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20 October 2014
world war one
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Modern Interpretations
In what ways has the War been interpreted?

In spite of the horror and bloodshed, the First World War inspired powerful and beautiful art and literature. More poetry was published around this time than at any other time in the Twentieth Century. Men and women expressed their feelings on how much their lives had changed, the loss of their family and friends and their views on war and peace.

Siegfried Sassoon wrote this in 1920:

'Have you forgotten yet?...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.'

People still continue to try to understand what happened in the War by writing or painting about it. During the 1920's, many of the soldiers were able to begin coming to terms with how they and the world were changed by the War. People like F. Scott Fitzgerald in America wrote novels about what he thought the effects of the War were on the men who had served in the front lines.

'Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.... '
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'This Side of Paradise', 1920

Thinking Point: Are these interpretations less historically valuable than a history book about the War? Which of these statements do you agree with more?



Interpretations of the War in literature or art are important when discussing history because:Interpretations of the War in literature or art are not important when discussing history because:
  • People's reactions to art and literature is a part of history, too. Art can change how people think.
  • Artists and writers give another point of view, using their talent to express feelings that are difficult to capture in hard facts and figures.
  • They tell us a lot about the time they were written in, as well as the time they were written about.
  • They want to make the book interesting or the painting look good, and may change facts to do this.
  • It is one person's opinion about what happened, and may not have as good a perspective on all the facts as a historian.
  • The artist or writer may want to persuade people to agree with him or her. It is as inauthentic as propaganda.

What do you think Fitzgerald and Sassoon, and the other writers of the time, are trying to achieve?

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A - They are trying to make sense of what seemed so crazy for themselves by writing it all down.

B - They are trying to make other people understand what it felt like to be them.

C - They are taking advantage of people's grief to make some money.

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