The 1920s are often called the Jazz Age. To what extent did the novels and the lifestyle of F. Scott Fitzgerald reflect or define this label?
In her book on American culture in the 1920s, Lynn Dumenil mentions that a key image of the period was leading “a fast life, propelled by riches and rapidly changing social values” (Dumenil 1995: 7). This is not entirely true. In fact, the 1920s, also known as the “Jazz Age” were a decade of contradiction: there was progress and prosperity on the one hand and depression and isolation on the other. The women’s suffrage and the Prohibition Act both passed in 1919 are somehow a characteristic introduction to the following ten years of contradiction in American history. One of the decade’s best known writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, born on 24 September 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota, celebrated his breakthrough after the release of his first novel This Side of Paradise in 1920 (Bruccoli 1981:13). His success literally came overnight and from then on his life changed completely (Allen 1931:90). Even though he was part of the fun generation which was so typical of the 1920s, he also embodied the characteristics of a moralist (Boyer 2009: 546). Fitzgerald’s life had been coined by ups and downs and by the end of the 1920s he caused his own downfall. Considering historical as well as biographical background information, this essay will provide an answer to the following question: To what extent did the novels and the lifestyle of F. Scott Fitzgerald reflect or define the Jazz Age?
There are many definitions on the term jazz, and right in the middle of the Twenties, J. A. Rogers formed one of them. He stated that "the true spirit of jazz is a joyous revolt from convention, custom, authority, boredom, even sorrow from everything that would confine the soul of man and hinder its riding free on the air" (Rogers 1925: 665). This sentence describes not only the spirit of jazz, but also what the Jazz Age was about. In general, the Jazz Age spanned between the May Day riots in 1919 and the stock market crash in 1929. Still fed up with the events of WWI, the generation of the Jazz Age showed no interest in politics at all (Fitzgerald 1931: 130). Although the daily lives of urban white middle and upper classes transformed immensely due to new inventions in technology such as automobiles, electric irons, refrigerators, and radios, it was not the rule (Dumenil 1995: 6). In fact, there were two sides of the coin. The average American led a much more modest life and the farmers never recovered from the post-war depression (Dumenil 1995: 8). Among this disadvantaged group were also industrial workers, blacks, Hispanics, and recent immigrants whose main intention it was to maintain their economic survival (Boyer 2009: 545). Hence, besides the optimism resulting from a prospering economy, there were still negative components that made the 1920s also a decade of isolation and negativism. The Red Scare, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and prohibition formed that counterpart (Dumenil 1995:152).
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- Yvette Denner (Author), 2009, The 1920s are often called the Jazz Age. To what extent did the novels and the lifestyle of F. Scott Fitzgerald reflect or define this label?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/151154