A New Revolution in Science :The ideas of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud had an enormous impact on the20th century. These thinkers were part of a scientific revolution as important as that brought about centuries earlier by Copernicus and Galileo.
Impact of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: German-born physicist Albert Einstein offered startling new ideas on space, time, energy, and matter. Scientists had found that light travels at exactly the same speed no matter what direction it moves in relation to earth. In 1905, Einstein theorized that while the speed of light is constant, other things that seem constant, such as space and time, are not.Space and time can change when measured relative to an object moving near the speed of light—about 186,000 miles per second. Since relative motion is the key to Einstein’s idea, it is called the theory of relativity. Einstein’s ideas had implications not only for science but also for how people viewed the world. Now uncertainty and relativity replaced Isaac Newton’s comforting belief of a world operating according to absolute laws of motion and gravity.
Influence of Freudian Psychology :The ideas of Austrian physician Sigmund Freud were as revolutionary as Einstein’s. Freud treated patients with psychological problems. From his experiences, he constructed a theory about the human mind. He believed that much of human behavior is irrational,or beyond reason.He called the irrational part of the mind the unconscious. In the unconscious, a number of drives existed, especially pleasure-seeking drives, of which the conscious mind was unaware. Freud’s ideas weakened faith in reason. Even so, by the 1920s, Freud’s theories had developed widespread influence.
Literature in the 1920s The brutality of World War I caused philosophers and writers to question accepted ideas about reason and progress. Disillusioned by the war, many people also feared the future and expressed doubts about traditional religious beliefs. Some writers and thinkers expressed their anxieties by creating disturbing visions of the presentand the future.In 1922, T. S. Eliot, an American poet living in England, wrote that Western society had lost its spiritual values. He described the postwar world as a barren“wasteland,” drained of hope and faith. In 1921, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats conveyed a sense of dark times ahead in the poem “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Writers Reflect Society’s Concerns The horror of war made a deep impression on many writers. The Czech-born author Franz Kafka wrote eerie novels such as The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926). His books feature people caught in threatening situations they can neither understand nor escape. The books struck a chord among readers in the uneasy postwar years.Many novels showed the influence of Freud’s theories on the unconscious. The Irish-born author James Joyce gained widespread attention with his stream-of consciousness novel Ulysses (1922). This book focuses on a single day in the lives of three people in Dublin, Ireland. Joyce broke with normal sentence structure and vocabulary in a bold attempt to mirror the workings of the human mind.
Thinkers React to Uncertainties In their search for meaning in an uncertain world,some thinkers turned to the philosophy known as existentialism. A major leader of this movement was the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (SAHR•truh) of France. Existentialists believed that there is no universal meaning to life. Each person creates his or her own meaning in life through choices made and actions taken
The existentialists were influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (NEE•chuh). In the 1880s, Nietzsche wrote that Western ideas such as reason, democracy, and progress had stifled people’s creativity and actions.Nietzsche urged a return to the ancient heroic values of pride, assertiveness, and strength. His ideas attracted growing attention in the 20th century and had a great impact on politics in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
Revolution in the Arts Although many of the new directions in painting and music began in the prewar period, they evolved after the war.
Artists Rebel Against Tradition Artists rebelled against earlier realistic styles of painting. They wanted to depict the inner world of emotion and imagination rather than show realistic representations of objects. Expressionist painters like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky used bold colors and distorted or exaggerated forms. Inspired by traditional African art, Georges Braque of France and Pablo Picasso of Spain founded Cubism in 1907. Cubism transformed natural shapes into geometric forms. Objects were broken down into different parts with sharp angles and edges. Often several views were depicted at the same time. Surrealism, an art movement that sought to link the world of dreams with real life, was inspired by Freud’s ideas. The term surreal means “beyond or above reality.” Surrealists tried to call on the unconscious part of their minds. Many of their paintings have an eerie, dreamlike quality and depict objects in unrealistic ways.
Composers Try New Styles In both classical and popular music, composers moved away from traditional styles. In his ballet masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, composer Igor Stravinsky used irregular rhythms and dissonances, or harsh combinations of sound. The Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg rejected traditional harmonies and musical scales.
A new popular musical style called jazz emerged in the United States. It was developed by musicians, mainly African Americans, in New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago. It swept the United States and Europe. The lively, loose beat of jazz seemed to capture the new freedom of the age.
Society Challenges Convention World War I had disrupted traditional social patterns. New ideas and ways of life led to a new kind of individual freedom during the 1920s. Young people especially were willing to break with the past and experiment with modern values.
Women’s Roles Change The independent spirit of the times showed clearly in the changes women were making in their lives. The war had allowed women to take on new roles. Their work in the war effort was decisive in helping them win the right to vote. After the war, women’s suffrage became law in many countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Austria.
Women abandoned restrictive clothing and hairstyles. They wore shorter, looser garments and had their hair “bobbed,” or cut short. They also wore makeup, drove cars, and drank and smoked in public. Although most women still followed traditional paths of marriage and family, a growing number spoke out for greater freedom in their lives. Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman risked arrest by speaking in favor of birth control. As women sought new careers, the numbers of women in medicine, education, journalism, and other professions increased.
Technological Advances Improve Life During World War I, scientists developed new drugs and medical treatments that helped millions of people in the postwar years. The war’s technological advances were put to use to improve transportation and communication after the war.
The Automobile Alters Society The automobile benefited from a host of wartime innovations and improvements—electric starters, air-filled tires, and more powerful engines. Cars were now sleek and brightly polished, complete with headlights and chrome-plated bumpers. In prewar Britain, autos were owned exclusively by the rich. British factories produced 34,000 autos in 1913. After the war, prices dropped, and the middle class could afford cars. By 1937, the British were producing 511,000 autos a year.
The king of Hollywood’s silent screen was the English-born Charlie Chaplin, a comic genius best known for his portrayal of the lonely little tramp bewildered by life. In the late 1920s, the addition of sound transformed movies. The advances in transportation and communication that followed the war had brought the world in closer touch. Global prosperity came to depend on the economic well-being of all major nations, especially the United States.