Were the Twenties Roarin’?

In the 1920s America was at its highest point. It was the roaring twenties. There were parties going on, people were spending money on extravagant things, having a great time and just enjoying life. It was post war and everything was going spectacularly. But, that was America. What was going on in other countries? How were people responding to the newly ceased war? What was daily life like in countries other than America? Were there underlying issues that are hidden in the chaos of the time? Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf provides a strong perspective of what it was like to live in this time. While reading this story, I took the liberty of comparing the stereotypes we learn about the roaring twenties in America and comparing them to what was going on in Mrs. Dalloway.

To begin, it is important to establish some background information on Virginia Woolf. She was a modernist writer in the early 19th century and spoke at many universities. However, she was mentally ill and would eventually commit suicide. She also questioned her sexuality and was exposed to radical feminism in the UK.

Several of the issues Woolf faced in her own personal life appeared in Mr. Dalloway. The story gave a more dismal aspect to life, despite the underlying plot of preparing for a party. This could be due to the way the story is written. This story is told through many different character perspectives and employs the use of stream of consciousness. Mainly, we get the perception of Mrs. Dalloway who had relations with another women and Septimus who is suffering from a mental disorder known as shell shock. Mental disorder was a very prevalent issue in Woolf’s life and is seen as a major problem through Septimus’ character.

Through these characters and deeper thoughts, are we obtaining a more accurate depiction of what life was really like in the 1920s? Or are we seeing a more biased perspective from Woolf and her personal experiences? We are certainly receiving a biased opinion from the characters.

After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I feel I have a different perspective as to what life was like in the 1920s. It seems to me now that there were many underlying issue of the time that I had not been aware of before. Comparing Mrs. Dalloway to stories such as The Great Gatsby and other stories of the 1920s provides the reader with two completely different perspectives.

Work Cited

VERSUS

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7 thoughts on “Were the Twenties Roarin’?

  1. Quan Vu says:

    I like how you are pointing out that underlying the glamorous surface of the roaring twenties, there were many social problems that were not usually brought up. The comparison with The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald is particularly intriguing to me. I think your point is really insightful because both novels brought out the destructive power of the American Dream. Daisy Buchanan and Mrs Dalloway both refused their love interests in favor of people with a higher social standing. Living in a highly materialistic era, they expected their marriages to be more beneficial to them, at least from the society’s point of view. Yet both were not particularly happy with their respective marriages because they were devoid of happiness..

    The primary concern with material well-being in the twenties, and the American Dream in general, is destructive in a sense that it generalizes all happiness into a particular form revolving around achieving high social status and material well-being while ignoring the fact that happiness is highly individualized. Daisy and Clarissa both had their own ideas of happiness, but they forsook them in the face of social pressure. In the end they chose to follow what the society supposed was right. It turned out that the society’s version of happiness was radically different from their own, explaining why they were not able to achieve happiness in their respective stories.

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  2. core152eray says:

    After reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, I also thought to compare it to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. However, I saw more similarities than differences between their depictions of the “Roaring Twenties”. Both of the novels featured a theme of disillusionment with society, particularly high society. This goes against the positive connotation usually associated with the “Roaring Twenties”. In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway becomes disillusioned with American society as he watched it defeat Jay Gatsby. Although no character in Mrs. Dalloway is as clearly disillusioned with the bourgeoisie as Nick Carraway is in The Great Gatsby, Virginia Woolf clearly wrote her novel to address her discontent with the English bourgeoisie.
    The two novels were written in different countries but they both prove that the 1920s were really only seen as a great decade in America and that the decade was not as “roaring” as it has been made out to be. The economic devastation, which affected countries all over the globe, was a direct result of the “roaring twenties” in America. Therefore, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf were ahead of their time when they published their novels because they recognized the façade of the “Roaring Twenties” before the public did.

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  3. Abby, I think you brought up a good point about how misleading pictures of the 20s can be. It seems as if upper-class parties are the only aspect of society in the 1920s that was documented, because they make up almost every picture that is shown from the era. With such a seemingly large imbalance of documentation, you almost forget about problems such as segregation and the Ku Klux Klan that also existed in the roaring 20s. You did a good job of questioning this in showing the picture of the shell shock victim, which was also a large societal problem of the time. I had a similar moment of realization once when I was looking at a picture of a high-end party from the 20s and realized that not one African American could be found in it. I also appreciated the international perspective that you took in to account when thinking of the 1920s, because not all countries were experiencing economic growth after World War 1 like America was. In general, I’d say that this questioning of the 20s demonstrates the difficulty in getting an unbiased perspective on history due to the fact that everyone will have a bias when deciding which parts of history they enunciate or leave out.

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  4. Dear Abby,

    I think that analyzing Mrs. Dalloway’s representation of the 1920s versus what America has made the 1920s appear to be is a great point of discussion. The 1920s are definitely romanticized in America nowadays, with it being seen as the height of economic glory and the beginning of a golden age (that we know does not last long anyway with the impending next world war and financial collapse). However, if you look at how the media displays Britain during this time, it is also very similar to that of America, perhaps with a bit less of the economic growth. Just as Mrs. Dalloway is always throwing parties, the same effect as occurring in America as a way to dull (or perhaps even hide) the trauma that was being experienced here. I am not an expert in this particular topic so I do not feel completely comfortable with comparing how much trauma each country actually felt for England’s involvement was more direct and heavier than ours, but there were many similar trauma causes and episodes of mental illness as those expressed in Woolf’s novel.

    As for your comparison to The Great Gatsby, I agree with what other commenters have said where they find more similarities than differences to that and Woolf’s novel. Both display what the effects of conformist pressure does to romantic relationships and the development of personal emotions, and the expression of those feelings (and consequences of their repression). Daisy Buchannan and Mrs. Dalloway are very similar, as are Peter and Jay Gatsby for the former attempt to build their life assuming happiness is tied with comfort, and the latter were the ones tossed aside in the pursuit of those women following what society shouted at them to do. I think the comparison of these four characters further would be a very interesting topic to pursue.

    Overall, your comparison of the 1920s in two different countries and then to two different novels in one of those countries offers a great starting point for further analysis into both the effects of trauma and the effects of society.

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  5. While reading Mrs. Dalloway I thought of The Great Gatsby too. This is because of how Daisy and Clarissa were emotionally distraught throughout the story because of their relationship status. Like Quan said, due to societal standard they felt the need to stay with their husbands. This made me think of Sigmund Freud’s, “Civilizations and Its Discontents” . The idea of happiness is a big topic that Freud discusses. One would believe that living a glamorous, wealthy lifestyle means being content, however these two texts prove that happiness is different for everyone. These women felt the need to stay in a relationship due to their social status. I think that society tries to create standards that people try to live up to, but often are unhappy doing it. Even today, social media and celebrities influence so many people’s lives, but many of these things are unrealistic for the average person. In The Great Gatsby and Mrs. Dalloway, Daisy and Clarissa continued to suppress their feelings because what they had was what everyone else wanted, which lead to even more unhappiness and confusion. Both characters are seen as very dependent upon their husbands, but also show great intelligence in certain moments. Its unfortunate that in that time women felt as though they could not do and be whoever they wanted to be.

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