HauteLit from HotLanta
The 1920’s roared into my life this past Saturday when I happened upon a gem at, “The Book House,” called, “Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories,” by James H. Pickering. After being cooped up all week working and writing, I had a deep desire to be in a dark speakeasy with cigar smoke, gin and tonics, glittery dresses in jewel tones and with jazz coursing through conversation. When I finally scanned the list of selections in Pickering’s anthology, I instantly fell upon Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the perfect choice to spur my culture dive into the Roaring 1920’s in America.
Two main characters engage in a dialogue at a train station in, “Hills like White Elephants,” but that is only the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ of Hemingway’s two and a half page story. I admired the way Hemingway uses the landscape to divide up the scene and the space, but I later fell in love with the characterization of the “American” and the girl, “Jig.” The relationship between these two characters was all too familiar. The “American” male, the boyfriend, talks AT his girlfriend, “Jig,” without actually communicating with her. She is trying to discuss an important matter and he chooses to ignore and then steer the conversation away from areas that he feels uncomfortable talking about and uses patronization as a tool to manipulate “Jig,” even though it is he who feels weak. Throughout the scene, they continue to drink so that they have something to do since they really aren’t spending anytime together.
This relationship is not necessarily one that is confined to the 1920’s. I think many, male or female, have felt like “Jig” in Hemingway’s story, talked at, along for the ride, but not really understood. By the end, it’s clear that “Jig,” can see the relationship is over and seems to be OK with that fact. Of course, I empathized more with the girlfriend in the story, but I could also see the point of view of the man. “Jig,” seems to think more deeply, seems to see the big picture, whereas the American, “Can’t think about it,” and plays it off the operation as if it is a ‘simple,’ matter, when truly, it is that he can’t comprehend how to solve the problem any other way, or can’t step up to deal with it in any other way.
The whole scene, very romantic on the surface (travel, absinthe, and deep conversation about hills looking like white elephants), is quite dark underneath which is a perfect analogy for the 1920’s in America. On my first read of the story, I had forgotten that a ‘white elephant’ is something that no one wants. At first it seems lovely that she would describe the hills this way, like the skin of a white elephant, but later it’s clear that she’s trying to introduce a conversation her boyfriend does not want to have about a particular “operation.” On the surface there was glitz, glamour and gold, Prohibition seemed more like a challenge than a law with speakeasies popping up for people to still enjoy libations with their jazz music and debauchery. Underneath Al Capone and other gangsters were wreaking havoc, there was a stock market crash and later the Great Depression. Fitzgerald also describes the duality of the roaring 20’s in The Great Gatsby. He hosts dazzling parties and lives a lifestyle of decadence, but in the end there is tragedy, and revelation that not all was as it seemed in Gatsby’s life.
Harlem Renaissance writers and artists such as Langston Hughes and Jacob Lawrence also experienced rises in their careers and popularity at this time. The art of the Harlem Renaissance, beautiful and moving, also has a darker side. Through their art, they spoke of the struggle of African Americans in the US experiencing unequal rights and racism and the Great Migration that occurred as a result of conditions during and after Reconstruction. This artistic revolution started a dialogue that would continue through the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
Let’s meander into past 1920’s haute literature, art, fashion and film and current links:
T.S. Elliot, “The Waste Land”
Langston Hughes, “The Weary Blues”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”
Baz Luhrmann’s, “The Great Gatsby” Summer 2013
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist” 2011
Al Jolson, “The Jazz Singer”
Silent Study of Harlem Renaissance Art
Louis Armstrong, “West End Blues”
George Gershwin, “Rhapsody in Blue”
Duke Ellington, “Black and Tan Fantasy”
A Roaring Weekend: Dress up in your best frock or suit and wear a hat perhaps, invite some friends out and drink a couple of gin and tonics at an underground Jazz Club or speakeasy and dance the night away. Perhaps you could even see a show or visit an art gallery with a Harlem Renaissance retrospective. Just be sure to be responsible with your libations so as not to end up like Daisy, Gatsby and Myrtle.
On Saturdays, OriginalTitle will present a reoccurring post where a particular piece of literature inspires discussion of other high-class or fashionable cultural items surrounding that piece are discussed either within the time period, currently or both! OriginalTitle lives in Atlanta, Georgia which is often lovingly referred to as Hotlanta due to the muggy summer heat that seems to last three seasons.