Article image

12 Quotes on Life in the Roaring '20s

The era of the 1920s has secured its place in the popular imagination, thanks in no small part to literary works such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which brought to life the glitz and glamour we now associate with the “Roaring '20s.”

The decade is often characterized by the dramatic excesses sparked by the end of World War I. Economic growth caused a cultural boom in Western nations and ushered in an era of social change marked by lavish, boozy parties and the rise of the “flapper” style embraced by a new generation of socially liberated women.

But this romanticized view tends to undercut the complexity of the time: In the U.S., Jim Crow racial segregation laws and anti-immigration sentiments threatened individual freedoms, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and white and Black Americans, became more and more exaggerated.

For better and for worse, the rapid pace of the Roaring ‘20s heralded many major societal changes: In these 10 years, women gained the right to vote; Prohibition sparked a black market of bootleggers and raucous speakeasies; technology innovations including the telephone and “talking pictures”  arrived; cities and consumerism began to rise; and the arts flourished, from the rise of jazz music to the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance.

Here, we’ve gathered 12 quotes from prominent figures and literary works of the era that give a taste of life during this unique and iconic decade.

To be able to look life in the face: that’s worth living in a garret for, isn’t it?
Edith Wharton in “The Age of Innocence,” 1920

Share Quote

The Flapper awoke from her lethargy … put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into battle … She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do.
Zelda Fitzgerald in “Eulogy on the Flapper,” 1922

Share Quote

They were smart and sophisticated, with an air of independence about them, and so casual about their looks and clothes and manners as to be almost slapdash. I don't know if I realized as soon as I began seeing them that they represented the wave of the future.
Actress Colleen Moore on flappers in the 1920s

Share Quote

The worst is not that one gets burned, but that the flame goes out.
Natalie Clifford Barney in “Women Lovers, or The Third Woman,” 1926

Share Quote

I can never put on paper the thrill of the underground ride to Harlem. I went up the steps and out into the bright September sunlight. Harlem! I stood there, dropped my bags, took a deep breath and felt happy again.
Langston Hughes, writing about his arrival to Harlem in 1921

Share Quote

​​No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost.
Zora Neale Hurston in “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” 1928

Share Quote

Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.
E.M. Forster in “A Passage to India,” 1924

Share Quote

“I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer.”
Colette in “Chéri,” 1920

Share Quote

If I can create the minimum of my plans and desires, there shall be no regrets.
Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license, in 1921

Share Quote

Don’t do nothing halfway, else you find yourself dropping more than can be picked up.
Jazz great Louis Armstrong

Share Quote

We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.
Ernest Hemingway, describing 1920s Paris in “A Moveable Feast,” 1964

Share Quote

It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, describing the 1920s in “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” 1931

Share Quote

Featured image credit: Andrei Mayatnik/ Shutterstock

Author image
About the Author
Paola Bennet
Paola Bennet is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a fortnightly newsletter that treasures the mundane, called Small Histories. Find her on Instagram @paolafbennet.
Play more header background
Play more icon
Daily Question
Fill in the blank: "The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and ___." - David Foster Wallace

More Inspiration

happiness theme icon

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

separator icon
Mahatma Gandhi
motivation theme icon

The truth is the light and light is the truth.

separator icon
Ralph Ellison
hope theme icon

It is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come.

separator icon
Malcolm X
love theme icon

Only the ephemeral is of lasting value.

separator icon
Eugène Ionesco
wisdom theme icon

Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

separator icon
Henry Miller
happiness theme icon

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.

separator icon
Anaïs Nin
motivation theme icon

Imagination, not intelligence, made us human.

separator icon
Terry Pratchett
hope theme icon

Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

separator icon
Warren Buffett
love theme icon

The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.

separator icon
Rabindranath Tagore
wisdom theme icon

A small act is worth a million thoughts.

separator icon
Ai Weiwei
happiness theme icon

Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.

separator icon
Vincent van Gogh