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Rafael Perez

A Look at the 20th Century

By: Rafael Perez
College Now Course - HUM 1

Since we have begun studying the time period of the early twentieth century in September 2003, I have always wondered why it is that European, American and Western Society as a whole start to morph and change into these modern times which we are so familiar with now. Looking back upon the curriculum, which we have both read and seen, I see now that this period of time was indeed a transition era. And as is the case with all transitions, it occurred slowly and gradually.

When we look at our first short story "Metamorphosis", we see a Europe that is hustling and bustling with change. At the end of the nineteenth century, the continent is truly seeing the effects of the industrial revolution which began about one hundred years before. That huge leap forward has made most people who are now members of the middle class, immersed in work with making money and striving towards economic security now as their lofty goals. This has caused so many to loose touch with reality and the painters of "Die Brucke" show this hectic state of mind extremely well in their expressionistic works.

When Europe was plunged into World War I, it was done so at the whims and desires of its nation's leaders. This action coupled with vase technological improvements of weapons, left the helpless young men who were thrown into conflict, completely disillusioned by the sheer horrors of war. This major aspect of bewilderment can be seen as Wilfred Owen sarcastically says how sweet and right it is to die for one's country, in his poem "Dulce et Decorum est". After the war had ended, most of the people (so emotionally and sociologically devastated) sought refuge and meaning in life by trying to drown out the new found fears and problems of their lives by becoming hedonists of sorts. This view of society has become epitomized in both Ernest Hemingway's novel "The Sun Also Rises" and in the play/production of Bob Fosse's "Cabaret".

Two decades later, when Europe emerged from the ashes of yet another devastating war, a new view of the world was being molded into existence by a few influential artists. From all the continual conflict they saw around them, they came to the conclusion that life was filled with total unpredictability and chaos. Nothing was constant to them and everything was changing. These people called themselves the existentialists and they believed that there was no real purpose to life. We see this movements views represented best in Eugene Ionesco's "The Rhinoceros".

We have seen changes take place at such a rapid pace as the century progressed, because thought was changing and the traditional way of thinking now becoming more and more obscure. New ways of looking at the world were coming into action due to all the advances in the sciences, which made people for the first time look out side of the box. This caused vast experimentation in the arts, in literature and through all walks of life.