The Jazz Age is the decade between the first and second World Wars, the chronological framework of which is 1919-1929; it is also called Roaring Twenties. It was rough and very tough decade in the United States. The new word “jazz” was mentioned first in the world press represented by San Francisco’s newspaper on March 6, 1913. Jazz Age is deeply connected with the consequences of World War I, though old deliberate social concords were destroyed and new ones developed. May 1, 1919 can be considered the beginning of the Jazz Age as this historical moment was satiated with the demonstrations, which were ended by police intervention, as well as offices’ and newspapers’ defeat. The participants were mostly unemployed former soldiers, who were representatives of “Lost Generation”. They expected that after returning from the theatre of war, they would be the heroes of their country, nevertheless, it did not happen. Thus, incipience of the New Age in America was not smooth.
The first meaning of a word “jazz” is relationship, then the style of dance and music, and later, it was used in literature. There are two components of Jazz Age: the need to overcome the chilling effect of civilization as deadening vault prohibitions and prescriptions, and inability to remain in the framework, as well as the need to use up accumulated tense anxiety during both World Wars. Twenties is also known as the Harlem Renaissance (Harlem is one of the New York’s quarter, and the center of attraction of African Americans; the center of the formation of a new culture). Appeal to the jazz culture is something that was forbidden before including those pleasures, which were previously thought to be primitive. The young women acted freely: the older generation was shocked with their bobs and short dresses with the naked legs and knees. Eventually, American woman was given the right to vote, which finally introduced women as an important part in the United States’ society.
The formation of the new culture started from the changing attitudes of American people to the foreign society and traditions. After the end of World War I, many people demanded from the state to stay away from foreign affairs and relations in the future. The Jazz Age is also connected with the first wave of the sexual revolution, erotic plays and its indispensable symbolism. Roaring Twenties proved to be particularly generous to the parties, many of which made forbidden fruit even more attractive. This rebellion appeared to be a great contrast to “dry law” that was passed in 1919. Brothels and nightclubs flourished, attracting a motley crowd, which consisted of gangsters, emansipes, artists, Broadway stars and colossally rich men.
The post-war heyday led to the development of the Harlem Renaissance. At the heart of this cultural movement, there is a belief that racial prejudice is best to fight with. It is could be made by refusal of Booker Washington’s ideas in order to take a more independent and politically radical position that emphasizes the primacy of cultural achievement to the economic benefits. James Weldon Johnson, for example, believed that the achievements of African Americans in literature, music, and art could radically change the attitude of whites towards blacks, and the blacks to themselves. Harlem Renaissance featured growth of journals publishing, such as “Messenger” (1917) and “Opportunity” (1923), in which were the first printed works of Langston Hughes, County Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer and Claude McKay. These publications made these writers become known, which gave them an opportunity to be published in future editions, targeted at a white audience, such as “Vanity Fair” and “The New Yorker”.
Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967) is a major African-American writer of the XX century. His career began in the 1920s, the heyday of African-American literature and art. His poems, such as “Sunset-Coney Island”, “Nonette”, and “Dreams” are wonderful examples of the Harlem Renaissance literature. “Sunset-Coney Island” is a prime representative of how the author showed the ugliness of life. People’s thoughts about sunset are connected with something beautiful and pleasant: bright colors, tropical views and relaxing mood. Nevertheless, the narrator describes the sunset contemplating some sorrowful theme park. He uses such descriptions of a sun as it is “like the red yolk of a rotten egg”, and “with a putrid odor of colors” (p. 184). After such somber depiction of nature, the writer demonstrates a man vomiting hot dogs. This episode symbolizes that life is not so beautiful and easy; it is difficult, unfair and even ugly. Theme of life’s cruelty towards African-Americans is one of the leading topics during 1921-1930.
The poem “Nonette” is another example of the Harlem Renaissance literature. The leading theme of the poem, unlike “Sunset-Coney Island”, is Hughes’s pessimism about love. Nonette is a lover who at one time hurts and calms down. The author states, “you give me a rose whose breath is sweet”, but this flower also turns into an image of decadence “petals are poison and death to eat” (Hughes 200). This poem is characterized by struggle between love and its poison. “Nonette” ends with the death of the lover, which is the symbol of its inevitability. The representation of the pain caused by love, and the death, which comes to each person is common for Langston Hughes. The poem “Nonette” is full of pessimistic and sorrowful mood that is also characteristic of the Harlem Renaissance. However, support for the black authors, who were newcomers among whites, was carried out simultaneously with a critical assessment of the African-American literary tradition. The poem “Dreams” is an excellent example of the oppression of African-Americans during Jazz Age. In this literary effort, the writer discusses all the difficulties that accompany African-American people throughout the whole life. In those times, black people used to experience weariness, the difficulty of being in love, and the enormity of death.
|Music Analysis: Popular Culture||Music in Theatre|