MODERNISM 1915-1945

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"Defining modernism is a difficult task. ... A historical
definition would say that modernism is the artistic
movement in which the artist's self-consciousness about
questions of form and structure became uppermost. ... In
brief, modernism asks us to consider what we normally
understand by the center and the margins." - Heath
Anthology, Vol. 2, 4th ed., 887-888.
THE BASICS:
 American modernists were driven by the belief
that the assurances once provided by religion,
politics, or society no longer sufficed.
 This belief intensified after World War I, when it
seemed to many that history itself was coming to
an end and that modern life was horrific, chaotic,
and ultimately futile.
 Inspired much by European avant-garde art.
MODERNIST
VARIETIES….
 Some writers focused on their
sense of loss
 T. S. Eliot
 Others were optimistic and
hopeful
 Ezra Pound
But most believed that art
replaced religion in providing
coherence, guidance, and
insight into the human
condition.
“Make it new” – E. Pound
 Radical experimentation in literary form and
expression:
 Steam of consciousness
 Disruption in traditional syntax (word order)
and form
 Reinvigorating the old- rewriting myths,
revisiting notions of primitiveness
 International perspective on cultural matters.
Modern Attitudes
1. The artist is
generally less
appreciated but
more sensitive,
even more heroic,
than the average
person.
2. The artist
challenges
tradition and
reinvigorates it.
3. A breaking away
from patterned
responses and
predictable forms.
Contradictory Elements
 1. Democratic and elitist.
 2. Traditional and anti-tradition.
 3. National jingoism and provinciality versus
the celebration of international culture.
 4. Puritanical and repressive elements
versus freer expression in sexual and
political matters.
LITERARY ACHIEVMENTS
 1. Dramatization of the plight of
women.
 2. Creation of a literature of the urban
experience.
 3. Continuation of the pastoral or rural
spirit.
 4. Continuation of regionalism and
local color.
MODERN THEMES
 1. Collectivism versus the authority of the individual.
 2. The impact of the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution in




Russia.
3. The Jazz Age.
4. The passage of 19th Amendment in 1920 giving
women the right to vote.
5. Prohibition of the production, sale, and
consumption of alcoholic beverages, 1920-33.
6. The stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression
of the 1930s and their impact.
MODERNISM AND ‘THE SELF’
 Chief characteristic of the self is
alienation….could also be an alienated
generation (Gertrude Stein)
 Alienation leads to an awareness
about one’s inner life.
Revisiting The Great Gatsby….
 If we don’t consider the year published, consider these
two questions….
 Does Fitzgerald’s work fit into Realism or
Modernism….why?
 Does Edith Wharton’s Roman Fever belong to Realism
or Modernism? Why?
Reminder…. What is Realism?
 A faithful representation of reality
(concrete, historical) in literature
 Emphasis on development of believable
characters.
 Written in natural dialect.
 Emphasis on individual(s) in his/her social
environment
Credits
 Information from: PAL
 http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap7/7in
tro.html?AX
 AND The Literature Network
 http://www.online-
literature.com/periods/modernism.php
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