Conflicts During the 1920s
The contrast between the new and changing attitudes and traditional
values was unmistakably present during the 1920’s. This clash between the old
and the new had many roots and was inevitable. A new sense of awareness washed
over minorities in our nation, especially blacks who began to realize that they
were entitled to their own subculture, pursuit of success, and share of the
American dream. This ideal was expressed by Langston Hughes in “The Negro
Artist and the Racial Mountain.” They were supported by the growing number of
young, financially well-to-do liberals who formed the new intelligencia. Each
group sought the use of logic and rational reasoning in their rethinking of
reevaluation of society’s current status. Still, they constituted a minority
and their reformist views were not well-taken by the greater part of the
population who had become accustomed to a certain way of thinking were not
willing to budge, thus keeping the radicals silent. Individualism was also
partially suppresse d by the succession of three traditionalist Republican
presidents whose partiality to the strong was displayed by their strong backing
of big business while discouraging the Labor Union movement. Literature was one
medium by which the new intelligencia could express their views on
impracticality and injustice of the social system and government in the 1920’s.
Sinclair Lewis was one such author who used his writing to condemn the
stale and outdated ways of thinking that were so widely popular in our nation
during the 1920’s. In addition to exposing the poor working conditions of most
factory labor, particularly the meat-packing industry, he criticized the common
man who could not think or act individually in his novel, Babbit, which was
published in 1922. His description from the novel of the common man portrayed a
person who acted in a manner that was socially acceptable who also strived for
success based on society’s definition of purchasing material goods. In essence
he was a man defined by the society that he lived in.
Religion was also a topic of controversy during the twenties.
Traditionalists who were usually older and less intelligent than the rising
young class of liberal intellectuals were primarily Christian and would only
accept literal interpretations of the Bible. The liberals were not so quick to
take the Bible at face value and came up their own interpretations. The tension
between the old and the new regarding religion was perhaps most obviously
prevalent at the Tennessee Evolution Court Case of 1925.
In this time of where individual thinking was a rarity, public
misconception and ignorance ran abound. People looked to scapegoats to account
for society’s problems. Often minorities such as black in addition to the young
liberals were the source of such a scapegoat. For this reason, the Ku Klux Klan
experienced widespread popularity during the 1920’s. The KKK relieved the
majority of white conservative America of any responsibility for the
shortcomings of society. It also gave them a sense of security by forming a
large alliance against minorities.
The conflict between patrons of the KKK and the uprising group of
intellectual liberals was quite flagrant. The young continued to take more
liberties and adhered less to society’s standards than the preceding generation.
They sought self-satisfaction rather than living in harmony with the rest of
society. As a result, many non-traditional trends began to appear in the lives
of the young liberals in the 1920’s. Women began to feel more sexually
liberated and realized that they also had needs aside from only existing to
accommodate their male counterparts. Many women also took up smoking, an
activity previously delegated exclusively to men. In addition, more and more
women pursued jobs outside of the home. The rate of divorce rose during these
times as well. The young generation had stopped living their lives according to
traditional society values and had inserted their own sets of desires, goals,
and values by which to live instead.