Essay on 1920’s Culture

After a short postwar recession, the US economy grew exceedingly. Unemployment dropped as low as 3 percent, prices stayed steady, and gross national product increased by nearly 30 million in seven years. Some of this prosperity was due to technological advancements such as electricity. New systems for distributing goods also affected the US economy; perhaps the most influential producer of a good economy was advertising.

Help with Essay on 1920's Culture
Help with Essay on 1920’s Culture

By the mid 1920s electricity was in more than 60 percent of all homes, and with the availability of electricity came the need for electrical appliances. These electrical appliances reduced the amount of work and physical effort put in on the job and at home. Most rural dwellers lacked electricity which put them at a disadvantage from their city dwelling counter parts.

Automobiles, another reason for the boom of the 20s, caused a need for assemblers, which increased the job market, and by 1930 the automobile industry made up for about 9 percent of all wages. Another effect the automobile industry had on the economy was its stimulation of other industries such as rubber, gasoline, petroleum, advertising, and highway construction. Automobiles reduced the isolation felt by rural dwellers as it became easier for them to enter and exit the city without having to worry about train schedules. Because of this new found freedom people were able to drive to the chain department stores that perhaps were not convenient before. This led to a decrease of ma and pa shops as they became worthless in a society driven by the advertisements heard on the radio.

Automobiles also had some negative effects both on society and nature. In society it created a larger gap between the rich and the poor as the poor were unable to buy automobiles and therefore restricted to where they could get by foot or on the train, forcing them to continue living in the city while their more wealthy counterparts could move to the suburbs because they traveled with ease form city to suburb. Another negative effect of automobiles and the industries they depended on was pollution and waste. Power plants, steel mills and automobiles emitted fumes everywhere. Even remote forest suffered as Americans began to enjoy road trips as a family vacation.

As mentioned before advertising also effected the US economy, it was advertising that encouraged people to buy cars, and as a response to this demand, chain dealerships sprung up everywhere across the US. The advertising industry accounted for about 600,000 jobs and guided people as to what material items were needed to enjoy life.

These many technological advancements did not only affect the economy however; daily life for women was changed dramatically as what was previously laborious house work became a technological challenge which eventually provided the women with free time to venture and explore work outside the home. After the war the percentage of women in the work forced remained the same despite the fact that 2 million more women were in the work force. Despite many technological advancements women still faced another barrier, this one not easily overcome by a new invention, discrimination. Tradition thinking was that women should relinquish their job outside of the home as soon as they were married in order to take on their role as a wife. Because employers saw women as dispensable and temporary, they tended to pay women less than men, a practice that still exists in our alleged equal opportunity country. In spite of the many barriers that women faced during this era, there was a 4 percent increase in women who graduated high school; also, women began to fill clerical and other pink collar positions. Although women did gain the right to vote in 1920, and some states allowed women to serve on juries the nineteenth amendment did little to change women’s rights as many of their proposals were shot down by Congress because they were viewed as unimportant agendas.

As a result of lack of enjoyment in work, many workers began to use their leisure time as a time for them to be entertained and forget their sense of worthlessness. Because many Americans became bored with their lives, they looked to lives of other to find a sense of excitement, this created for some, celebrity status. Men looked to famous sports figures while women looked to beauty pageant contestants for an escape from their boring lives.

The search for entertainment during leisure time created a whole new culture of creativity in the 20s. With this new culture came new values as the younger generation broke away from tradition values and began throwing parties, drinking alcohol (which was still prohibited by amendment 18), going to jazz club, dating and talking of sex openly. The “Flapper” created by John Held Jr. encompassed all of the qualities of the pleasure seeking youth of the 20s.

It was the cultural chaos of the 20s however that stimulated many writers, architects, musicians, and even brought about some tolerance and admiration for African-Americans. Many writers of the 20s are still read today, it seemed that WWI and the 20s brought about an influential experience for these writers. The 1920s also brought about a change in architecture in comparison with the glamorous style of architecture in the Victorian age. New architecture consisted of high rise buildings. Musicians were involved in the whole Jazz movement; this music which was traditionally preformed by African Americans was adopted by Caucasians who soon played out the music because they lacked the innovation that the life experiences of the African Americans provided.

As mentioned before, the 1920s brought about a sense of tolerance for African American culture, if not African Americans themselves; this was mostly due to the Harlem Renaissance. Surprisingly, despite poverty, disease, and over crowding, the African American culture flourished, this soon became known as the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem renaissance was a movement that encompassed many cultural aspects (art, music) but it was most influential as a literary movement. White Americans were intrigued by the sensuality, eroticism, spirituality, and spontaneity, and when African Americans deterred form this genre, White Americans were quick to withdraw patronage from the literary movement. Despite the introduction of many new great pieces of literary work, they all lacked a certain truth about life as an African American, a life filled with racism, discrimination, and economic hardship.

The National Origins Act of 1924 represented the attack of native born Americans on immigrants (this is something that is still seen today) however, this is not the only thing that shows Native born Americans discrimination on immigrants. In the 1920s there was a revival of the Ku Klux Klan after almost 50 years of them fading away. The Targets of the Klan however was no longer just African American, but Jews, Catholics and immigrants as well.
Many poor African Americans turned to relief to the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association). UNIA glorified all things black and founded a chain of grocery stores and other businesses that were by African Americans for African Americans. Although this movement collapsed in 1923 it exposed the discontent in the ghettos, and the potential for large scale activism.

The 1920s could be described as the “coming of age” of modern America. Through technology, arts, sport and science American culture was shaped in a 10-year period. Faster music, looser morals, and skimpy dress all contributed to the end of our nation’s adolescence. However there was one factor that would later define the 1920s: prohibition. Seemingly, with a “coming of age” also came intelligence. As one faction of society pushed for looser morale, another group was right behind them leading the charge against social evils. The main objective of these groups was to do away with social evil by putting an end to its source: alcohol. Prohibition contributed to the prosperity of the 1920s by leading America on a dry path to overall well being, reducing alcohol production, plummeting alcohol consumption, and promoting health. Prohibition was first put into affect by an Amendment to the Constitution in 1919. However, America had been on a crusade towards perfectionism in human beings since the time of the abolition of slavery.

Bibliography:

  1. Carol Martin Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture of the 1920s and 1930s.University Press of Mississippi. Jackson, MS. 1994.
  2. Davidson et al.: Nation of V. Global Essay: The Perils 24. The New Era © The McGraw.Hill Nations, Third Concise of Democracy (1920.1929) Companies, 2002 Edition, Volume II;
  3. Davidson et al.: Nation of V. Global Essay: The Perils 25. The Great Depression © The McGraw.Hill Nations, Third Concise of Democracy and the New Deal Companies, 2002 Edition, Volume II (1929.1939);
  4. Michael Barkun, Lizabeth Cohen Popular Culture and Political Change in Modern America: State University of New York Press. Albany, NY. 1991.;
  5. M. Thomas Inge Handbook of American Popular Culture.: Greenwood Press. Westport, CT.: 1978, V. 1.

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