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Jazz Age 101: 1920s In America


One of the most important eras of American history, the Jazz Age started after World War I and ended with the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929. Nevertheless, this era offered new images and terms both literary and culturally in a wide spectrum. In this period, the United States went through a huge transition and began to prosper in music, literature, economy, policy, and technology. In 'The Roaring Twenties', known also as 'the Golden Age', divergent cultures gathered into one pot and shaped this period by their own essential qualifications. Effects of this age have been shaped the American culture dramatically and, still have been maintaining its importance. Hence, it is crucial to gain knowledge from the Jazz Age in order to understand American culture and literature. During each article, this series will cover the Jazz Age in terms of different backgrounds to enlarge readers' perspectives.

Jazz Age 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

  1. Jazz Age 101: A New Beginning

  2. Jazz Age 101: 1920s In America

  3. Jazz Age 101: Lost Generation

  4. Jazz Age 101: Harlem Renaissance

  5. Jazz Age 101: New Women

Jazz Age 101: 1920s In America

As mentioned in the A New Beginning article, with the contribution of economic prosperity, the United States was experiencing a splendent period of its time. In this article, the issues will be handled in a detailed way to explain how developments offered a different lifestyle in social conditions and raised a new culture in 1920’s America. The 1920s was an exciting historical era that was filled with music, dance, art, parties, cocktails, and economic growth, many of these elements impacted quite talented people to produce marvellous masterpieces that art and literature consumers appreciate even today. 1920’s America was metamorphosing into an extraordinary and unheard chapter. The more the nation prospered, the more consumption increased. However, one should remember that America’s Jazz Age was also the beginning of the Prohibition Era, that is why the desire to surpass the limit was more prevalent among young individuals. Especially, in society, the 1920s was the beginning of an innovative era that was away from conservative thoughts, and many Americans started to adopt less traditional moral codes and became open-minded.

[In the 1920s, the literary party was the event of the season, complete with drunkenness, obscene nursery rhymes, and those devastated by the ‘lack of refinement in their idols’.]

As F. Scott Fitzgerald explains in Echoes of the Jazz Age: ‘’It was characteristic of the Jazz Age that it had no interest in politics at all. It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire’’ (Fitzgerald, 2). Rather than being obliged to follow political incidents, they were inclining to a flamboyant paradise of the Jazz Age. It was their magical tool to accept the Jazz Age as an opportunity to reveal their desires and talents to everyone. Opulent families’ children were prompting the luxury and humiliating the formation of the middle class. They were open to trying the new and unknown, there was no restriction on exploring more. Their mindset was matching with the desire to extend boundaries, and the glory of the era was contributing to that too. They did not desire stable jobs, convenient houses or popular furniture. Rather than respect the middle-class properties, they openly declared their attitude with their decadent lifestyles. Although they went to respectable universities and travelled in Europe a lot, they pondered upon the value of poverty and glorified the poor. They stood behind unconditional love, alcohol, parties, sex, and drugs. They were choosing codes of dress that made them recognizable from the rest of society. The only aim for them was living for the night, thus they slept through the morning for a lively nightlife. Women smoked in public a lot, and that was disdainful behaviour in polite society. Furthermore, they wore sandals and unformed dresses made of coarse cloth.

[Dancing the Charleston, 1928]

Photographs, stories and novels from the 1920s show this tempting and seductive sense of fun and humour. As James Ciment highlights in Encyclopedia of the Jazz Age: ‘’Longing for a carefree existence after the horrors of World War I, Americans in the 1920s celebrated life, youth, and activity. Clothing became comfortable, colourful, less restrictive, and more accommodating to an active lifestyle filled with travel, sports, and leisure’’ (Ciment, 264). That was time for the letting go of worry; and instead of struggling to make ends meet, they were enjoying the relief that came afterwards of war. Concerning about the future and money was not their priority at that time. One example of this ''carefree'' way of life is explicit in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) novel. The themes of glory, image, gratification, and self-expression were dominant in American popular culture of the 1920s. James Ciment mentions Fitzgerald’s characters as: ‘’His fictional flappers are typically good-looking, sporty, flirtatious, fashionable, outspoken, and in open rebellion against Victorian morality'' (Ciment, 276). Luxury goods were sparkled from the perspective of women. It was quite important to give impressive impact in a good looking way. There was a lifestyle including free-spending and extravagant parties arranged through money, and The Great Gatsby was a novel that covers the empty lives of the rich. There was nothing important for them to except magnificent parties and dresses. However, in the book, Gatsby had money and possessions, yet he was unable to find happiness. Gatsby's look for something transcendent was bounded by a group or society that knows no merit outside of the starkly material elements. People had an emptiness that was never filled with parties, money, and dresses. Even if they celebrated being ignorant of the facts of life, there was a sense that chased them and made them restless.

[The Great Gatsby, 2013]

As F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions in My Lost City:

The tempo of the city had changed sharply. The uncertainties of 1920 were drowned in a steady golden roar and many of our friends had grown wealthy. But the restlessness of New York in 1927 approached hysteria. The parties were bigger—those of Conde Nast, for example, rivalled in their way the fabled balls of the nineties; the pace was faster—the catering to dissipation set an example to Paris; the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper; but all these benefits did not really minister to much delight (Fitzgerald, 1).

While everything was sped up in a way that was never been seen before, complicated and unexplainable senses were brought to mind. In order to suppress that feeling of being lost, they adopted solutions to be far away from society. Ties among the people were getting loosened in a moral way and becoming more indifferent.

[1920s Young Americans]

To sum up, the 1920s in America underwent the most bright and fruitful times. In this era, there was a huge amount of wealth and development. Even if most of the high-status Americans enjoyed that process, they could not find the things that they were planning to reach. They idled around the uncertainty and tried to reach a meaning related to the magic of the era. However, in the end, not only individuals became vain. It turned America into being vain as well. Hence they partied, consumed alcohol, and travelled a lot. It was a kind of escapism for them to blind themselves towards everything. This was a well-publicized, fascinating lifestyle with which it became related to the public imagination.

[1920s Young Americans]


Ciment, James, Encyclopedia of the Jazz Age, M E Sharpe Reference; 1st edition. Feb. 1, 2008.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Echoes of the Jazz Age, Les productions luca. Feb. 2, 2015.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Fitzgerald: My Lost City: Personal Essays, Cambridge University Press; Illustrated edition. March 6, 2014.

Image References

1920s the literary party. [Photography].

Dancing the Charleston, 1928. [Photography].

The Great Gatsby, 2013. [Photography].

1920s Young Americans. [Photography].

Author Photo

Aylin Usta

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