Eulogy of a Flapper


Zelda Fitzgerald is believed to be the mother and champion of the final movement that brought about postmodernism and women empowerment in the 1920s. It was during this time that the women arose from a historical slumber and were able to challenge their position in the world and openly show that they were ready to take up positions at the workplaces rather than remain in the confinements of the houses ad kitchens. Zelda, identified as the first flapper (New Woman) championed for more freedom to the women, an extension of the previous campaigns by other women leaders who had even won the female gender a right to vote under the 19th amendment. This paper is a discussion of one of Zelda’s article in the Metropolitan Magazine, 1922 “Eulogy of a Flapper”. The paper will discuss the article in depth, providing the deeper relationship between the work and the notions of excess, performance and spectacle.

The Flapper

According to the popular perspective in the early 20th century, a flapper was regarded as a young woman with an independent mind. In the 1910s and 1920s, the American culture saw the rise of a modern and exotic woman who was not tied down by the cultural codes of dressings and who dominated the cosmopolitan scene in the years. The rise of this modern woman seems to have originated from the refusal of the women to let go of the jobs and the freedoms that they acquired when the men were at war. Having tasted the freedom and the fun, a more fashionable and opinionated woman was developed. A flapper would drink, smoke and even flirt with people while flaunting her sexuality in a way that shocked many, especially from the older generations. Zelda Fitzgerald was a real example of a flapper and her life and works depicts these notions in a well-articulated manner.

The Notion of Excess

Throughout the World War I, men were taken from their homes and workplaces to represent the country in the battlefields. This led to an increased job opportunity and a rise of women in these jobs. With less experience on job and leadership, most of the women developed new ideas about their new freedoms. With an excess of money and time, they dared to at last detach from the long held traditions that barred them from many freedoms. They desired to be free and to do what they wanted to feel happy. They had developed new rights and freedoms and could not exchange them for anything even when the men returned. The excess of money and time became their major boost towards post-modernization.

Zelda Fitzgerald in her article states that,

“Older people, except a few geniuses, artistic and financial, simply throw up their hands, heave a great many heart-rending sighs and moan to themselves something about what a hard thing life is — and then, of course, turn to their children and wonder why they don’t believe in Santa Claus and the kindness of their fellow men and in the tale that they will be happy if they are good and obedient. And yet the strongest cry against Flapperdom is that it is making the youth of the country cynical. It is making them intelligent and teaching them to capitalize their natural resources and get their money’s worth. They are merely applying business methods to being young.” (Zelda Fitzgerald 1922).

This statement implies that the notion of excess was deeply rooted in the minds of the flappers who sought to use the excess time to do what they had desired to do and the excess resources to ‘get their money’s worth.’


The Notion of Performance

According to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, the modern woman was not only supposed to be stylish and fashionable in looking, but also in performance. The popularization of the new woman brought about the change in performance from the homes to the workplaces. The woman who was submissive and wore long dresses that covered the whole body was no longer there. The new woman was outspoken, challenging and outgoing. They were able to flirt and make conversations and even get sexually involved with anyone they desired without commitment. It became a time when most of the older parents were wary that their sons would not get decent wives to marry. However, the performance was more important to the flappers than the cultural mores and conditions that were set by the society. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald says that “Youth does not need friends, it needs only crowds”. This implies that the belief that the flappers held was that the performance and the show of freedom and modernization was far much better than the feeling of being in line with the societal expectations.

In addition, Zelda describes the performance of the flapper in the article. She states that,

Perceiving these things, the Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure, she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn’t need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring.”  

This clearly displays that the flapper values performance and desires to be noticed and to have fun out of the performance.


The Notion of Spectacle

In the 1920s, almost all the social halls in the American towns were attributed to flappers. Their performance and the spectacle that it caused displayed the character who is notorious and with bobbed hair. The new woman who wore short dresses with a lower neckline and bangles in her hands was more adorable than the traditional woman who was almost wholly covered in satin. The woman who drank gin, smiled and passed her time in jazz clubs flirting with male friends was something that the world had not seen. A writer in the New York Times described the spectacle; “She disports herself flagrantly in the public eye, and there is no keeping her out of grown-up company or conversation,” Zelda also expresses the same notion when she describes the woman who “puts on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle.” The battle, in this case, is the struggle to bring out the spectacle and be visible in the crowd.

The modernization of the traditional woman took a struggle by the women to bring about a change in the cultural and even the political set-up. Boosted by the availability of jobs and money in the period after the war, the women were reluctant to return to their traditional positions and decided to challenge their way up. This was however done in excess, as depicted from the article ‘Eulogy of a Flapper’ by Zelda Fitzgerald. The women made use of the chance and the time to perform and be what they had always desired to do, and to bring out a new spectacle that people had not witnessed before.



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