Topic 55A – Lost generation: scott fitzgerald, john steinbeck and ernest hemingway. The narrative of william faulkner

Topic 55A – Lost generation: scott fitzgerald, john steinbeck and ernest hemingway. The narrative of william faulkner

The term lost generation was coined by Gertrude Stein to refer to a group of writers who were born around 1900 and who began to write in the 20s.

It was lost because:

It was uprooted from any attachment to any region or tradition.

Its training had prepared it for another world different from the one that existed after the war. (the war prepared it for travel and excitement).

It tried to live in exile.

It accepted no older guides to conduct.

It had formed a false picture of society and the writer´s place in it.

The generation belonged to a period of transition from values already fixed to values that had to be created. Its members began by writing for magazines with names like Transition, 1924, Secession, Broom. They were seceeding from the old, but could adhere to nothing new. All of them came from the North American middle class, that saw in art a means to break with their conformist class in the radicalism and liberalism of art. They didn´t follow the model of previous NA writers. This was the idealistic cause (other less realistic was the law that prohibited the consume alcohol in their country) for their exile mainly in Paris, where they meet intellectuals like Ezra Pound (he had helped WB Yeats and TS Eliot) and Gertrude Stein, who gives the name to the generation. However, they found a crazy Europe and demoralized intellectuals, also belonging to the middle class. In the middle of their doubts and uneasy gestures of defiance they felt sick for the certainties of the childhood. Their early books were almost all nostalgic, full of the wish to recapture some remembered things. In Pamplona, writing, drinking, watching bullfighting, they continued to desire his beloved north america, a home where they couldn´t go back.


1899. Illinois. His father was a doctor who enjoyed outdoor life. With him the young Charles spent much of his childhood in the woods of northern Michigan, hunting and fishing. Sports were always to be of the utmost significance to Hemingway (bullfighting and deep sea diving later), but he also developed a great interest in writing and published in his high school newspaper, and became a reporter for the Kansas City Star. When he graduated, in 1917, the US had just entered World War I against Germany. He wanted to enlist inmediately, but his father first and his poor eyesight later, prevented him from doing it. In 1918 he volunteered for service as an ambulance driver in the American Red Cross. He was destined in Italy, where he is seriously wounded. He spends 3 months in a hospital in Milan. It was a crucial experience in both his life and his art, and a major theme in his fiction.

As the other members of the generation he comes of age just before the war. He was dissillusioned by his experiences in the war, in rebellion with the conventions of the pre-war era, but he hadn´t nothing to replace the losses with. Nothing except the code by which the winner takes nothing, but the certain knowledge that he would lose everything.

For one who is disillusioned, distrustful of emotion, and suspicious of abstractions, it is surely easier to trust the facts, the “actual things”, as Hemingway would say in death in the afternoon.


After the war he becomes a reporter for the Toronto Star Weekly. He works a lot, learning from Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and his own experiences.

In 1923 he publishes his first book, Three stories and ten poems. We find in this book an anticipation of the whole of Hemingway´s work. The theme of a young´s man initiation to life, the emphasis on sex, death, pain. War, bullfighting, journalism. The hero of some of the stories is Nick Adams. He is a young man whom the violence of life makes him learn to indure by stamina and courage, and to decide that he can only survive by making a “separate peace”. All Hemingway´s latter heroes, seem to follow the steps of Nick Adams.

It would be also the germ for the narrative technique that Hemingway would later develope. It is a technique that has much in common with T. S. Elliot´s theory of the “objective correlative”, for it seeks to evoke the emotion indirectly by understatement, irony, and repetition, by an intense concentration on subtleties of rhythm and diction. It is a technique that came to full maturity in Hemingway´s next book, The sun also rises.

In The sun also rises, he creates one of the great cultural romances of our literature, brilliantly conceived and executed, in which style and subject, form and content, are perfectly fused and the theme is concretely rendered with superb artistry. This makes the novel a classic of modern literature. The novel deals with both a personal and a cultural situation, the theme of Jake Barns´ castration from a war wound and the failure of the land that no longer seams to bear. On the other hand, there is an affirmation of the simple life, the rituals of fishing, drinking from wine skins, and participating in the fiesta at Pamplona, which is, in itself, a kind of fertility festival. The novel ends on a sustained note of bitterness, a bitterness that does not fall in sentimentalism.

In 1928 he and his second wife returned to the US to settle in Florida, where he writes his next novel, A farewell to arms. It is not as perfect as The sun also rises. It continues to explore the themes of isolation, the fixity of pain in life, and the tragic aspect of art. There is an autobiographical aspect of the novel, the part in which the hero is hospitalized after being wounded in the war. Fiesta. This novel would make him famous. It tells the story of a group of NorthAmerican and British who rove in France and Spain, members of the lost generation of the period following the 1 World War. In this novel the term lost generation is used by Hemingway.


Hemingway´s fiction in the 30s deals more directly with social questions.

To have and not to have (1937) is set in the depression era, after the Black Friday of 1929 that would throw the country into a pit of disillussion and poverty, and with the efforts of F.D. Roosevelt to recover the country with his New Deal.

The fifth column is a play in three acts about fascist and communist espionage in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.

For whom the bells toll? His most ambitious novel, is at once a social romance and a tragedy on an epic scale, in telling the story of a northamerican officer and a young and coureageous girl, Maria, during the Spanish civil war.


Death in the afternoon

The green hill of Africa. Big game hunting.


Several years of this decade he was preoccupied with war. After the Spanish civil war he served as a war correspondent in China and then in Europe, where he campaigned with General Patton´s Third US Army. He only wrote Across the river and into the trees, a less important and succeeding book.


The old man and the sea made he win the Pulitzer Prize in letters, and his global work the Nobel Prize in 1954.


In July, 1961, a shocked world learned that in the early hours of the morning Hemingway had shot himself at his ranch in Idaho, and for a moment the very violence of the act seemed to make the man and his legend one. When a year later Faulkner died in Mississippi, it seemed that a generation came to an end.


Scott Fitzerald was born in 1896 in the Middle West. As the other members of the generation, he finds himself lost, having to face a world for which he hasn´t been prepared. His disillusion, will leave him to the nihilism and fantasy proper of those who have the money, the time, and the knack to enjoy life, that is, the wealthy NA aristocracy. His writting parallels his own experience in a high grade. Both in his life and in his novels, he searchs wildly for a perfection that does not exist. He would look for this perfection in the aristocracy of wealth. As he told Hemingway, the very rich are different from you and me. He was fascinated by the magic properties of wealth, and by the inmunity it could purchase. To the Aristocrat all doors opened, limousines, boats, suites, mansions. The minor disasters of their life, the lost ticket, the wet holliday, all could be solved.

In his early novels, he deals with this social group, Tales of the jazz age, This side of the paradise, The beautiful and damned.

Although they have not the quality and mastery of Fitzerald later work, they are fluently and carefully constructed. Fitzerald regarded himself from the first moment as a professional, although his characters seemed frivolous, and so did his own life, his writing was a serious one.


It is a sensible and satiric fable about the searching for success and the collapse of the American dream.

Jay Gastby, despite his mansion, his lavish parties, his dishonourable sources of income, is a spokesman for youth. All his life is intended to recover an early love affair with Daisy. She is married to Tom Buchanan, whose wealth is greater and older. This wealth has made them peculiarly invulnerable.

The situation is the same as that ot James´ The american, in which the hero discovers that his wealth is powerless against the intrenched assurance of the Bellegarde family.

Fitzerald really knows his world of wealth, and the characters´ gestures, appearance, and conversation are rendered with and exact and witty ease.

The book has a moving elegiac quality. This quality wells up when the narrator remembers his Midwestern childhood, and again, at the end, when Gatsby tries to recapture the past and carry it into the future with him, which he relates to the old American dream of a new world. The novel becomes so the nostalgic chant of a generation which looks back to a national childhood that will never come back.


When Fitzeral writes this book, in 1934, the age of Jazz, as he named the happy 20s, had already ended. Most of the expatriates were home again. The money had run out, after the collapse of markets on the Black Friday of 1929, Europe had turned sour. The critics neglected the novel, considering it a hangover from a vanished era.

In some respects it is a better book than The great Gatsby. It is more ambitious, more sensuous, and more intelligent. But the intelligence is of a professional order. Fitzerald has learned more fully how to construct a novel. He incorporates a wider range of characters. His prose is more brilliant.

However, the elegiac tone that sustains Gatsby is lost here. There is a nobility in the error of Gatsby, which is reemplaced in Dick Diver with self-pity.


He is an example of the modern American nostalgia for the primitive, the counter reaction to the triumphant urbanization of American culture, a process which had begun with the rendition of the south in Appomatox, in 1865, and followed with the reconstruction and the industrial revolution, which would transform an agricultural and rural country in an industrial and urban one. Steinbeck is all the opposite to Horation Alger Jr, the writer that had justified the progress of the nation, hiding the fraud to the people, the explotaition of workers, and the genocide of Indians on which that industrial revolution was built.

He is all the opposite since he admires everything that is not material success: the have-nots, the misfits, the racial minorities unjustly depriced of their civil and economic rights, the simple, the poor, and the opressed. His rural heroes are illiterate and sometimes weak-minded, but noble.


Steinbeck´s novels are realistic in that they are based on first research, carefully documented, and essentially faithful to a possible reality. However, everything is transformed. The characters are not realistically described, but romantically, poetically and idealistically portrayed. The characters are simplified, the qualities idealized, and a significance is given to the facts narrated. The result is a mixture of documentary report and archetypical moral story, which has been compared to the tone of Homeric epic and greek pastoral by some critics.


Neither is he a typical naturalist. Naturalism is the literary result of Darwin´s theory of evolution. Men´s acts, like other animal´s acts, are a consequence of his struggle for survive in a given environment. He is not completely free to act, his behaviour is determined by the circumstances by which he is surrounded and the causality in which he is involved. His work has been associated to naturalism because it presents scenes of great cruelty and passion (specially in The grapes of Wrath and Of mice and men). His characters, are sometimes cruel, and they commit crimes through accident or out or sheer stupidity, but they are not mere puppets of determination, and this is not a central theme in Steinbeck´s novels.

The language used by some characters in The grapes of wrath caused a great indignation among the most puritanical part of the society of those times. However, these characters use profanity because they don´t know other way of speaking. Foul language is as conventional in some groups as polite formulae are in cultured society.


His region is the Salinas Valley in central California and the nearby Monterey coast, a rather exotic enclave in American civilization populated with Mexican farm workers, Italian fishermen, and assorted artists, bohemians, and eccentrics. In addition to Steinbeck also Henry Miller found in Monterey country a wealth of native raw material for their fiction. Salinas and Monterey are not portraited specially faithfully. They are places of an imaginary realism, similar to the Yoknapatawpha County of Faulkner.

Steinbeck is fascinated with the foreign elements in the American population, and like most regionalists he believes that the elemental life of the country is infinitely superior to that of the city. When his characters are established securely on the land they are hard-working and good-hearted, if somewhat inclined to drink and argumentation. When their agricultural activities are dislocated (when the Joads are driven from Oklahoma or when a seductive woman intrudes her way into the agrarian dream of Lenny and George in Of mice and men), tragedy and bitterness result.

During the second world war, Steinbeck wrote outright propaganda in Bombs away and The moon is down.


Faulkner was born in a family with long roots in Northern Mississipy, the area that he would make famous through his novels. His father, his grand father, his great grand father, and other members of the family are also the source of some of typical Faulkner extravagant characters.

Faulkner both at achieving an academic degree, and living the experience of World War II. He spent his youth housepainting, paperhanging, dishwashing, and even rumrunning. As many others modern north american writers (Twain, Melville, Whitman, Bret Harte, Orpheus C. Kerr, Petroleum Nasty, Artemus Ward) he found in real life experience, as Melville said, his Yale and his Harvard.

In a trip to New Orleans, he meets Sherwood Anderson

Anderson, Sherwood (1876-1941), Ohio.

trabajó en diversos empleos hasta 1898.

soldado en Cuba durante la Guerra Hispano-estadounidense,

conjunto de relatos Winesburg, Ohio (1919),

trata de la lucha instintiva de personas normales y corrientes para afirmar su individualidad frente a la homogeneidad impuesta por el mecanicismo de la época.

realismo poético, su penetración psicológica y su sentido de lo trágico

estilo narrativo sencillo, conscientemente ingenuo

Anderson connects him with the intellectuality of New Orleans, the experimental narrative of Henry James, and the psicoanalisys of Freud. He also gets his first novels published, Soldier´s Pay, the story of a returning veteran. It was not a commercial success but it got some good critics, what encouraged Faulkner to write Mosquitoes, which is precisely a satire on New Orleans intellectuals.

His followings novels were Sartoris, The sound and the fury, and As I lay dying.

In each of these 4 novels mentioned, writen between 1929 and 1936, it seemed as if fiction was being reinvented. He wrote about childhood, families, sek, race, obsessions, time, the past, his native South, and the modern world. He invented an entire southern county and wrote its history. Yoknapatawpha county appears for the first time in Sartoris, a novel in which the emphasis is placed on the social and historic aspect of the South. He invented voices for characters ranging from children to criminals, the insane, even the dead, sometimes in the same book. For example, The sound and the fury, has 4 sections, each with a different narrator, and each supplies one part of the plot. Three of the narrators are brothers, Benjy, the idiot, Quentin, the suicide, and Jason, the business failure. Each of them mourns the loss of their sister Caddie. Faulkner invents a completely different voice for each narrator. Let´s remember that when we talk about voice, we are talking about a concept that comprises the P. Of View from which the story is narrated, and therefore it implies a focalization, a restriction of the data available for the reader. Voice is also a source of information about the narrator, the characters in this ocassion. Faulkner, as Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, other writers that worked with the technique of stream of consciousness, tries to capture the character´s speech in its preverbal form, before it is uttered, so it is a language full with associations of ideas, images, fears. The result is a portrait of the character beyond his behaviour, his aspect, and even his language. While the story moves out to the disintegration of the old southern family to which these brothers belong, its focus is on the private obsessions of the brothers.

On the last section we have a traditional omniscient narrator.

As I lay dying, is an even more disjointed narrative, also focused on a loss, the death of a mother. The story moves forward chronologically as the “poor white” family takes the body of the mother to the town of Jefferson for burial. Its narration is divided into 59 sections of interior monologue by 15 characters, each with a different perception of the action and a different way to relating to reality.

After the publication of Sanctuary, the movie industry became interested in Faulkner. The novel deals with sex, gansters, official corruption, and urban violence. The 30´s saw a golden age for detective fiction, with Dashiell Hammet, his hard-boiled detectives in NY (Red Harvest,), and Raymond Charles in L A. In 1932 he went to Hollywood to write and adaptations of his work and of others for movies. He worked with Howard Hawks, and wrote the scripts for two famous movies, and adaptation of Ernest Hemingway, To have or to have not, and Raymond Chandler´s the big sleep.

In 1936 he publishes Absalom, Absalom, thought by many his masterpiece. It is also narrated to several narrators, which try to find a meaning in the story (like the reader). Like earlier novels, it deals with an individual, about the South, and about itself as a work of fiction. But its emphasis shigts from the private psychology that dominated in earlier work to social psychology: the collective mind of the south.

With World War II, Faulkner´s work became more traditional and less difficult. The Hamlet, The town, and the Mansion. He began to write about the rise, in Yoknapatawpha County, of the poor white family named Snopes, and the simultaneous decline of the region´s “aristocratic” family.

William Faulkner is an influence which extends through all the NA and universal literature from the 30s, through his advances in narrative techniques. More directly, he influenced the group of Southern Writers after the 1st World War:

Carson McCullers, The heart is a lonely hunter (escritora). Attraction for solitary, maladapted, convicts.

Truman Capote Other voices, other rooms

Flanery O´Connor, A good man is hard to find Book of short stories, peculiar combination of southern gothic, prophecy and catholic evangelism. Faulkner and Kafka.

They are characterized by his fascination for the grotesque, extrem and perverse incongruities of character and scene, verbal effects. They absorved American speech, manners, habits of eating or praying or loving, while refusing any topical engagement with the public and social happenings around them.

Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1950 after the publication of the antiracist Intruder in the dust (1948) .