Paradise into wasteland : some novels of the 1920s.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The American 1920s is a period too often treated without roots and this, combined with a tendency to romanticize its history, has distorted the meaning of the decade. In order to rectify this falsification, a new conceptual frame of reference, the American Dream, is used to locate the decade as a distinct period and as a part of America's total civilization. The American Dream is, therefore, defined and interpreted, and then related to the decade's 'mood' which is structured around 'Normalcy' Intolerance, Prohibition, 'Ballyhoo,' Manners and Morals. and 'The Revolt of the Highbrows.' The urban nature of the decade is vital and New York City is used to provide a proper forum that is in turn tested by reference to seven novels (CALL IT SLEEP, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, THE GREAT GATSBY, MANHATTAN TRANSFER, BUTTERFIELD 8, JEWS WITHOUT MONEY and MISS LONELYHEARTS) set in New York City during the period and functioning mainly as mirrors of social history. The increase in the breadth and depth of understanding that results from this interdisciplinary approach makes a valid contribution to the established understanding of the period because it clarifies the decade's complexity and concludes that the decade is still in need of revision; as the 'top of the world,' New York City is a valid place from which the American Dream can be examined in combination, the American Dream and New York City depict the 1920s as the front door to modern chaos: the setting of the novels is powerful but there is no other base with which it can be compared; and the novelists dramatically modify the historical perspective of the decade by expelling its surface glamour and emotionalism, establishing an accurately moderate atmosphere instead. The most important conclusion is, however, that as a result of this entire process, the United States of America was transformed from Paradise into Wasteland.