History Research Paper Sample: Searching for the “Lost Generation”

Through our history curriculum, Commonwealth students learn how to be historians rather than passive absorbers of facts. They read and analyze primary sources from a variety of voices in their historical contexts. And they graduate knowing that a single textbook could never tell the whole story. Core to this discovery process is an annual research paper that hones students’ analytical and writing skills and challenges them to dig deep into a variety of sources on any topic of interest—whether it be debunking the “primitivist” myth around jazz, the impact of the breakup of the AT&T monopoly, or, as you will see in this recent example from Ava '23, how a generation of writers, seemingly “lost” in the wake of the tumult of the early twentieth century, perhaps knew just where they were going...

When I first began this paper, my questions were centered around modernism: what was the relationship between modernist literature, which is characterized by stream-of-consciousness writing, a multiplicity of perspectives, and non-linear narratives, and the debilitating changes of the early twentieth century, mainly World War I, World War II, and industrialization? From what I had read and heard, there seemed to be a general assumption that the breakdown of traditional forms and language in modernist literature was a reaction on the writers’ parts to the breakdown of society. The war blasted people into disillusionment, made them confront the evil aspects of human nature, and left them spiritually unmoored. As I began my research, I became interested in a group of American writers called the “lost generation.” I had read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which to me represented the two aspects of the “lost generation”: their loose lifestyles and resigned disillusionment, paired with the gilded decadence of the 1920s and the pulsing undercurrent of post-war anxiety. However, over the course of my research, I became increasingly aware of how my understanding of the “lost generation” was based on a cliché created by the writers and perpetuated by the popular imagination. In reality, these “lost generation” writers saw the world through their perspectives as artists and intellectuals, standing on the outskirts of culture to examine it while simultaneously creating what would become symbols of modern culture. Therefore, for the purposes of this paper, I sought mainly to trace the emergence of the term “lost generation” and uncover a running definition of it among the intellectuals. In the end, I found that though the idea of the “lost generation” was inflated by the writers and intellectuals, their personal struggles within an age of tumult appealed to their identification as “lost,” making the concept of the “lost generation” not a myth but a broad generalization.

The origins of the term “lost generation” lie in Europe. Though it became synonymous with the young men who served in the First World War, it had first been mentioned in 1912 by Franz Pfemfert in the German literary and political magazine Die Aktion. Moreover, the 1914 generation’s distinctiveness was marked not by the war but by “technological change, shifts in the structure of society, the threat of a general European war, and the appearance of a new culture” that existed beforehand and continued throughout the early twentieth century. It is difficult to know whether the connotations of disillusionment and isolation attached to this generation are as a whole an accurate reflection, as the term “lost generation” was created not by the masses but by the intellectuals: Franz Pfemfert was a German expressionist, and therefore, according to Wohl, was implicated with “twentieth-century generationalists,” people who saw generations characterized by distinct traits, and in Europe, only “members of a small elite…keenly aware of their uniqueness.” Furthermore, its ambiguity as a phrase is reflected in the multiple generations that often comprised the supposedly singular generation, as well as the variety of connotations it took on within different European countries and, after the publication of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in the U.S. In fact, many of the characteristics of the “lost generation” in Europe were reflected in its American meaning, perhaps because Hemingway’s famous conversation with Gertrude Stein, which inspired his epigraph “you are all a lost generation” in The Sun Also Rises, took place in Paris.

As we see in Hemingway’s account of the conversation in his memoir A Moveable Feast, neither he nor Stein created the phrase, but they added further nuance in using it. Gertrude Stein overheard the “patron” of a garage scolding the young man fixing her car, who had served in the war, exclaiming “You are all a génération perdue.” She then repeated the phrase to Hemingway: “That’s what you are. That’s what you all are…All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” This understanding of the phrase adheres to its European usage. However, over the course of the conversation, the term evolved from simply being the shared experience of war to an attitude of insolent indifference as Stein added, “You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” In this moment, she was no longer referring to the young soldiers of World War I but to her and Hemingway’s social circle. Hemingway asked whether the young mechanic was drunk, to which she replied no, but when Hemingway asked if she had ever seen him drunk, she replied, “No. But your friends are drunk.” Her understanding of the “lost generation” is explained further in her work Everybody’s Autobiography, published before A Moveable Feast. Here, the young war generation was “lost” in the sense that without “the influences of women of parents and of preparation,” they had not developed into maturity. Hemingway was offended by what he deemed Stein’s implication of his shiftlessness, believing himself to be more disciplined than she and her contemporaries, such as Sherwood Anderson. However, despite his condemnation of Stein’s “lost generation talk and all the dirty, easy labels,” he still reclaimed the idea of shared experiencing, wondering whether “the boy in the garage…had ever been hauled in one of those vehicles when they were converted to ambulances,” as he had done during the war. His epigraph in The Sun Also Rises, written almost forty years before his memoir, reveals his initial interest in Stein’s ideas.

His depiction of the “lost generation” in The Sun Also Rises also adds another important association to the term: expatriation. When the protagonist, Jake Barnes, and his friend Bill Gorton go on a fishing trip, Bill accuses Jake of being “an expatriate”: “You’ve lost touch with soil… You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working… You hang around cafés.” Though Bill’s accusation could be considered a parody of the idea of “expatriation,” especially given the playfulness of the conversation, “expatriation” here is conflated with “lost generation.” In fact, it is easy to see Stein’s influence on Hemingway’s understanding of both ideas. Expatriation was a trend among many of the “lost generation” writers, including Hemingway himself, Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot, all of whom were Americans who spent time in Europe, specifically Paris. However, leaving America was not simply a “rejection of homeland,” as Donald Pizer terms it, but a way for them to participate in the international modernist movement, to form connections with other established artists while living cheaply and comfortably, something that was not possible in the U.S. In this way, expatriation was not symbolic of their lostness and alienation from their former culture. In fact, many of the writers, such as Stein and Pound, still saw the U.S. as their home. Rather, it was an attempt to find a foothold in the artistic world in order to inspire their work and make a name for themselves. Furthermore, expatriation could not be the primary factor determining who was part of the “lost generation,” for many other writers settled throughout Europe, in Rome, Munich, and France, who were excluded from the “lost generation,” such as Edith Wharton and Sinclair Lewis. Therefore, Bill’s description of expatriates lingering about Montparnasse, Paris, uprooted from culture and nationality, indulging in empty pleasures, misses their vital motivations for fulfillment, turning the association between being “lost” and being an expatriate into a cliché.

Aside from expatriation, the writers also shared many experiences that made it easy to identify with being "lost." Many of them participated in World War I, fighting not with the Americans but with the Europeans. They went abroad chasing a "romantic" dream to experience "real life." Dos Passos later described how he and his college peers were "dying to get to Belgium to exhaust surplus energy by going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down in it," a testimony of their desire for agency, independence and freedom, which often greatly contrasted the protagonists in their work. Because they were fighting voluntarily and not for their own country, and were often ambulance drivers rather than soldiers, they were able to maintain a certain detachment from the war, and so their disillusionment was only "a bitterness tinged with longing and detached regret, a romantic distillation of other men's despair." Adding to this was the increase of immigrants, particularly in cities, which Earl Rovit argues created a sense of "social displacement" for these writers, who were largely white, Protestant, upper-middle-class males. These factors of the war and the shifts of the modern era unified this generation born at the cusp of a new century, making the "lost generation" an effective and easy label. 

Additionally, the writers shared a social connection with Gertrude Stein's salon. Stein was already a prominent figure in France since her arrival in 1903, though more as a socialite than a writer. By the 1920s, she had already published Tender Buttons, her work of modernist poetry that was radically experimental and not very popular, and through the establishment of her salon on rue de Fleurus, she situated herself within intellectual and artistic life. As a result, she attracted many young expatriate artists. As novelist Bravig Imbs describes in his 1936 autobiography Confessions of Another Young Man, "We were all going to be great artists and we had all sat with Alice [Toklas (Stein's partner)] and we had all given our homage to Gertrude." Stein's favor was perhaps what helped establish writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald while ensuring Imbs's place as "serviceable as an extra." Moreover, although there were many female writers frequenting Stein's salon, her preference for male ones reveals why writers such as Sylvia Beach, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Mildred Aldrich are not as closely associated with the "lost generation" as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dos Passos. As Aldridge, an American critic, observed, "It was she, perhaps, more than any other, who taught them how to make the most of their ‘lostness,’ how to develop…an idiom that would be true of their time and truly their own." Stein, like a campaign director, helped shape the lost generation writers' public image.

Other intellectuals played a similar role to Stein. Many intellectuals after the 1920s dramatized the writers' existential attitudes. In After the Lost Generation, written in 1958, Aldridge believed that the "lost generation," living with the trauma of war and the modern uncertainty that gave way to Dada, surrealism, and existentialism, "understood only the immediate present and past…[worshiping] only the gods of sex, liquor, violence, and art…because they had known nothing else." Aldridge's metaphors exaggerate the carelessness of the writers' lives, as does Stein's remark that they "drink [themselves] to death" and "have no respect for anything.” Though elements of Aldridge's depiction may be true, they take away the humanity that naturally existed within the writers as people. It is along this same line of thinking that Charles Glicksberg claims that "they [defied] death; they [courted] danger; they [made] a ritualistic cult of bullfighting and of hunting big game in Africa; they [committed] ‘gratuitous’ crimes; they experiment[ed] with suicide." In one fell sweep, Glicksberg compared Hemingway's hobbies of bullfighting and hunting to the murder committed by Leopold and Loeb in the name of Nietzsche and existentialism, tying them indelibly to their modern surroundings and making the "lost generation" a caricature of what they were. 

Furthermore, the power of intellectuals in being able to control the public image of the writers is testimonied by the revival in popularity of Fitzgerald and Faulkner. As Mark Greif acknowledges, "The novelists who came to matter were often closely connected to critics and intellectuals with a standing reputation." Faulkner, who was only sparsely read in the 1940s, was shuttled to fame by critic Malcolm Cowley. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Similarly, Fitzgerald achieved his lasting popularity through Cowley, Edmund Wilson, and Lionel Trilling, who revived his works after his death. Indeed, because critics often played a role in selecting which new works of literature were worthy of praise, their opinions would be influential in creating the canon of American modernist texts, which came to incorporate many of the major "lost generation" figures such as Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Overall, they may even have had the power to construct an image of 1920s and the modern era that remains with us today, as Dolan suggests that "the Lynds [who conducted the Middletown investigation] and Allen, as well other post-war journalists and intellectuals…played as large a role in ‘creating’ the mythic 1920s." If this is true, then the intellectuals played a significant role in interpreting the modern era as a shift from spiritual to material values that gave way to the widespread anxiety that would characterize the twentieth century. In this way, the dramatic portrayals of the "lost generation" could be seen as a natural product of their time rather than a unique personal experience.  

The writers' reputations were bolstered by not only their connection with Stein but their connections with each other. In fact, the publication of Hemingway's short story collection, In Our Time, was made possible by his friendship with Fitzgerald, who connected him to Scribner, his publishing house. No doubt Hemingway benefited from his friendships with writers such as Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Harold Loeb. Likewise, Fitzgerald's reputation was bolstered with Stein's decree in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that he "will be read when many of his well known contemporaries are forgotten" that in retrospect is now true. Just as in Europe, the birth of the "lost generation" was among a select group of intellectuals who were able to create a lasting idea of the "lost generation" because of their status as acclaimed writers. 

Ironically, the primary way the writers shaped their image as the "lost generation" was through their autobiographies rather than their literature. This proved to be especially effective given the popularity of the autobiography since World War I. As Hugh Kenner noted, the story of their movement was written "by the canonized themselves, who were apt to be aware of a collective enterprise, and repeatedly acknowledged one another." After the 1920s, many expatriate writers published autobiographies which, despite their inaccuracy, have played an important role in the public's understanding of the "lost generation." To the public, the autobiography fulfilled a desire to uncover the façade of Parisian life, as in the 1920s, there was a shift in popular culture where people began identifying themselves with the celebrities they followed rather than any aspects within their own lives— essentially the beginning of fandoms. Most likely, the "lost generation" writers accrued fame not because of their work but because of the public's interest in them as celebrities. Therefore, it is not surprising that Gertrude Stein's only bestseller was The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Written through the eyes of her companion, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas defied the traditional guise of objectivity in an autobiography. Self-consciously, it describes its own conception: "About six weeks ago, Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it." By likening the supposed fact of autobiography to Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, she blurs reality and fiction. In this way, though Stein was a generation older than the "lost generation," she was able to "[tie] her own reputation unalterably to theirs." At the end of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway also confesses that "this book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist" and in his manuscript states that "this is a book of fiction and should be read as such." The memoir is mostly written through first person, though it frequently switches to second person, a choice that was shown to be heavily debated in his manuscripts where he crossed out "you" to replace with "I," then changed it back. It seems that Hemingway had a natural instinct to switch into second person as a way of directly addressing the reader and fully immersing them in his experiences. When he describes what it is like to walk through the Luxembourg gardens, "you [rather than him] were accustomed to see the bare trees against the sky," "you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths," and "you were reconciled to [the trees]." The alternate effect of using second person was that he could establish his experiences as universal facts that were true not only for himself but for anyone who reads his book. To the same end, Fitzgerald also used "we" when describing the events and atmosphere of his time in The Crack-Up. In this way, these "lost generation" writers inadvertently used the autobiography as a way to validate the truth of their personal experiences. 

Within their literature, there are general themes that adhere to the idea of a "lost generation," but each writer nevertheless had their own conception of the modern human condition. As for their personal lives, the "myth" of the "lost generation" is in some ways true, as the three writers I will explore consequently struggled with mental illness, anxiety, or disillusionment as a result of their difficult love lives and lack of fulfillment creative. 

Hemingway's protagonists, including himself in A Moveable Feast are lost in the sense that their personal loss has pushed them to a disillusionment in their own agency. Although they are often detached from society and themselves, it is not because of indifference, as Stein suggests, but skepticism. The characters of The Sun Also Rises feel out of control, "sick," and "miserable." Though they distract themselves with escapades across France and Spain to drink and watch bullfights, they are ultimately unable to escape the shadow of war and the difficulty of love. Jake Barnes cannot be with the girl he loves because of his impotence due to a war injury and he doesn't know what he lives by or for. At the beginning of the book, he thinks about the world in transactional terms, slipping into Hemingway's characteristic second person: "Enjoying living was learning to get your money's worth and knowing when you had it… It seemed like a fine philosophy." Later, he re-evaluates this belief but still resolves that "I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it; only then could "you [maybe learn] from that what it was all about." Though he was born Catholic, religion doesn't offer him solace. In a beautiful paragraph of stream-of-consciousness, Hemingway describes Jake's circling thoughts as he tries to pray in a church. In the end, Jake concludes that "I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it…and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would next time." His half-heartedness in both of these passages is due to his belief that he has no control over what happens to him or what he feels. His reality becomes a monotonous blur of traveling, drinking, bullfights, and socializing that is only broken in two scenes: his fishing trip with Bill and his trip to San Sebastian when he separates from the group. There, immersed in nature, he is able to reclaim a sense of inner peace and a romantic vision of fulfillment. However, these tranquil moments in San Sebastian where he spends his days swimming in the ocean are shattered in the final chapters of the book when he returns to Brett, his love interest. The book ends when Brett laments "Oh Jake…we could have had such a damned good time together," to which Jake's reply is "Yes… Isn't it pretty to think so," a final line that encapsulates his disillusionment in love. As writer William Adair observes, the characters are defined by their "emotional and spiritual longing, a "hunger" for love, order, meaning, intensity, purpose" and therefore are characterized by lack. Moreover, within the frame of the epigraph from Ecclesiastes, "one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever…" their emptiness perhaps stems from the awareness of the transience of their lives. 

These themes are carried over in many of Hemingway's later works. A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929, is about a young American ambulance driver, Frederick Henry, fighting on the Italian side in World War I. He too maintains an attitude that is "stoic, bitter, and not without a dash of self-pity." His role in the war and his later experiences of becoming injured in an explosion and being nursed to health by the nurse he falls in love with mirror Hemingway's own life. Frederick's love for the nurse, Catherine, gives him a new meaning and purpose; as Catherine says to him, "you're my religion. You're all I've got." But just as the war looms in the background, death inevitably takes her away from him. When Catherine dies after giving birth, Frederick gets no sense of closure, as "it was like saying good-by to a statue." A Moveable Feast reveals that much of Catherine and Frederick's story is Hemingway and Hadley's rather than Hemingway and the nurse's. As Hemingway acknowledges in his transcripts, Hadley is Hemingway's heroine, and the memoir is an "account of the people and the places when Hadley and I believed we were invulnerable" before Hemingway had an affair and his marriage unraveled. Like Jake, Hemingway experienced a lack of fulfillment: "I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life." Like Frederick, he lost the love that made him happiest and gave him courage to face life. His own personal experiences made him well acquainted with loss, from the traumatic suicide of his father, whom he disdained; his war injury, which took away his "great illusion of immortality" and made him realize "that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me;" and his experiences of love with the nurse that left him, followed by his divorce with Hadley and his consequent three wives after her. Because of these fictional and nonfictional experiences, Adair aptly characterizes Hemingway's work by "loss, the fear of loss…and the aftermath of loss." 

Fitzgerald, who was of the same generation as Hemingway and was friends with him in Paris, shares many of his themes in his own literature, including the idea of a spiritual void, but his vision of disillusionment is one of material delusion. Hemingway's characters may not have a God, but they do have a moral code. Fitzgerald's characters, on the other hand, lack both values and identity. The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922, describes the tragedy of the wealthy couple Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert who are painfully aware of their own mortality and their dissipating love beneath the façade of their glamorous lifestyle. This Side of Paradise, perhaps the book where Fitzgerald was most self-conscious of the ideas of disillusionment and lostness, follows Amory Blaine, a Princeton student who enlists in the war and falls in love with the young and rich Rosalind Connage, who ends up breaking off their engagement upon realizing Amory does not have the means to support her lifestyle— a series of events resembling Fitzgerald's experiences before and after meeting his wife, Zelda Sayre. Amory realizes both an individual and collective emptiness: "For the first time in his life he rather longed for death to roll over his generation, obliterating their petty fevers and struggles and exultations. His youth seemed never so vanished as now in the contrast between the utter loneliness of this visit and that riotous, joyful party of four years before. Things that had been the merest commonplaces of his life then, deep sleep, the sense of beauty around him, all desire, had flown away and the gaps they left were filled only with the great listlessness of his disillusion." Adding Jay Gatsby to the pair, these three protagonists are initially propelled by superficial, all consuming desires for love, money, or status. When they lose these things or realize their unattainability, all they are left with is themselves: Anthony appears to two observers to have gone crazy and realizes how "he had been alone, alone—facing it all;"Amory, while walking through the Princeton campus, laments the state of the modern world and the loss of his youth, all underscored by his longing for Rosalind, initially triumphing that "I know myself" but concluding "but that is all;" and Jay Gatsby, now Fitzgerald's most famous protagonist, dies trapped in his illusion of the green light, a representation of the unattainable dreams built around his ill-fated love of Daisy Buchanan. 

It is no surprise that Fitzgerald writes of these themes, for they were reflected in the world that he knew. His time at Princeton paralleled the popularity of what Piper calls "the cult of the 'new disillusion'" on college campuses, beginning around 1912. In Fitzgerald's correspondence with friends, it is clear that they shared his existential hopelessness about the war, the loss of their youth, and their inability to return to when their life had been simpler. One of his friends then contemplated suicide, and later in his life, Fitzgerald noticed that "by this time contemporaries of mine had begun to disappear into the dark maw of violence," referring to the series of suicides at the end of the 1920s including that of Henry Drew Crosby. His personal reckoning came when he experienced a mental break-down at "this side of forty-nine," what we would most likely say was the result of depression or burn-out, which he called his "crack-up." He "realiz[ed] that for two years my life had been drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortaging myself physically and spiritually to the hilt…every act of life from the morning tooth-brush to the friend at dinner had become an effort." It is interesting to note that his transactional language of "drawing on resources" and "mortgaging" unconsciously similar to Jake's own thinking about life's objective. As a result, he felt "a vast irresponsibility toward every obligation, a deflation of all my values" and found that "there was not an "I" any more—not a basis on which I could organize my self-respect—save my limitless capacity for toil it seemed I possessed no more." Fitzgerald felt that even before this point, he had not had an identity of his own outside of his work: his "intellectual conscience" was not his own, but Edmund Wilson's; his moral compass was a friend living in the Northwest who he didn't name; his "artistic conscience" was another contemporary (perhaps Hemingway); his public and social life was "dictate[ed]" by an agent; and that his "political conscience" was mostly non existent. In this moment, Fitzgerald was therefore the epitome of a "lost generation" figure whose original weakness in values, along with modern cultural changes such as the replacement of the novel to the film as an art form, which he saw as vacuous, lead to a crippling of his sense of self. Uncannily, his experiences mirror those of his characters, though he conceived of them eleven or more years earlier, suggesting that the feelings that came to a breaking point in 1936 ran beneath the surface during the earlier periods of his life.

Eliot too was keenly aware of the spiritual and cultural breakdown of his time, but unlike Fitzgerald and Hemingway, he reflected this not within a particular generation, but in the world as a whole. His seminal poem The Waste Land, written in 1922, continues to be interpreted in the scope of the collapse of Western culture after World War I, despite the fact that Eliot himself was adamant that the poem was only inspired by his personal experiences. In his essay Thoughts After Lambeth, he declared "I dislike the word "generation," which has been a talisman for the last years; when I wrote a poem called The Waste Land some of the more approving critics said that I had expressed the "disillusionment of a generation," which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention." In The Waste Land, he explores themes such as the relationship between death and rebirth, dysfunctional love, war, and destruction. The poem is truly modernist in the way it is a fragmented kaleidoscope of different characters, voices, allusions, metaphors, and even languages. However, the overarching theme is that of the waste land, where nothing grows for lack of water. From the beginning, April, a month usually associated with spring and rebirth, is the "cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire." The only rebirth possible in the waste land is forced and artificial. Moreover, like its people, the landscape cannot reach any plane of security: "What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/ You cannot say, or guess, for you only know/ A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,/ And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/ And the dry stone no sound of water." In this drought, Eliot has reversed the biblical image of the lush, fertile promise-land described in texts such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, as well as the necessary climate for faith in Jesus's Parable of the Sower in the New Testament, implying both a physical and spiritual barrenness. Perhaps one reason for this is war, which is mentioned in snatches of conversation: a young man recognizes a Stetson, fellow soldier who fought with him at Mylae; a woman, Lil, is told to give her husband "a good time" because "he's been in the army four years;" and in a violent depiction of destruction there are "cracks and reforms and bursts/ in the violet air/ Falling towers/ Jerusalem Athens Alexandria/ Vienna London." However, these allusions are not specific to World War I, but encompass wars over the course of history: the Battle of Mylae took place during the first Punic War and the "cracks and reforms and bursts'' reverberate across time from the ancient cities of "Jerusalem Athens Alexandria'' to the modern cities of "Vienna London." Likewise, the relationships depicted, including the myth of the rape of Philomela, a broken dialogue between an estranged couple, and an affair characterized by "indifference," paint a universal picture of disconnection that, devoid of nurtured love, metaphorically links to the sterile environment. The image that most evokes lostness is his description of the "unreal city:" "A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent were exhaled,/ And each man fixed his eyes before his feet." Here, he alludes to limbo in Dante's Inferno, where the souls, belonging to neither heaven or hell, are doomed to mournful discontent. The only relief comes at the end with the thunder that may promise rain, the potential attainment of salvation, and the final lines "shantih shantih shantih" which Eliot translates as "the peace which passeth understanding," either some mystical revelation or death. 

In his personal life, Eliot struggled with fulfillment in his writing and his marriage, leading to a mental breakdown in 1921, when he felt "neurasthenic," "tired," and depressed." He went to Margate to recover, which may explain the lines "On Margate Sands./ I can connect/Nothing with nothing" in The Waste Land. His wife's struggles with mental illness took a toll on him, and when the war came, he saw that "the violence was inseparable from a collapse of common ground in culture, the loss of the mythic substructure that enables the individual to understand his relatedness to anyone or anything." This paralleled internal and external breakdown within The Waste Land was therefore present in his own life. Overall, the ways that his poem and life adhere to the idea of a "lost generation" are through this breakdown that perpetuates an inability to communicate and nurture any kind of cultural or spiritual connection. However, in reality, The Waste Land is too universal and complex to just be pinned to a single generation or a single adjective of being "lost."

The idea of a "lost generation" left a lasting impression on the 20th century. Its origins with the war generation of 1914 and writers of the 1920s marked the beginning of generationism, defining individuals by the generation they were born into. With the Great Depression and World War II came new generations of Americans who are perpetually lost: the Depression youth, the existentialist graduates of the 40s and 50s, the soldiers of World War II, and the "Beat" generation. Thus, the "lost generation" evolved from a select group of intellectuals and writers in Europe and the U.S. to the characterization of an era. As Hemingway observed in A Moveable Feast, "all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be." 


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