starting to write some short stories and planning a future novel.

Princeton in the 1920's
Princeton in the 1920’s

In between writing great novels, Fitzgerald wrote many popular short stories for magazines. “The Saturday Evening Post,”  in particular, served as a showcase for his short stories. Many of them revolved around a new breed of American woman – the young, free-thinking, independent “Flapper” of the Roaring Twenties. Scott and his southern wife, Zelda, enjoyed fame and some fortune, and his writing reflected the excesses of the lifestyles of wealthy, aspiring socialites.

Zelda & Scott on Saturday Evening Post Cover
Zelda & Scott on The Saturday Evening Post Cover

He wrote his second novel – The Beautiful and the Damned a year after they were married. Three years later, after the birth of their first and only child, “Scottie,” he completed his best-known work: The Great Gatsby, in 1925. In total, Fitzgerald published four complete novels, one partial novel (The Last Tycoon), and over 100 short-stories in his brief lifetime. He died at the age of 44, in 1940, never knowing that he would one day be regarded as one of America’s greatest writers. In the upcoming Litchatte Posts, I will explore some of his most notable short stories, like “The Ice Palace,” “The Jelly Bean,” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” as well as his most notable novel, The Great Gatsby. In these, I will note where those works show several of the significant trends of the Roaring Twenties that I have mentioned in this discussion.

I welcome your comments and suggestions, and there is a space at the bottom of this blog, called “Leave a Reply” for you to send them. You can also sign-up to receive automatic entries of Litchatte.co at the bottom of this blog. As I don’t accept advertising, you will not receive unsolicited emails from others by submitting your email to this blog. Murray:

Dr. Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education from Temple University (1973), a Master’s Degree of Arts in English Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech (1988). He is married and has three adult daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of this literary blog and is an editor for the International Correctional Education Journal. He is Co-Editor of the 2017 Poetry Book, Mystic Verses by Shambhushivananda. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, and the Facilities Planning Committee Coordinator at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, VA, and writes a monthly column for the Museum website, thepoeblog.org. He has taught literature classes on Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and F.Scott Fitzgerald (thus far) at the OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond. He is the organizer and Coördinator of The First Fridays Classic Book Club, and is the co-organizer, along with Rebecca Elizabeth Jones, of the VCU Working Titles Book Club. Contact Murray at ellisonms2@vcu.edu, or leave a Comment at the bottom of any post.




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