Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

After the War

The Lost Generation

Many critics consider Soldiers' Pay to be Faulkner's commentary on the "lost generation" of Americans who reached adulthood during World War I and the early 1920s. In general, this generation was disillusioned by the large number of deaths in the War and rejected many of the previous generations' ideas of appropriate behavior, morality, and gender roles.

The phrase "Lost Generation," as coined by Gertrude Stein, refers specifically to ex-patriot writers who left the United States to take part in the literary culture of cities such as Paris and London during the 1920s. This group, including Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot, was skeptical about out-moded traditional forms of literary and artistic work, but optimistic about the potential of new forms. Its members were prolific writers and many produced classics.

Though Faulkner is not considered to be a member of this Lost Generation, critics often compared his texts of this era to the works of the Lost Generation writers, particularly those of Ernest Hemingway. Both Hemingway and Faulkner had wished to be war heroes but were denied the chance—Hemingway was too young to enlist in the United States military, and Faulkner was too small. Faulkner signed up with the Royal Air Force in Canada, but the war ended before he finished his training. Hemingway volunteered to drive ambulances for the American Red Cross in Italy and was injured there.

Photograph of a military cemetery in Romagne, France
Photograph of a military cemetery in Romagne, France
Eugene O. Goldbeck

Photographer Eugene O. Goldbeck visited Europe in 1927. On that trip, he took this panoramic photograph of a cemetery in Romagne, France, where thousands of American soldiers who died in wartime had been buried. This panorama only begins to illustrate ...

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