Fine: A New Lost Generation

Simona Fine, Assistant Opinion Editor

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926 with the epigraph: “You are a lost generation,” a quip expressed to him by fellow writer Gertrude Stein. The term “Lost Generation” has since been applied to the adolescents who attained majority during World War I, as well as American authors in the 1920s whose works defined the literature of the 1920s. Themes of disillusionment characterize these texts, as the writers were coping with the horrific outcomes of the war and the destruction of the society that they had been raised to inherit.

I believe that today’s young adults are on the brink of becoming a new version of the Lost Generation.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, many questions have been raised about the long term impacts of this event on different age groups. Just as our predecessors from a century ago, we are coming of age in a time distinguished by excessive loss of life.

The world we were trained to inhabit no longer exists. For example, we grew up hearing repeated warnings about how the ubiquitous use of social media and smartphones would make us feel more depressed or deprive us of sleep. Now, students are expected to spend all day on Zoom, staring at our devices more than ever before. In the wake of this virus, it seems impossible to restore the old order, and the disillusionment with existing power structures is already present in our generation’s collective consciousness.

Decadence is also featured fundamentally in the literature from the Lost Generation era, with characters drinking and partying lavishly and shallowly to mask their sorrows and fears for the future. The self-indulgence of the Lost Generation that was used as a method of hiding underlying sadness can also be seen in quarantine trends.

When lockdown periods began, more people started baking banana bread and sourdough, needing activities to comfort them during this uncertain time. TikTok’s popularity soared because it provided a distraction for everyone who was stuck at home. And just like in the Lost Generation fiction, alcohol use has increased as people cope with loneliness, boredom and anxiety. After the pandemic ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if extreme partying grows in prevalence as a way of making up for lost time under virus-related restrictions, albeit not the expensive merriment portrayed in The Great Gatsby.

Much of The Great Gatsby and other Lost Generation writing is focused on attempts at recreating and revitalizing the past that are simply implausible. As I walk around campus with my roommates, we reminisce on our first year and a half of college and reflect on the memories we made in our dorm or classes. I’ve covered the walls of my room in photos and postcards, relics of past travels and events that are not currently possible.

Over the next few years, I think that the same angst that haunted the Lost Generation and inspired many of the novels we now consider classics will percolate through our literature and media. Even as COVID-19 dissipates with global vaccination efforts, there will be remnants of these negative feelings in our minds and, therefore, in the work we produce.

Simona Fine is a McCormick Junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.