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The Roaring ’20s, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1353

Research Paper

While most decades of the 20th century in American society have unique characteristics, it is arguable that none was more distinct, and more eventful, than the 1920s.  The decade is identified as the Roaring ’20s, and with good reason.  A range of great forces, from the dominance of the Industrial Age to the popularity of jazz and illegal alcohol, came together to transform the culture. As this occurred, traditional norms and ways of life were reduced or eliminated, and the years then had an “explosive” quality going to the label given them.  It was a decade of radical shifts in all facets of the society, one going to excess and extremes, and a period that would set the stage for the decades of change to come. As the following explores, the roaring ’20s was a revolutionary decade in terms of its own impacts, as well as in heralding a new identity of the nation as constantly evolving.

Discussion

Without question, an immense number of important events went to the 1920s as being a unique and volatile period.  At the same time, the character of the decade seems to have been inevitable, in a sense, and because so many significant changes took place as it commenced. The very beginning of the decade, in fact, was marked by the ratification of the 18th Amendment.  The manufacture or sale of alcohol was a criminal offense (LII, 2015), and this had impacts on American life and culture that are virtually inestimable.  On one level, the culture took on a new and reckless character, and largely because men and women flagrantly defied the law.  The criminality notwithstanding, alcohol was widely available everywhere, and every major city had large numbers of speakeasies where drinking openly occurred.  New forms of slang developed (Drowne, Huber, 2004, p. 15), but what is more significant is that a new mentality emerged in the culture.  Suddenly, it was “legitimate” to defy the law, so the free spirit of the decade in social terms was enormously enhanced.  Linked to this was the darker aspect of how Prohibition enabled an unprecedented growth in organized crime.  The industry was of such importance commercially that crime organizations evolved into sophisticated and complex systems, as the dealing in alcohol involved bribing government officials of high rank and the criminal and the law were intimately connected.  Additionally, the size of the criminal business was such that other elements emerged.  The need for manpower translated to illegal employment for the immigrant populations settling in the cities, just as the competition generated violent gang warfare (Albanese, 2014, p. 136).  This single law, then, had a vast effect in shaping the society in a number of ways, as this in turn set the stage for the nation to be inherently evolving.

Also in 1920, the enactment of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote (LII), and this was a result of the Women’s Suffrage movement that had been struggling for gender equality for long years.  Just as with Prohibition, the effects were many and far-reaching.  On some levels, the right to vote had little impact on advancing women’s rights in general; jobs given to women were typically menial, and there was no social sense of women as being equal to men.  In 1924, for example, the Supreme Court refused to uphold minimum wage laws for women (Ryan, 2013, p. 35).  On another, however, younger women were drastically defying convention in cultural terms. This was the decade of the “flapper,” the young woman who bobbed her hair, wore short skirts, smoke, drank, and enjoyed casual intimacy with men.  It is difficult to accurately convey the impact of this shift in gender identity, because the appearance and behavior of the flapper contradicted all traditional values and ideas of womanhood (Drowne, Huber, p. 30). For the first time in American history, women were openly declaring their enjoyment of sensual pleasures.  The society was compelled to confront a new gender reality, and this then goes to the impact of the roaring ’20s as potent in its own terms, and as marking patterns of change for decades to come. In breaking from the past in the 1920s, women were enabling such change to be a norm.

Then, there was an exponential effect as new industries began to dominate the society itself.  Movie-making in Hollywood took on epic proportions during the Silent Era of film in the 1920s, and the “movie star” was born.  In a matter of a few years, the public developed a fascination for film celebrities that would only increase in years to come, just as the sheer size of the industry would reshape American life.  Here again, it is difficult to present the true impact of this single form of entertainment.  Americans everywhere suddenly could, for five cents, experience lavish spectacles and exciting stories on screen, and this altered ways of thinking, behaving, and dress (Drowne, Huber, p. 96).  Moreover, the rise of the film industry also had an effect of another kind.  It is noted, for example, that the films of the 1920s were as popular in other nations as they were in America, and the Soviet Union in particular embraced U.S. movies and movie stars (Reeves, 2004, p. 69).  Interestingly, then, the movies may be said to have led the way in how American influence would spread internationally.  This aside, however, there is no escaping the reality that, in the roaring ’20s, films transformed the leisure quality of American life.

Lastly, there can be no discussion of the 1920s without noting two other factors, the first of which is industry.  By the 1920s, the Industrial Age was in full flower, and this in turn translated to a greater emphasis on urban living and the national shift from the agricultural.  In plain terms, business and manufacture were now based in the great cities, and immense migrations of workers seized the opportunities.  These tides had been occurring before the decade, but they accelerated and, for example, over 700,000 African Americans relocated from the South to the northern cities (Drowne, Huber, p. 196).  This in turn likely spread another influence, and the one most commonly identified with the roaring ’20s: jazz.  In a very real sense, this was a genre of music ideally suited to, or generated  by, the new spirit of personal freedom of the decade.  First recorded in 1917 and largely dismissed as a musical fad only relevant to Southern blacks, jazz became by the mid-1920s the most popular form of music in the society (Drowne, Huber, p. 199).  This was a revolutionary shift in musical tastes and, as it impacted on the public in ways promoting feelings of fun and recklessness, so too did it foreshadow how the musical styles of later decades would similarly revolutionize the culture.

Conclusion

When a decade is as marked by major events, trends, and shifts in commerce and industry as the 1920s, it is not easy to categorize any as more relevant in defining the period.  The issue is that the nature of the society is such that each change profoundly influences others, and this is my personal view of the roaring ’20s. More exactly, seminal events of Prohibition and the vote for women collided with industry and entertainment, and what emerged from all of this was a nation vastly reshaped, and unlike its former self.  A kind of abandon is what I perceive in the 1920s, and one based on a new and individual demand for all forms of opportunities.  Equally importantly, the decade marked the beginning of a nation that would embrace radical change in its future.  Ultimately, then, the roaring ’20s was a revolutionary period in terms of both its own impacts and how it launched a new identity of the nation as constantly evolving.

References

Albanese, J. S. (2014).  Organized Crime in Our Times.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Drowne, K. M., & Huber, P. (2004).  The 1920s.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Legal Information Institute (LII). (2015).  The 18th Amendment.  Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxviii

Reeves, N. (2004).  Power of Film Propaganda. New York, NY: Continuum.

Ryan, B. (2013).  Feminism and the Women’s Movement: Dynamics of Change in Social Movement Ideology and Activism.  New York, NY: Routledge.

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