Last week I finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, this novel helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. The Sun Also Rises is widely considered to be the quintessential novel of the “Lost Generation”. The book focuses on a group of thirty-something American and British expatriates living on the Left Bank in Paris during the 1920’s. It follows their extravagant night life in Paris and their trip to Pamplona, Spain for the San Fermin festival (The running of the bulls). The book is an emotional investigation of the cynicism and torment which the post-World War I generation went through in their attempt to find their place in the world after returning home.
The theme from the book that resonates most with me is the aimlessness of the Lost Generation to which the characters belong. The Lost Generation, named by Gertrude Stein, describes the men and women who came of age during the Great War. Their experiences during that horrific conflict undermined and shattered their beliefs in the traditional notions of morality, justice, and love. Without these values and ideals to rely on, the members of this generation found their lives to be unfulfilling, causing them to no longer believe in any one thing. Their lives became empty and they wandered aimlessly in a world that appeared, to them, to be meaningless. They filled their time with purposeless activities, such as drinking, dancing, and debauchery. They slowly became psychologically and morally lost.
Recently, my generation, Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, has been described by The New York Times as Generation Limbo:
“Highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects. And so they wait: for the economy to turn, for good jobs to materialize, for their lucky break. Some do so bitterly, frustrated that their well-mapped careers have gone astray. Others do so anxiously, wondering how they are going to pay their rent, their school loans, their living expenses – sometimes resorting to once-unthinkable government handouts.”
Most of Generation Limbo’s hardships can be traced back to the Great Recession thanks to it’s long-term impact. During the recession the number of Americans aged 25 to 34 living with their parents jumped 25 percent resulting from the highest levels of unemployment for young people since World War II. While The New York Times refers to us as Generation Limbo, Harvard economist Richard Freeman takes it a step further saying “These people will be scared, and they will be called the “lost generation” – in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster.”
Aside from the original Lost Generation of the 20’s the only other age cohort to carry this moniker was the Japanese youth who grew up in the 90’s during Japan’s decade long recession. They experienced widespread unemployment which meant that the majority of this generation never had an opportunity to start real careers. During the recession the number of young people working temporary or contract jobs doubled and created a spike in suicides.
What we are seeing today is that Generation Y is becoming increasingly challenged by listlessness, a condition that will lead to a future of consequences for both the children and parents of their generation. It’s no secret that a large portion of young adults are being forced to postpone adulthood because they don’t feel like they have any other options.
It’s surprising how easy it is to draw parallels between two generations nearly 90 years apart. The average member of Generation Y will tell you that they feel helpless. That their lives are unfulfilling and they aimlessly move from one frivolous task to another. The lives of this generation are full of meaningless pursuits such as TV, videogames, and the internet. Their belief and faith in society has slowly been eroded and those finished school either unemployed or underemployed feel empty, without a sense of purpose. Many in this generation are seeing their futures flash before their eyes as they sit dormant, slowly losing faith in that promise of a better tomorrow.
Fundamental change. A serious conversation needs to be started, a conversation about the fundamental principles which undermine today’s society. This conversation can only be spurred on by a generation so incredibly affected by it, Generation Y. They must reach out to “the establishment” and begin a conversation about the necessary changes they want to see in society. The last few years have seen wide spread change on the issues that were once hotly contested, proof that change is possible. Although, before this conversation is possible, Generation Y will need to ask themselves: “Are we satisfied leaving policy decisions to those who are out of touch with both reality and the needs of the people?”