A Humble Protest: A Literary Generation's Quest for the Heroic Self, 1917 - 1930
Through the life and works of novelist John Dos Passos this project reexamines the inter-war cultural phenomenon that we call the Lost Generation. The Great War had destroyed traditional models of heroism for twenties intellectuals such as Ernest Hemingway, Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, E. E. Cummings, Hart Crane, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos, compelling them to create a new understanding of what I call the "heroic self." Through a modernist, experience based, epistemology these writers deemed that the relationship between the heroic individual and the world consisted of a dialectical tension between irony and romance. The ironic interpretation, the view that the world is an antagonistic force out to suppress individual vitality, drove these intellectuals to adopt the Freudian conception of heroism as a revolt against social oppression. The Lost Generation rebelled against these pernicious forces which they believed existed in the forms of militarism, patriotism, progressivism, and absolutism. The Lost Generation also viewed the world romantically, as an opportunity for the individual to immerse herself into immediate, self-creating experience. By interpreting William James's radical empiricism as a mandate to experience the world, these writers completed their understanding of the heroic self as the individual, who, according to Dos Passos, is free to thrive upon a "threshold of a new world of experience, of reckless abandoned adventure." As a result, the Lost Generation's quest for the heroic self culminated in the celebration of the individual as both a hero of revolt and the exemplar of the flourishing life.
School:The Ohio State University
School Location:USA - Ohio
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:lost generation modernism epistemology heroic self
Date of Publication:01/01/2008