The Americans in Paris

In this clip from Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson’s character, an idealistic young novelist, is astonished to find himself mingling with some of his literary heroes, having been mysteriously transported back in time while on vacation in Paris. The message of the movie is that it is unhealthy to imagine that there exists a “golden age” or a bygone culture that was vastly superior to that of one’s own era; however, it is easy to understand the modern fascination with the “lost generation” of writers and artists who lived in Paris during the 1920s, which included American expatriates like the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. This exodus of Americans to Europe, which is commonly linked to a pervasive sense of disillusionment and alienation following the devastation of the First World War, resulted in a vast body of modernist literature that was produced in small publishing houses and fed by the cross-pollination of creative minds made possible by the morally permissive and bohemian environment of early-20th-century Paris.

Sophie Downes

One thought on “The Americans in Paris”

  1. After reading the Baldwin piece, “The Discovery of What it Means to be American,” this example of “cross-pollination” as you say becomes all the more relevant. As Baldwin describes in his essay, American writers flocked to Europe in the early to mid 20th Century, hoping to discover new, creative influences and better develop their literary voices. In this example of Paris, writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway found their own creative niches far away from their native America, producing newly inspired modernist literature in a place of rich artistic and cross-cultural influences. Yet, as Baldwin notes, this literary migration may have worked to even further define America for these artists, rather than to estrange their connections to their home country. For Baldwin, he was only able to discover his artistic identity and individuality in a foreign land, better able to come to terms with his American origins once he was transplanted into a new place in which he could view his identity through a new lens. These displaced writers in Paris and elsewhere are still regarded as essentially American despite their cross-cultural molding, almost solidifying their national identities once they are juxtaposed against a foreign backdrop.

    Audrey McFarland

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