The Modern Temper
World War I destroyed the idea that humanity and civilization were "progressing." This had been the big stimulus for progressivism; but the unimaginable carnage of the War had produced a disillusionment among many people; particularly young people, and caused them to challenge old values.
A new sense of values developed which considered primarily of a disdain for old-fashioned rural values. The mood was called "modernist" and the "Modernism" movement was thus born. This came from the realization that Western civilization had entered an era of bewildering change. New technologies, new modes of transportation and communication, new scientific discoveries changed perceptions of reality, and led to new forms of art and artistic expression. Said the writer Gertrude Stein, "One must never forget that the reality of the twentieth century is not the reality of the nineteenth century, not at all." The times they were a changiní.
Red scares, bombings, etc. were all blamed on immigrants. As a result, there was a growing tendency to connect American nationalism with nativism, Anglo-Saxon Racism, and militant Protestantism.
The fact that so many of the radicals who had been involved in bombings, etc. were foreign-born led people to believe that only those born in foreign countries were capable of such acts.
The most celebrated case of the times apparently proved the connection, at least in the minds of those who wanted to believe it. Two Italian-born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested for a payroll robbery and murder in Braintree, Massachusetts. There is some doubt as to whether they were guilty of the robbery and murder, and there is substantial argument that they were convicted solely on the basis of their political ideas and their ethnic origins, not because of the crime.
The presiding Judge referred to the two men as "those anarchist bastards."
Many radicals and liberals came to their defense to no avail, and on August 23, 1927, they were executed in the electric chair.
Postwar nativism led to new efforts to restrict immigration. A sort of pseudo-scientific racism developed called Eugenics. This supposed science taught that the human race could be improved by controlling humanity.
A book of the time which lent great support to this idea was written by Madison Grant, and was entitled The Passing of the Great Race (1916). It said that the great race of Nordics from Northern Europe was being threatened by immigration of Slavic and Latin people of eastern and southern Europe.
A rise in immigration after the war, and nativist sentiment led Congress to pass the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921:
∑New arrivals each year were restricted to 3% of the foreign born of any nationality as shown on the 1910 census. Later, it was changed to allow only 150,000 immigrants per year based on the "national origins" of Americans as of the 1920 census.
∑No exact way of determining this could be devised, so officials used any data they thought was reliable.
∑The effect was to tilt the balance in favor of immigrants from Northern and Western Europe. They averaged about 85% of the total number of immigrants.
∑People from East Asia were completely excluded; a blunt insult to the Japanese.
∑There was, however, not restriction on immigration from the Western Hemisphere, and as a result, there was a tremendous increase in the Hispanic-Catholic population of the U.S.
People of Latino descent became the fastest growing minority in the Country; although not all came through legal means.
The Ku Klux Klan:was revitalized. It was reborn on Thanksgiving Night in 1915 in Atlanta Georgia. Its founder said that "bathed in the sacred glow of the fiery cross, the invisible empire was called from its slumber of a half a century to take up a new task." It dedicated itself to "100 percent Americanism," and restricted its membership to native-born white Protestants.
This limitation still stands. A person joining the Klan is required to take an oath swearing that he is non-Catholic white native-born American.
Along with blacks, the new Klan was opposed to Roman Catholics, Jews, and immigrants of all sorts. The founder of the new Klan, William J. Simmons, said in a speech that "America is no melting pot, it is a garbage can."
The Klan was no longer restricted to the South. There were Klan organizations in Maine and in Oregon. It seems to have found its greatest support in the Midwest. Membership included clergymen, engineers, accountants, lawyers, etc. It claimed to be preoccupied with the defense of "native" (meaning "white) women and Christian morals.
The Klan is still in existence, needless to say, but few respectable people claim membership. It is primarily composed of red necks and ultra ignorant people. As late as the sixties, it was quite popular with people who otherwise appeared respectable. It came as a great shock to me to learn that a number of Lawyers in Conway when I first moved to Myrtle Beach in 1973 had once been members of the Klan.
Gates grew up in a time when racial segregation was the law, and considered natural. I was taught that separate but equal was the way things should be, and that whites were naturally superior to others. My first inkling that this was wrong was to read and hear some of the diatribes of the Klan, which even at a young age to me seemed to be wrong, wrong, wrong. I remember seeing a poster which read, "Donít be half a man; join the Klan." I was about ten years old, and I tore it off the pole, it was so disgusting. To this day, I canít imagine how any human being can be capable of such hate, and call himself a good person, let alone a Christian.
Sociologists now say that the Klan was a reflex of changing morals of the time; as the influence of churches was declining, and city dwellers and college students were becoming somewhat broadminded. (A polite term for "liberal," which was a swear word to most Americans.).
The Klan considered itself to be a moral crusade. Members of the Klan offered appeared as a group at church meetings, made a contribution to the church, and one of their members spoke of their dedication to clean up America. One member said of the Klan, "It is going to bring clean motion pictures, clean literature, break up roadside parking, enforce the laws, protect homes." At one point, a march was staged down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in which 40, 000 Klansmen took part.
The appeal was almost like that of a lodge. Even Calvin Coolidge, a future President, was a member for a while. Later, its founder, William Simmons, was replaced by a dentist from Dallas Texas named Hiram Wesley Evans. Although they tried, the Klan never became politically active. It is fortunate that they did not, otherwise the U.S. may have had its own Hitler or Mussolini.
During its peak, the Klan had membership estimated between five and eight million; but its influence quickly disappeared. The 1924 Immigration act slowed immigration and nativist excitement died down. Also, the fact that it used violence rather willingly tarnished its pretense of being a protector of morals.
Fundamentalism: Many people saw the "old-time religion" threatened by modernism in the Churches, the idea that the Bible should be studied in the light of modern scholarship. This was called the "higher criticism" of the Bible; the idea that it could be reconciled with evolution, and the like.
In 1910, a series of pamphlets called The Fundamentals was published. The people who supported this return to the "old-time" religion were distinguished not so much by their firm belief as by their intolerance for the beliefs of others.
Their greatest leader was none other than William Jennings Bryan. Age was catching up with him, but he still was a pious, sanctimonious, self-righteous, silver-tongued preacher. Hs main attack was on the teaching of Darwinism in the schools, and attacked it as vociferously as he had once attacked William McKinley.
As a result of Bryanís efforts, anti-evolution bills appeared in several state legislatures; but only passed in the South. The Governor of Texas, a woman, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson outlawed textbooks teaching Darwinism by saying, "I am a Christian mother, and I am not going to let that kind of rot go into Texas schoolbooks."
The climax of the movement came in 1925 when the Tennessee Legislature passed a bill outlawing the teaching of evolution in public schools. In Dayton Tennessee, the American Civil Liberties Union persuaded a teacher of biology, John T. Scopes, to defy the law. Several citizens of the town put him up to it in hopes of putting their town on the map.
Scopes did so, and was charged with violating the law. Bryan offered his services to prosecute the case, which he saw as a means of defending the Bible. A Chicago Newspaper, which thought it ought to be a fair fight, hired Clarence Darrow, the leading defense lawyer of the day, and a professed agnostic, to defend scopes.
The case was a real doozy. The issues were pretty much lost in the exchanges and speeches of Darrow and Bryan. Bryan objected to the introduction of introduction of scientific evidence, so Darrow called Bryan himself to the stand as an expert on the Bible. Bryan made a fool out of himself, insisting on the most literal interpretation of the Bible. He insisted that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, not a whale; that the world was created in 4004 B.C., that Joshua literally made the sun stand still. The hearing got so heated that at one point the two men lunged at each other shaking fists at each other.
At the end of the trial, the Judge said the only issue was whether Scopes had indeed taught evolution. He had, of course, so he was found guilty and fined $100.00. It was reversed later on a legal technicality, and the prosecutor elected not to re-bring the case.
The major fatality of the case was Bryan himself. The fatigue of the case, and the summer heat under which he tried the case proved to be too much for him, and he died of heart failure within a few days of the end of the trial.
Prohibition: This was another example of the zeal for reform and a drive for moral righteousness. It began with the WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League, which changed their focus from attempts to change individuals into a campaign for legal prohibition.
These organizations associated the "liquor traffic" with big business, the trusts and "special interests." Also, medical evidence began to show that alcohol often did more harm than good medicinally.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed on November 18, 1917, and ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919. The Amendment provided for prohibition one year after ratification, so the effective date was January 16, 1920.
By the time the amendment was passed ĺ of the states had already passed laws making them legally dry; so Prohibition was almost an afterthought.
In 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act which defined as "intoxicating" all beverages containing more than 0.5% alcohol.
The new law, and the 18th Amendment, did NOT stop people from drinking; it rather forced them to use ingenious (and illegal) methods to get it.Ironically, less than 8 months after passage of the 18th Amendment, police found an illegal whiskey still with the capacity to produce 130 gallons per day on a farm belonging to Morris Shepard, the "father of national prohibition." Congress never provided adequate enforcement, if indeed such was possible. Local officials had a spotty record of support at best; and the profit to be made from illegal bootlegging. Also, in Detroit, just across the river from Ontario Canada, where liquor was still legal, the liquor industry was second in size only to the automobile industry. There were a number of social innovations, including speak-easies (a private club where one had to whisper a password at the door to get inside); hip flasks (for hiding booze in oneís clothes) and cocktail parties. Oddly, drinking among women increased during prohibition.
Prohibition did not lead to the creation of organized crime; it was already there, with organized gambling, extortion, and vice. Organized crime was often closely tied to the saloons of the day; however prohibition gave them with a new source of income, which proved enormous indeed.The gun lobby has misconstrued the 2nd Amendment to suit its own purposes; the framers of the Constitution never intended and the Amendment does not guarantee every Tom, Dick and Harry the right to own a gun; however one of their mottoes rings true: "If guns are criminalized, then only criminals will have guns." The same was true of prohibition. When it became a crime to sell liquor, only criminals sold liquor; but because of the demand for it, they made a fortune.
With automobiles now common, and the Thompson submachine gun which was invented for use in World War One, organized crime was suddenly big business.The Thompson submachine gun was often called the "Tommy gun, or "Chicago typewriter." Mobsters bribed police and public officials, and also found loopholes in the law. One crime boss bought a chain of drugstores so that he could order medicinal alcohol; then highjacked his own trucks carrying the stuff so he could resell it illegally, and not lose his drug license.
The most famous of the gangsters was Alphonse Caponi, otherwise known as Al Capone. He was born in New York, the son of a barber, and a very religious mother. He joined a street gang early on, and as a teenager worked in a brothel. Once, when he made a pass at one of the girls who was a favorite of a local gangster, the man cut him across the cheek, all the way down his face, which gave him a nickname he hated, and no one dared ever call him that to his face: "Scarface."Street gangs were typically organized by ethnicity; there were Italian gangs, which Capone joined, but also Irish gangs, that others joined.
Capone moved to Chicago in 1920 as a young man to avoid the law, and went to work as an "enforcer" for a family member. He was a big man, six foot tall, and about 250 pounds. He often killed men with abandon as part of his job. Within a few years, he had the largest bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling operation in the city. In 1927 alone, his income was $60 million. He flaunted the money wearing expensive clothes, a custom made bulletproof Cadillac, and kept bodyguards. He called himself a public benefactor, and operated a series of charities and soup kitchens during the Great Depression which made him very popular with local people. He bribed the police with abandon, as well as the politicians of the city, including the mayor, "Big Bill" Thompson, who made no attempt to hide his corruption.It was Thompson who coined the phrase "Vote early and vote often."
He lived in a penthouse in a luxury hotel, and often never left the suite, sitting around in silk pajamas and smoking expensive cigars. He could be tremendously bloody at times. once he suspected three of his subordinates (all Sicilians like himself) of disloyalty. He invited them to a lavish dinner, entertained them regally, insisting that they eat, drink, and be merry. After the meal was over, he had his men jump all three and tie them into their chairs. He then took a baseball bat and crushed their shoulders, arms and legs, and sometimes their breastbones. Then, while still alive, he had one of his henchmen shoot them in the back of the head. This apparently was an old Sicilian custom: Hospitality before execution.
He ended up in a turf war with another gangster, Bugs Moran, and set up a hit to kill him and his men. He sent word that they could pick up a shipment of liquor at a warehouse on Valentineís Day. He himself was in Florida that day, and had an appointment with the Dade County District Attorney, so he had an ironclad alibi. When Moranís men went in, four men came in dressed in police uniforms, and told them to stand against the wall. The "police" were really Caponeís men and machine-gunned all six of them including one innocent man who just liked to hang around with gangsters. When it was over, two of the killers wearing trench coats walked out with their hands in the air, as if arrested, followed by the two fake policemen, got into the police car, and left. This was the St. Valentineís Day Massacre.The thug who arranged the hit was "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn. The day of the hit, he checked into a hotel with his girlfriend, so he would have an alibi. Later, he married her, so she couldnít testify against him. Bugs Moran was late to the meeting, and saw the Police Car pull up. He smelled a rat, and kept on going. One of Moranís men, about his size and wearing an overcoat and hat similar to his, was mistaken by the killers as Moran. When the REAL police arrived, they found the men shot to pieces, blood and body tissue all over the place. One man was still breathing. The police said, "who did this to you?" He gasped, "nobody," and died. No one was ever arrested for the St. Valentineís Day massacre, although everyone knew that Capone was involved.
Capone was never charged with murder or bootlegging. The Federal Government had a special task force infiltrate his organization and ultimately charged him with income tax evasion for which he was sentenced to eleven years in prison. He was sent to the Federal Prison in Atlanta, but shortly after he arrived, it was discovered that he had a neglected case of syphilis which he had contracted from one of the prostitutes who worked for them (he insisted on sampling the wares from time to time). Ultimately, the disease fried his brain, and he was allowed to go home to die; although at the time, he had no idea who he was. He is buried in a public cemetery in Chicago; only a tree hides the gravestone.
The twenties seemed to create a defensive attitude after the repression of such movements as prohibition and fundamentalism. It was an era of excess in many respects. It had many other names, The Jazz Age, the ballyhoo years, even the aspirin age.
The twenties were marked by a disdain for old-fashioned "rural" small town values. Those were the boondocks; the big city was where it all happened.
The literature of the time reflected this attitude:
∑Sinclair Lewis: Main Street: portrayed life in a small prairie town as cramped, stifling and mean. He described it as "savorless people gulping tasteless food, and sitting around, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world."
∑Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward Angel (1929): scandalized his hometown of Ashville, North Carolina.
∑H.L. Mencken, a newspaper columnist, was merciless in his attacks. He referred to small town people as the "booboisie" He wrote that daily life in small town America was "so inordinately gross and preposterous. . . that only a man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows."
Mencken was famous for his wit. He once said, "if someone says to you, "this isnít about money;" then itís about money."
The small towns didnít take these categorizations lightly. They responded that the big cities were infested with vice, crime, corruption, foreigners." "Fallen, fallen is Babylon" says Revelations, which they often quoted. This is the likely origin of the phrase "sin city."
The Jazz Age: This phrase was coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald because young people were willing to experiment with new forms of recreation and sexual freedom.
The most obvious representation of the time was the music known as Jazz; which was a blend of African and European musical tradition. He had a number of improvisations, "blue notes," polyrhythms, etc. Jazz is distinctly American.
Jazz was particularly popular with rebellious young adults.
And you folks thought YOU were the only ones that the older generation didnít "Understand." My group went through the same thing, and I grew up in the sixties! But nothing can touch the roaring twenties.
Among the famous performers of the day were: Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong; Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Betsy Smith, Frankie "half-pint" Jackson. Most of them were black, at a time when segregation was still the rule.
New dance steps were popular also, including the Charleston, and the Black Bottom. These dances shocked the "good" people of the day who considered them immoral. Parents wouldnít let their daughters go to places where those dances were performed.
The Librarian at Olympia High School was Miss Lucille Roberts, a very prudish tiny, elderly lady who didnít allow anyone to speak out loud in the library. She pinched you when she needed to get your attention. There was a faculty talent show one day, and she came out on the stage wearing a short black dress, long beads, and danced the Charleston. She was a real pro at it too, the best I have ever seen!Movie theaters also became popular. By 1930 there were 23,000 movie theatres around the country, and they drew more than 95 million customers each week. Muncie, Indiana, which had only 35,000 residents, had nine movie theaters operating seven days per week. The first feature-length "talkie" was Al Jolson (who performed in blackface) in The Jazz Singer.
The New Morality:There was a revolution in morals and manners, especially on college campuses. This was the greatest shock to old timers.
Sex soon became an obsession (again, and you thought your generation was the first); and talking about it frankly became an obsession, largely due to the work of Sigmund Freud. He was the father of psychoanalysis. One father said his daughter would "talk about anything; in fact, she hardly talked about anything else."
Freud visited America in 1909, and was surprised to find himself so well known, in his words, "even in prudish America."
An obsession with sex was everywhere. It permeated literature and popular media.
∑F Scott Fitzgerald: wrote This Side of Paradise, a novel about student live at Princeton University. He wrote of "the great current American phenomenon, the Ďpetting partyí." He said that none of the Victorian mothers "had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed."
Fitzgeraldís real name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. He was sickly most of his life, and wrote many of his novels, including The Great Gatsby while in bed, on yellow legal pads, in pencil.
Fitzgeraldís novel about college life, and others like it, told Americans about wild college parties, bathtub gin, promiscuity, speakeasies, roadhouses, "shimmy dances," and "parking" in loverís lanes.
∑Radio singers sang songs with strong sexual overtones. "Hot Lips;" "I Need Loviní;" "Burning Kisses."
∑Literature also: James Branch Cabell wrote a novel Jurgen that was banned in Boston, which of course made it popular. The phrase used to describe it was "phallic candor."
∑Eugene OíNeill wrote plays with Freudian themes (some of them absolutely cheesy): Desire under the Elms (1924); Mourning becomes Electra (1931).
∑Sex became stock-in-trade for the tabloid press. "confession magazines" became popular, with lurid stories about women who had gone wrong.
∑Movies also. Mary Pickford, Americaís sweetheart, became a sex goddess; Movies included Up in Mabelís Room; Sinners in Silk, and Her Purchase Price.
The absolute cheesiness of many of these movies forced the movie industry to adopt standards for content and language.
The New Woman: Changes in womenís styles also became evident. Women no longer wore corsets; by 1927, skirts were worn at the knees, which by old standards was completely shocking. Women were wearing heavier makeup, smoked cigarettes, drove automobiles; even drank beer; things considered quite unladylike under previous standards.
Women like this were called "flappers" because they allowed their galoshes to flap around their ankles. Conservatives saw this as just another sign of the degeneration of society; others saw it as individualism on the part of women.
Views of marriage also changed. Previously, the husband had been head and master of the family, responsible for its support, and the wifeís place was in the home. Now, romance, and companionship were considered the proper basis of marriage. By the 1920ís the divorce rate rose rapidly, as people seemed unwilling to remain in unsatisfactory marriages.
In 1919, the 19th Amendment was passed which allowed women the right to vote. It was one of the last great achievements of the progressive era. ĖMore women began to enter the work force; mostly in traditional occupations for women, such as teachers, domestics, etc.
The New Negro
Between 1915-1920, the most significant development in black life was the Great Northern Migration, when blacks moved north; first to work in factories during the war, and when immigration was restricted.
Between 1910-1920, the Southeast lost 323,000 blacks; five percent of the native black population. By the end of 1920, 13% of the black population had moved north. Between 1910 and 1930, over one million blacks moved North.
With this blacks slowly but surely gained political leverage by concentrating in large cities in states with many electoral votes. In the North they could speak and act more freely than in the North.
Along with political activity came a spirit of protest that was expressed in a literary and artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. The first significant writer of the time was Claude McKay, a Jamaican immigrant, who wrote a collection of poems known as Harlem Shadows. Among the poems were works such as "If We Must Die," and "To the White Fiends." Other writers included: Langston Hughes, Zoral Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson who portrayed the black mecca in Black Manhattan.
Some white writers also took up the theme of the new Negro; among them Eugene OíNeill and Sherwood Anderson; but theirs was not much more than an abandonment of the old "darkie" stereotype for a new stereotype; of the exotic primitive; pretty much the same thing, only now the Negro had no inhibitions.
Negro Nationalism soon developed which exalted black cultural expression and black exclusiveness. Its leading spokesman was Marcus Garvey, who founded the United Negro Improvement Association. He was from Jamaica and had started the movement there. Racial bias, said Garvey, was so ingrained in whites that it was futile to appeal to their sense of justice. He said that blacks should liberate themselves from white culture. Said he, "We have outgrown slavery, but our minds are still enslaved in the thinking of the Master Race. He said that every white man was a potential Klansman. Therefore, he advocated the social and political separation of the races, and black cultural expression and exclusivity.Garvey and his people created their own black version of Christianity, started their own business, and even published their own newspaper. At a UNIA convention in 1920, he said that the only lasting hope for blacks was to build their own republic in Africa, and enlisted half a million people in the scheme before he was charged with mail fraud for his fund-raising practices. He stayed in jail until 1927 when President Coolidge pardoned him and deported him to Jamaica.
W.E.B. DuBois called Garvey the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race, but the memory of his movement kept alive black nationalism that later reappeared as "black Power."A more permanent force for racial equality was founded in 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Its first leader was W.E.B. DuBois. It was founded on the roots of the old abolitionist movement. Most white progressives did not endorse the NAACP, but the group adopted progressive ideas; primarily that the best solution to social problems was to inform the people. The organization developed an active press bureau to keep people informed. It published a journal entitled The Crisis. Its main focus was on legal action to bring the 14th and 15th Amendments back to life.
One of its earliest victories was in the case of Guinn vs. United States (1915). There the Supreme Court struck down Oklahomaís Grandfather clause that had been used to deprive blacks of the right to vote. Also, in Buchanan vs. Worley, the Court struck down a racial housing ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky as unconstitutional.
The NAACP began a campaign for a federal anti-lynching campaign, but was unable to get it past Southern senators who filibustered it. However, the very act of agitation for such a bill reduced lynchings considerably.
Among the groupís most important accomplishments was the election of Oscar DePriest to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918; the first black since Reconstruction, and the first ever from the North. Later, in 1930, NAACP influence stopped the appointment of Judge John J. Parker from North Carolina to the U.S. Supreme Court. Parker had once said that Negro suffrage was a "source of evil and danger," Parkerís defeat represented the first significant black influence on Congress since Reconstruction.
The Culture of Modernism
During the progressive era, there had been faith in progress, typical of the Social Gospel; but all of these ideas fell by the wayside after the War, the failure of the League of nations, the failure of Prohibition, the Great Depression, etc. New ideas of science developed and challenged old beliefs.
Among the most startling were developments in the field of physics. Conventional wisdom since Sir Isaac Newton said that the universe was governed by laws that the scientific method could ultimately uncover.
∑Albert Einstein, announced his theory of relativity; that maintained that space, time and mass are not absolutes but were relative to the location and motion of the observer.
At the time, Einstein was not a research scientist; he was working in the Swiss Patent Office in Europe, and tinkering with his theory on the side.
Einstein said that Newtonís theory of mechanics worked fine at slow speeds; but the more nearly one approached the speed of light (186,000 miles per second); the more all measuring devices would change accordingly. Yardsticks would become shorter, clocks and even heartbeats would slow down. People traveling on a spaceship would be unaware that for them, time had slowed down relative to earth time, and might return thinking that only a year had passed for them; when on earth it might be several centuries later. All of this added a degree of uncertainty to science.
Einstein said that mass and energy were not separate, but were interchangeable.
∑Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, discovered that Atoms were much more complex than originally thought. He discovered that emissions of energy came in little tiny bundles he called Quanta.
Heisenberg developed a thesis of uncertainty; that one could never know both the position and the velocity of an electron. He concluded that the very process of observation would affect the behavior of the particle, and thus alter its position and velocity. His thesis meant that beyond a certain point, things could not possibly be measured; hence, human knowledge had limits. Said a Harvard mathematician, "the physicist thus finds himself in a world from which the bottom has dropped clean out."
These ideas were hard to grasp. Even Einstein had trouble with the idea. He spent much of the rest of his life trying to explain all these quantum theories. I said once, "I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.
Einstein later taught and held a research position at a famous U.S. University (which one?). He never dressed up, and was often seen wearing just a sweatshirt, or an old sweater, with a set of reading glasses. He spoke with a heavy German accent, and was rather modest, he didnít care to be photographed, although he was a worldwide celebrity.
Once while working late in his lab, Einstein noticed the hour and remarked to his graduate assistant that he needed to phone his housekeeper and tell her that he would be late. The student noticed that Einstein pulled a list of phone numbers from his pocket; the man was looking for his own home phone number. The student said "professor, donít you know your own phone number?" Of course, said Einstein, but I make it a point never to try to remember anything that I can write down and retrieve later."
Few people really understood Einsteinís theories; but it did capture the publicís imagination. New ideas of relativity, uncertainly led people to deny absolute values. Anthropologists began changing the word culture to mean not just refinement, but the ideas, customs and way of life of a group of people. Even the most primitive groups had some form of culture, and, all things being relative, one culture should not impose its value judgments on another culture.This idea flew squarely in the face of the old missionary idea in which Anglo-American culture was deemed to be superior, and should be exported to all parts of the world.
An especially effective means of spreading this viewpoint came from a study of people in Pacific Islands by Margaret Mead, entitled Coming of Age in Samoa. She observed uninhabited sexual practices there, and spoke of the healthiness of it.
Modernist Literature: Even literature was affected. Karl Marx said that "all that is solid melts into the air." Nineteenth century artists had taken for granted a world that was accessible, could be observed and represented. Modernist writers said that the "real" is something to be created, not copied; expressed, rather than reproduced. They concluded that the subconscious regions of the mind were more interesting and more potent than common sense and logic.
This new modernist idea presented itself in a new form of art, known as Abstract Art, which was designed to show the inner mood, rather than a recognizable image. Also, atonal music, free verse poetry, monologues in writing, an intense concern with new forms in language. Writers and Artists tried to avoid outmoded forms and made a conscious effort to violate expectations and shock their audiences.
Searches for this new form of artistic expression centered in Chicago and New York, particularly in Greenwich Village. IN 1913, Pablo Picassoís work made its American debut. It aroused all sorts of indignation, and a great deal of ridicule; but people flocked to see it en masse.
The chief American prophets of modernism were American expatriates living in Europe. Among them were Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot in London, Gertrude Stein in Paris, all concerned with creating new, difficult styles of modernist expression.
∑Eliot, a protťgť of Pound, wrote The Waste Land, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The wasteland describes a burned out civilization, disillusioned with the war,
∑Gertrude Steinís famous statement was "a rose is a rose, is a rose." She became famous as one of the originators of modern prose style.
∑Stein had tremendous influence on Ernest Hemingway, whom she told, "all of you young people who served in the war, you are the lost generation." She spoke of the disillusionment they felt after the war. Hemingwayís first novel, The Sun Also Rises is about a desperate search for life. It is about a group of young people, bandying about in Paris after the war, one of them, Jack Barnes, is a war veteran who was emasculated in the war. Because of his war wound, he cannot marry his love, Lady Brett Ashley.
In the last words of the book, Lady Ashley says, "Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together. Yes, he replies, isnít it pretty to think so."
A Farewell to Armsis about Hemingwayís own experiences as an ambulance driver in northern Italy during the war. It is about another lost love; where the ambulance driver falls in love with a nurse; the two move to Switzerland, but the young lady dies in childbirth.
Hemingway had a gift for terse, short sentences. Other writers tried to emulate it, but few succeeded.
∑F. Scott Fitzgerald, peaked early, and burned out soon. He became famous at age 24 for This Side of Paradise. He wrote about the "greatest, gaudiest spree in history." His most famous work was The GreatGatsby.
The Southern Renaissance: Old Southern tradition in literature died away, and a new group of writers emerged, from the world of tradition and the world after the Great War. The Klan and fundamentalism had tried to bring back the old values, but at the same time, a new group of writers were inspired.
A group of student intellectuals who had studied at Vanderbilt University under Professor John Crowe Ransom became committed to modernism in literature They called themselves The Fugitives.
All were admirers of T.S. Eliot, and wanted to emulate his style. They revolted against the old ideas of Southern sentimentality.
Their thinking changed, however, with the Scopes Monkey Trial. They noticed the way that northern newspaper reporters mocked the Bible Belt and the South. So, the Fugitives, as they were known, began to seek something out of the old South tradition that they could make usable. The fist to gain fame was Thomas Wolfe, with Look Homeward Angel.
Then came William Faulkner, with Sartoris, and The Sound and the Fury. He said that between travels, he discovered that his own little postage stamp of the world was worth writing about.
The renaissance of modernism and Southern literacy didnít last long. With the onset of the Great Depression, the idea of art for artís sake ended; and literature and art returned to the idea of social significance.