Using the Literature Book and additional credible, authoritative sources (no dictionary, encyclopedia, wikipedia-type sites, or spark-note/e-note-type sites), define all aspects of American Modernism.

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The Modernism literary era spanned through two major economic and international changes in world history: the Great Depression and World War II. These events greatly influenced minds around the globe. Traditional values and Christian beliefs were questioned as people saw the world around them crumble twice (Modernism). "It [Modernism] has several defining characteristics, including experimentation with narrative technique, structure, style, the use of time and space, and individual subjectivity and consciousness. In addition, it has come to be associated with the exploration of certain themes, such as alienation and isolation, gender and sexuality, and the darker side of human psychology" (Modernism). “The relationship between truth and fiction is a primary concern in modernist literature” (Modernism). Keeping these aspects and primary concerns in mind, readers can look at Modernist works and understand that the time period and the shifting of the world had much to do with the change of tone, genre, and beliefs of authors, poets, scriptwriters, and more.

Reading through an article written by Trent Lorcher, I noticed that as he explained American Modernism that he used a lot of the same points that Mr. Langley did in his presentation. Lorcher simply defined American Modernism in literature as that it "...consists of literary work possessing certain loosely defined characteristics." This part of Modernism would be during the Roaring Twenties as we heard about in Mr. Langley's slide show. The looseness of the Roaring Twenties really affected the way that people thought and view things. This effect leads into how Lorcher also states "Modernism is marked by a strong and intentional break with tradition." He goes on to talk about how this break in tradition has to do with mostly religious, political, and social views. All in all, American Modernism was not only the free spirit of the Roaring Twenties or the despair and lack of trust that came to follow, but a combination of both which made people uneasy and question themselves and everything around them. According to a review of modernism by Edward Quinn, there are two major factors of American Modernism. One of these is the epiphany which means that the "truth was at best a fleeting, impermanent, intensely personal moment that the artist could strive to capture" (Quinn). The epiphany was definitely an important part of American Modernism because it is still used today in many ways. Another important aspect of modernism is symbolism. Modernism is extremely heavy on symbolism as an "outward sign of an interior condition" (Quinn). Symbolism during this period often told of problems that were sure to come since in American society during this time, difficulties were starting to emerge.

"Modernist writing, takes the reader into a world of unfamiliarity, a deep introspection, a cognitive thought-provoking experience, skepticism of religion, and openness to culture, technology, and innovation."(Lili Melton Ph.D) In most modernist writings, readers may feel bewildered or confused because in the Modernistic Literature Era, people were coming up with new and exciting ways to express themselves. "Aesthetically, Modernist literature brought about openness in the ways in which authors wrote novel, poetry, and short story. Because Modernism brought about a new openness in the areas of feminism, bisexuality, the family, and the mind, Modernist literature began to contain a profound amount of imagery."(Lili Melton Ph.D)

In an article from Modern Language Studies, Adrienne Johnson Gosselin discusses the differences and similarities between the Harlem Renaissance and American Modernism. They both share common themes of separatism, optimism, and primitivism, and they also both use unconventional structure. Johnson Gosselin also wrote that the Harlem Renaissance and Modernism are often lumped into one category, but they are actually very different. While Modernism portrays the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, the Harlem Renaissance captures the spread of black culture after World War I.

Modernism is marked by a strong and intentional break with tradition. This break includes a strong reaction against established religious, political, and social views (Lorcher). This writing period was a time for authors to really voice their opinions through writing. In this time period people were losing hope with God and their country. Because of this writers would focus on certain problems they saw in everday life and wrote about their feelings toward these problems. Readers were able to relate with the writing, and sometimes feel joy from the words for being who they are. Although at times the readers could feel joy, the opposite could happen as well. At times the changes in the writing style would confuse the readers. The readers were just not used to this style and did not know what to think.

Modernism is a very complex time period for literature. Poets were using experimentation, anti-realism, individualism, and logical thinking rather than using their emotions in their poems (Holcombe). If a poet was describing a piece of art work they would most likely describe it analytically rather than using their emotions to describe how the art work makes them feel. The poets used Fruedian psychiatry, verbal cleverness, individualism, and an over emphasis on the irrational to analyze things (Holcombe). Modernism also puts in ideas about a person's ideas and belifes on certain issues.



The typical Modernism hero is a character that is very tough and strong (What is Modernism?). They are generally not given much physical description and it is up to the reader to infer about their appearance. It is very important for the Modernism hero to be able to survive in harsh conditions that many people would lose hope and give up in (What is Modernism?). Also, the typical Modernism hero is in a desperate situation or has fallen from prominence (Modernism, Some Characteristics:). They may have lost everything, been divorced, unsure of their future, or just all around down on their luck. Whatever the situation, the Modernism hero is clearly in a difficult situation in Modernism writings. It is also common at the end of the poem or story for the Modernism hero to experience a new form of hope, or slowly begin their rise back to prominence (Modernism, Some Characteristics:). The Modernism hero is very important to any Modernism poem because they represent the Modernism time period, along with the important events of this era and the people who helped define this writing style.



While reading through collaborative review of moderist poetry, I found that Modernist writers changed the style from realism to abstractions (Gordon). The article says that people needed to be well educated to read and understand the poetry from the time (Gordon). Poetry was typically impersonal, cosmopolitan, highly learned, and skeptical (Gordon). It also contained many contradictory elements, such as presenting democrazy as an idea while also using elitist ideals. Modernism also incorporates the new ideas of sigmund freud and Carl Jung, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Frederich Nietzsche (Gordon).

"In fiction, modernism emphasizes the subjective as in, for example, stream-of-consciousness writing. In consequence, there is a turn away from an omniscient third-person narrator in modernist fiction. Modernist literature is often marked by overlapping genres, fragmentation, pastiche, nonlinear depictions of time, a conscious exploration of the creative act, and a rejection of the traditional distinction between high and low culture. Modernism reflects a belief that art may create meaning and thus serve as a unifying force in life and society" (Taylor, Karen L.).


On the contrary, non-fiction modernism focuses mostly on contemporary matters. Matters in a rapidly changing society during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s widely influenced these topics. For example, Claude McKay’s poem If We All Must Die is a direct response to the riots in 1919(Claude). Claude’s poem, influenced by the riots, was written to influence his fellow African Americans to fight against odds and become productive members of society. It is poems like this that, that represent true non-fiction modernism.

Other topics of non-fiction modernism include a wide array of topics. Violence is one associated with many poems, especially poems with reference to Harlem or World War I. Many poems also discuss their lose of faith in many things but mostly religion. Immigration was also a wide topic. With immigration rates soaring, many writers could not help but notice. All of these topics combined to make one of the most unique literary movements of all time.

The Modernism writing period is when traditional values begin to be questioned (Hann). The speaker of the poem is uncertain about his or her own future (Hann). They battle back and forth with their emotions, while looking for the definition of "self" (Hann). The poets search continuously for who they truly are.

Also during the Modernism age, the world was changing. There were numerous far-reaching historical, social, cultural, and economic changes in the late 1800's and early 1900's (Hann). One example of these changes is the transition from a rural to urban area. Large cities were flourishing during this time period. It is common for these changes to appear in Modernism poems. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock shows the transition to city life when the narrator says "The muttering retreats, Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels, And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells." (Elliot) This is evidence of a town shifting to a more urban atmosphere.


The literature book articles about Modernism define the period mostly by giving examples of events that were going on during the time. While helpful to an extent, the literature book did not give me the cold hard facts I needed to really be able to understand what feelings Modernist authors sought to convey in their writings and what techniques they employed to do that. In the grand scheme of things, Modernism was just simply a breaking away from realism. Many changes were happening during this time. World War I changed the ways of life for many people in America (as any catastrophic event like it would). Although the roaring twenties and the Harlem renaissance gave the beginning of the period a sense of happiness, most of Modernism is centered on the meaning of life and the evils of society ("Beginnings of the Modern Age"). This results in a greater sense of self and individuality (Worthington). Reason and morality prevail over society’s properness. Individuals portrayed in poems are generally lonely, isolated, pessimistic, and faithless ("Beginnings of the Modern Age"). This was aided by the Great Depression ("Beginnings of the Modern Age").

There were many common themes in Modernism writing. Some of which include; "Breakdown of social norms and cultural sureties", "Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context", "Valorization of the despairing individual in the face of an unmanageable future", "Rejection of history and the substitution of a mythical past, borrowed without chronology", "Product of the metropolis, of cities and urbanscapes", and "Overwhelming technological changes of the 20th Century" (The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia). These themes are seen often in Modernist literature. At least one of these themes could be found in each of the three Modernism writings assigned. The world was changing in the Modernism era, and these common themes found in Modernist writings prove that to be true.

"Known as "The Lost Generation" American writers of the 1920s Brought Modernism to the United States" (Lorrcher). Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Hart Crane, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were writers during the Modernism time period (Lorcher). Modernism has literary pieces that have loosely defined characteristics (Lorcher). Modernism is a reaction against Realism and had an emphasis on the individual inner being instead of the social being (Worthington). Modernism experiments with language, is a distortion of perception, and is unordered (Worthington). Modernism has a strong reaction against established religious, political, and social views, which breaks tradition (Lorcher).

The Modernism time period was right in the middle of the Great Migration the Great Depression. So, It was a time of both despair and hope, and both these feelings can be seen throughout the writings of the time. Many inventions came in like cars, radio, movies, along with soaps, comedy, jazz, sports, etc. Writers liked to focus on individual experiences and progress, as well as experiment with new ways to write a story with things like alter egos and disillusions. Two types of writers were seen during Modernism. Symbolist liked to use symbols, metaphors, suggestions, etc. Imagists liked to use more tangible things by using concrete objects and by being simple but not predictable. Many new and great works were made during this time with its originality and intellect.

According to troy.edu, "Eliot, Stevens, and Kafka are considered Modern writers and were greatly influenced by the attitudes and ideas reflected in these characteristics." Many characteristics of Modernism that have been seen throughout many of the poems and short stories throughout this project are: "a reaction against realism, a break from traditional forms, rejects society, sense of allienation, loss, and seclusion, and emphasis on the individual" (Characteristics of Modernism). A few poems and short stories that have these characteristics are A Rose for Emily, To Emily Dickinson, and Chicago.


Many of the Modernism poems make it very apparent that they lived their lives and showed their values through their dreams and subconscious thoughts (Arana). The dreams and thoughts that are shared within the poems written in the modernism period is what make the poems so interesting and different to read (Arana).


The Literary period of Modernism has many characteristics to it. There is a move towards character complexity (). I think that is shown in the poem "Next to of course God America I" by E.E. Cummings in that there is a lot of emotion in the text and the author has a major opinion on what he is composing on the paper.

As stated earlier, Modernism is represented by a strong break with Tradition. To go further into detail, authors would intentionally change style of their works to break away from traditional viewpoints of government, social class, religion, etc. For example, Langston Hughes was one of the first authors to speak out against the government ("The Ballad Of The Landlord by Langston Hughes at Old Poetry."). He spoke of the unfair treatment that he and other African Americans received. He simply said what he felt, which added more emotion to the writing style.

Like all other time periods, Modernism is unique and sets itself outby cerain characteristics. One critic spoke of Modernism as, "...experimentation, anti-realism, individualism and a stress on the cerebral rather than emotive aspects" ("Modernism in Literature: Modernist Poetry"). Writers of the Modernism time took logic over emotion and self over God. Hart Crane's poem Chaplinesque, he distinguished between the world and the self.

Modernism has an overwhelming influence on describing the conscious, mental stability, and power of the common man or more importantly woman. Modernism mainly captured American literature between 1890 and 1920, which covers nearly all the modernism short stories and poems we, as a class, discussed. More importantly during this time period, the authors aimed for a vast variety of themes and important theories on the social statuses and purpose of their characters (Modernism: the Sociology of Cont. 1).

Because of World War I many people were questioning the way things were and as with many literary time periods the values and characteristics of the time seem to be opposite of the time before. Some characteristics of modernism that were different from the time period before were the movement away from religion, not having a developed setting or characters, and improper use of grammar to reflect dialect (Bryne).

When reading through all of my poems and essays that I was assigned to read for the project, I noticed the the theme of loss was major in these works and included in all three of mine. After researching modernism more thoroughly for this project, i found a website that backed up this characteristic saying it was an important characteristic of modernism (Byrne). Whether this loss was the loss of society or actually physically losing someone in your life, the feeling of loss that these characters felt in these works was big. Along with the feeling of loss, another characteristic that deals with that topic with be the destruction of the family unit, which is also a characteristic of modernism (Byrne). That's very interesting to see how two of the biggest themes of modernism both deal with something negative such as loss and the destruction of the family unit.

Modernists view the world as it is. They do not make the world an amazing and exaggerated world (Modernism in Literature). They do not write about the absolute truth, but in their eyes everything is relative (Modernism in Literature). The Modernists look at the individuals rather than the big picture. The inner strength is most important to them (Modernism in Literature). Unlike realism, Modernism does not look at history for any connection (Modernism in Literature). They write a lot more on story lines rather than facts. Their writings often start off as joyful, but end in tragedy (Modernism in Literature). Modernists try to make it seem as if there is hope for the character, but in all honesty, the tables turn and it ends in a different way then what the reader thinks.

poetry and modernism." In Arana, Victoria R., ed. The Facts On File Companion to World Poetry, 1900 to the Present. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CPWP0263&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 3, 2010).

Modernism is marked by a strong and intentional break with tradition” (Lorcher). History is not a part of modernism in literature. The characters in the story often feel alienated. The characters are sometimes very unsure of themselves and question their motives.



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