Contradictions of the 1920s: Roaring Twenties Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1239 Words
Date:  2022-06-16

The 1920's, also known as the "Roaring Twenties," were a period of great prosperity in America, until the Great Depression hit. Progressive reforms of the previous period were abandoned in the 1920s. America started to lead into a more modern era. It was a dynamic age of contradiction between modernity and tradition. The 1920s resulted in the growth of cities, the rise of consumerism, the rise of immigration, revolts against social taboos, and secularization. The changing views towards women and sex, the secularization of American society, and the rise of consumerism and advertising led to an intense clash between modernity and tradition in the 1920s. This tension manifested itself in myriad ways, including shifting marriage and divorce rates, the Scopes Trial, and the Great Depression. Up until the fateful day of October 29th, 1929 (also known as "Black Tuesday,") it looked like the United States economy could go nowhere but up. With such a booming economy, the American public was unpleasantly surprised, but also confused, about how such a crisis could have happened (Eggenkamper, 2015). People were puzzled most by the transition from the highest to the lowest of lows, and smaller investors were upset that they were being hit the hardest, while everyone continued to criticize President Herbert Hoover for his lack of intervention during the greatest panic America (and the world) had ever seen.

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Secularization, religion losing social and cultural significance, spawned during the 1920s in American society. It was a process that led to the rise of religious fundamentalists and tension between them and others (French, 2010).The teaching of Darwinism, the theory of evolution, angered many of them. This teaching created speculation that religious beliefs weren't as important and many began to ignore them. The case of Tennessee Evolution in 1925 highlights the opposing views between religious fundamentalists and others. Its purpose is to argue how many things in the bible are not interpreted literally because they would not make any sense. It also underscores a clash between modernity and traditional. Because the teaching of Darwin beliefs, many people began to ignore traditional religious beliefs. "The Bridge" by Joseph Stella also highlights the change of modernity in the 1920s. This painting depicts the bridge as a symbol of the growth of modern cities. The bridge's architecture is emphasized by stained glass church windows. Therefore, this painting depicts society as changing from tradition to more modern lifestyles. "Aimee Rises from the Sea", published by The New Republic, argues that many modern changes were impacting religious doctrines. It says that the church is now full of music, nonsense, and sex appeal. This publication stresses the clash between modern and traditional religious doctrines. Therefore, secularization of American society led to tension that was manifested by the clash between the theory of evolution and fundamentalism (Lupo, 2015).The rise of consumerism and advertising was also significant trend of the 1920s that created tension between tradition and modernity. Because many advertising existed, there were more people consuming products. There was conflict between modern and traditional lifestyles. People were moving into urban cities due to the rise of consumerism.

In Babbitt, Upton Sinclair argues that advertisers make people believe what they should be and how they should live their lives. He argues that they make people believe they should live their lives with commodities to be happy. He says that there is a belief that materialism gives joy. This shows that there is tension between the belief that materialism gives joy rather than traditional values (Eggenkamper, 2015). More people start ignoring morality and become more ambitious. This tension is also manifested with The Great Depression. The Great Depression was caused by the rise of consumerism and advertising. Because there was an increase of advertising, people started "buying on margin" until they were in huge debt. There was an intense overproduction of products and people were in debt so they could not buy more, which led to a depression. This created conflict between old and modern because many consumers believed material possessions were more important than moral values and family. Therefore, the rise of consumerism and advertising led to a Great Depression and a focus on materialism, which caused tension between modernity and tradition.

There were uncertainties after the Great Depression occurred given that people did not understand was how such a booming economy could have suddenly busted. The advances in technology during the period coupled with a healthy economy made it seem as though the rest of American history would consist of nothing but prosperity. People were getting rich incredibly quickly, often by investing in the stock market. When people saw these now-wealthy citizens becoming prosperous and successful, they ran to invest in the stock market as well. Through the incredible wealth of their predecessors, people assumed that the stock market and economy would continue to grow and grow forever. This was not the case, however, which people learned when the Great Depression suddenly hit(Eggenkamper,2015). People were the most confused at how an economy that had been doing so well for the past decade could have suddenly come crumbling down in such a great mess at the end of an incredibly prosperous decade.

During the Great Depression, undoubtedly the hardest hit were the small investors in the stock market. To start, wealthy speculators had manufactured the stock market crash in the first place. Not to say they had wanted it to happen, but by manipulating the pools in an unregulated market, wealthy investors were one of the main factors in the stock market's downfall. These large investors would join together and pour a great deal of money into one agreed-upon stock, driving up its price. Upon seeing the inflated price, small investors would buy stock in that company on margin. Buying on margin meant that buyers would buy a stock for only ten percent of its value, initially, and pay the rest back when the stock was sold (Woloch, 2017). However, the wealthy buyers would all then sell their stock at the same time, when the price was high, leaving the small investors to pay off the remainder of their stocks (with now incredibly low values). Small investors were now in an incredibly tough situation since they had to pay the initial value of their stock, which was now far greater than what they could sell the stock for. Thus, many small investors were the hardest hit because they were essentially put in debt by the practices of the incredibly wealthy investors.

Though no other economic crises in the world can truly compare to the Great Depression, the economic crisis of 2008 can also be related to such a time. Because of over speculation and poor banking practices, the stock and housing markets crashed, bringing the economy down with them (Eggenkamper,2015). This has happened many times over the course of history, though none have ever been quite as destructive or had as much international consequence as the Great Depression. Overall, nearly every thirty years, America has another financial crisis, because that is how long it takes people to forget the consequences of the last one and make the same economic mistakes they had in the past.


Eggenkamper, B. (2015). Roaring Twenties? - Rationalization, Growth, Crisis. Die Allianz, 105-123. doi: 10.17104/9783406678226-105

French, P. (2010). The Roaring Twenties - Substituting Action for Talk. Through the Looking Glass, 119-142. doi:10.5790/hongkong/9789622099821.003.0007

Lupo, S. (2015). Roaring Twenties. The Two Mafias, 33-63. doi:10.1057/9781137491374_3

Woloch, N. (2017). Different versus Equal: The 1920s. Princeton University Press. doi:10.23943/princeton/9780691002590.003.0006

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