Do you ever find yourself wondering why the 1920s were called the Roaring Twenties? The Roaring Twenties was a celebration of youth and culture. During the 1920s, many different forms of art, music, and literature began. There were many changes that took place in the 1920s, and many people were influenced by these changes. The Roaring Twenties was a constant party because America was celebrating the victory of World War I. Many customs and values changed in the United States in the 1920s.
In the 19th century right before 1920, America was a country of small towns and farms that were held together by conservative moral values and close social relationships. The middle-class rural population believed in the values of thriftiness, moderation, and respectability. Before automobiles became of importance to Americans, the small towns were very independent places. Everyone knew each other in on the streets, and for entertainment they went to church socials and county fairs. Little did America know that soon their world would be changing more than they had ever seen.
In 1920 right after World War I, America changed dramatically, becoming an urban nation. An estimated 51.4 percent of Americans lived in communities with a population of 2,500 to more than one million. Between 1922 and 1929, nearly two million people left farms and towns each year. “Cities were the place to be, not to get away from,” said one historian. Small-town spirits began to lose control on the American mind as the cities rose to fame.
Moving to a metropolitan environment was a great change for small town people. Every day living changed. The city population attended great art exhibits and museums, sports events and plays, nightclubs and movies. They began to judge fellow neighbors by their accomplishments and not by their backgrounds as they did before. The people of the city drank and gambled, shocking small town people. They considered these things sins. Each day more and more people would enter the cities making it more impersonal and frightening. The streets were now filled with strangers, where as before they were filled with friends and neighbors. Social standards, the business climate and foreign cultures were very hard to accept because of their objectives of wealth and gratification.
During the Twenties, American women changed greatly from long hair and dark prudish ankle-length dresses, to short bobbed hair and bright waistless dresses. Many young Twenties women became more confident with themselves. Some began smoking cigarettes and drinking in public, which was not acceptable before and would have ruined reputations. Many rebellious women became flappers, which were liberated young women who embraced the new urban attitudes and fashions.
After World War I, many Americans had money to spare and the time to enjoy it. In 1929, Americans spent $4.5 billion on entertainment, which was mostly on changing fads. By 1925, filmmaking had become the fourth largest industry in America. More than 20,000 movie houses did business nationwide. Before World War I, silent films were shown in small nickelodeons, which only cost a nickel. After the war, entrepreneurs began to build luxurious movie houses, known as picture palaces since they were plentifully decorated with velvet curtains and gilt trim. Americans delighted over the achievements of stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Clara Bow. The silent film era ended in 1927 with the release of the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer.
For entertainment, some Americans went to movies and plays, which was a romantic escape for couples. Before movies, most plays in America were made similar to emotional European dramas. Americans were tired of boring dramas, what they really wanted to see were exciting and romantic plays. Eugene O’Neill, the first American playwright, granted their wish by winning a Nobel Prize for playwriting.
American painters took care of an America of dreams and realities. Edward Hopper depicted the loneliness of American life in his paintings of empty streets, simple storefronts, and solitary people. Hopper attended the Ashcan school of painting, which was known for painting everyday realities. Georgia O’Keeffe painted intense colored canvases that show the magnificence of New York. She painted dark buildings piercing into the sky, the glaring sun reflecting from windows as high as the sky, and nighttime streets forming ribbons of orange light in the blackness. In each of her paintings, she describes the reality of America in the 1920s, not the fantasized world others have painted. Americans enjoyed her paintings, although they liked the painting techniques, not the precision of the way she painted their lives.
The radio and phonograph helped the music business greatly. Americans loved popular songs like “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” and “My Blue Heaven.” Some of the most excellent songs played on the radio came from the musical stages. Famous composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter wrote music, which became American classics. Big-band music was perfect for dancing, so Americans danced like they never danced before. Flappers wore short skirts and danced the fox trot, the tango, and the camel-walk. In 1924, they learned the ever so popular Charleston, which was a fast dance that came from a black Broadway show called Runnin’ Wild. Preachers called this jazz and dancing sinful, but few young people cared, at least they were having a good time.
The Jazz Age was born in the early 20th century in New Orleans. Musicians blended instrumental ragtime and vocal blues into new high-spirited sounds. In 1919, Joe “King” Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band traveled to Chicago, bringing Jazz with them. Louis Armstrong joined the Creole Jazz Band in 1922 as a young trumpet player. Armstrong is famous for his remarkable sense of rhythm and his abilities to improvise. Jazz quickly spread from Chicago to Kansas City, Los Angeles, and New York City. Jazz soon became the most popular music for dancing in the 1920s. Harlem produced the sounds of jazz, which attracted swarms of whites to the gaudy, exotic nightclubs, including the famous Cotton Club. In the late 1920s, the jazz pianist and composer, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington led his ten-piece orchestra at the Cotton Club.
The Jazz Age was among one of the most important times during the 1920s for Americans. It changed attitudes, behavior, and ideas of life greatly. When they were out dancing on the dance floor at a club, they felt free of all the suffering they were going through. Even though it didn’t look like it Americans were suffering a great deal, they turned to alcohol and materialism to help soothe their pain.
Many American writers were ignored by the lifestyles of the 1920s. They had nothing to do with things they felt were from the stern culture of small towns and the superficial and rudeness of business cultures. Most of the literature writers produced was critical of a society with few morals to their personal fulfillment. Although writers struggled at first, the 1920s became one of the richest eras in American literary history.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was known as the representative of the Jazz Age. He revealed the negative side of the 1920s, which was more realistic than the way others described the era. In This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby, he depicted wealthy people, describing how they led hopelessly empty lives in their rich surroundings. Some writers were so upset about American culture that they lived in Paris. They wanted to have nothing to do with shallow people. Ernest Hemingway, who was wounded in World War I became the most known refugee author. In his novels, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, he criticized the worshiping of the war. He also began a tough, simple style of writing that set a new literary regulation.
The Harlem Renaissance was a literary movement that was started by well-educated, middle-class African Americans. These young writers expressed a new pride in the black experience. They celebrated the heritage and folklore of their people. They wrote with defiance about being black in a white world. Black literature helped African Americans reach out and realize that they were just as important as everyone else in the country and that just because they were black did not mean they could not do the same things whites did. During this rich era, important developments also were taking place in African-American society. They began to take pride in their heritage, and started the richness of African-American culture.
During the 1920s the lives of American people were not reality, even though they thought they were. All Americans cared about were themselves, and having fun. They were selfish when it came to money, even though they had enough to share. Materialistic things became much more important to Americans, they needed everything. All they did was celebrate, who knew what they were celebrating, whether it was their victory of the war or their wealth, they were still only thinking of themselves. The Roaring Twenties was not only a celebration of youth and culture, where the arts, music, and literature were significant in their lives, but it was also a time of internal hardships. Americans kept their feelings deep down inside themselves, being very careful that no one knew they were suffering, for fear of not being socially excepted.