After the end of World War I, American literature reflected a sense of disillusionment even as the U.S. economy boomed during the "roaring 1920s." Influential writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner wrote some of their most seminal work, developing unique styles that were distinctly American.
The Lost Generation
During the early part of the 20th century, a group of American expatriate writers lived in Paris, an experience that shaped their future writing. This group included such figures as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein, who coined the phrase "the Lost Generation" to describe both the writers and the their rejection of societal values of previous generations. Themes of their work included spiritual alienation, self-exile and hedonistic indulgence. The idea that good things would happen to good people was also rejected, as this was clearly not the case in the 1920s when American soldiers returned from war suffering from both physical and mental wounds.
Hemingway's style remains distinctive for its directness and simplicity. Hemingway spent a great deal of time rewriting and revising his prose to remove any extraneous language or literary embellishments and arrive at a stripped-down, bare-bones style that was likely influenced by his earlier work as a journalist. Hemingway's style was also a rejection of a literary trend that emerged at the end of the 19th century in which American writers embraced British mannerisms, resulting in ornate, flowery language and an excessive use of adjectives.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like Hemingway, Fitzgerald's style was also straightforward, using simple, declarative sentences to advance the narrative of the story. As a youth, Fitzgerald was a reader of lowbrow genre writing such as detective stories. This is evident in his most acclaimed novel of the 1920s, "The Great Gatsby," which melds elements of romance and mystery genres with literary craft. In "The Great Gatsby," Fitzgerald was able to create an important work of literature that was also a well-plotted, page-turning story with mass appeal.
Although he was not a part of the Lost Generation, William Faulkner's writing during the 1920s remains influential, though his most important work came in later decades. During the 1920s Faulkner honed his style. This is exemplified in the 1930 novel "The Sound and the Fury," which he wrote during the latter part of the 1920s. Faulkner's prose was complex, as was his narrative flow, with plots starting in the middle and more information fleshed in as the novel progresses. Faulkner also used a stream-of-consciousness style, with long, confusing fragments that must be pieced together by the reader.