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The period after World War I was a time of both disillusionment and hopeful experimentation. The war had left the "lost generation" feeling aimless, a disorientation that authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed in works that sought new meaning in a modern world. Other authors, like Gertrude Stein, turned to artistic experimentation, creating new forms such as her "word portraits."

The chaotic aftermath of the war also created openings for new social ideas. Previously underrepresented groups were able to assert their voices, among them women, African-Americans, American Indians, and immigrants. Works by Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Isaac Bashevis Singer and others broadened mainstream notions of what it meant to be American.