Literary Analysis of Modernist Literature
1. Write a 3-page literary analysis of one of the short stories from the assigned readings for Module 02, explaining how the author used characteristics of modernist literature or dystopian elements to create the dominant theme of the short story. You should include two of the terms used in your Module 02 literary terms exercise, and highlight the unique elements utilized in either modernist or dystopian fiction from your reading this week. Consider the following:
· What was the main theme of your chosen story? (This is the main idea or message of the story). Examples of theme might be man vs. technology, man vs. nature, love, death, coming of age, freedom, the hero, or heroine’s quest, etc.
· If you chose a dystopian story, what vision of the future did the reading reflect?
· Which of the literary terms or characteristics of modernist fiction did you find in your chosen story? (See your lesson content and literary terms in Module 02 for more on these).
Focus as much as you can on how this short story exemplified the genre you have selected. You will also find it helpful to research the selected work online and in our library. You may use more than one article for your paper. Research includes at least one outside library article on the work selected.
Your paper must be written in APA format. Use the APA template from the Course Guide to complete this assignment. You should have an APA cover page; two full pages of essay text with in-text citations, quotes, and lines from the readings; and a reference page.
· Modernism and Modernist Literature
“Modernism , in the arts, a radical break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression. Modernism fostered a period of experimentation in the arts from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, particularly in the years following World War I” (Encyclopedia Britannica, Modernist, 2018).
In the 1800s, literature primarily had been either “realistic or naturalistic.” Both of these writing styles were predominantly born out of an artistic sensibility that an artist should portray the world as he or she saw it. With the enormous changes in society in the early part of the twentieth century, these ideas were used less frequently as more artists chose to experiment with poetry, drama, and fiction. There was less emphasis on conventional structure in the arts and more on creating a reaction within the audience. In art, it was Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and others who pushed the boundaries of traditional art into explorations with impressionism, primitivism, surrealism, and cubism. Their paintings were unlike anything the world had ever seen and challenged the public to leave the traditional world of the realists behind.
Modernism, then, is tied to modernization but is different. As a result of the marked changes in the world, writers around the globe began to respond to these changes and events in literary styles that were revolutionary to their audiences. Since the human condition was changing, writers began to document those differences and experiment with a new way to represent the changes through literature. The rising middle class and the industrial age created new audiences, people now had more leisure time, and thus more time to develop an interest in the arts. These changes resulted in the birth of Modernist Literature.
Characteristics of Modernist Literature
Women were also now working alongside men in many occupations, thus changing the way society perceived their roles. WWI and WWII saw many women doing the jobs that traditionally only the men had pursued. After the war, many women wanted to continue to work, and many fought to change their traditional roles in society. Modernist literature reflected the struggles and frustration of a post-war society. A theme of modernism is that “reality” can be described only regarding the observer’s position, which is impermanent and changes from moment to moment. Modernist authors also were concerned with urban problems that all the new industrialization had brought to the cities. Modernist literature tended to have bleak expectations about the future and what it held for humanity. Modernist literature encompasses fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.
Luigi Pirandello [1867-1936]
In drama, Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author pushed away all conventions as he broke down the barriers (the fourth wall) between the audience and the stage. Today, it is more common, especially in off-Broadway productions, for the actors to engage with the audience or even emerge from the audience. However, in the early part of the 20th century, this was unheard of and caused such an uproar that audience members walked out of Pirandello’s debut. It also featured another device: a play within a play. The audience did not know quite what to think about the events that were playing out on the stage as they also had to follow the action off to the side of the stage, and behind the scenes. Now, of course, the play has been hailed as the beginning of modernism in drama.
T.S. Eliot [1888–1965]
T. S. Eliot’s epic poem, The Wasteland, is considered one of the central literary works of the modernist era as it used literary allusions and abrupt shifts between speakers and scenes, and focused on the decline of Western civilization. The following lines from stanza 2 of the poem illustrate Eliot’s despair about the future of humanity following WWI.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. (Eliot, The Wasteland, 1922)
James Joyce [1882–1941]
Joyce had achieved literary success with his collection of short stories, entitled Dubliners, published in 1914. One of the stories contained within the volume is Araby. This short story is often considered one of Joyce’s finest creations as the entire story unfolds only from the viewpoint of its protagonist. By utilizing a stream of consciousness style, the reader is given a glimpse into the mind, heart, and soul of a young boy living in Dublin at the time.
Following the success of Dubliners came Joyce’s seminal work, Ulysses, which was famous not only for its literary conventions but also for its portrayal of taboo subjects like sex and adultery. Ulysses was also originally to be a part of Dubliners, but Joyce removed it due to its length and put it aside to expand further into a novel. That novel was put on hold due to WWI and not completed until 1921-22. Ulysses also used literary allusions to the Odyssey, Greek mythology, Hamlet, historical figures, and pop culture of the period. Upon publication, the book caused such an uproar that it was deemed pornographic and immediately banned in Western Europe and the United States until 1934.
Franz Kafka [1883–1924]
Franz Kafka, born in Prague, present-day Czech Republic, was the son of middle-class German-Jewish parents. Kafka studied law and worked for the Austrian government. He achieved literary fame only after his death as he could never earn a living as a writer while he lived. Now he is considered one of the premier modernist authors for his use of allegory and symbolism in fiction. Kafka had instructed his friend, Max Brod, to burn all his unpublished manuscripts upon his death, but Brod did not. Instead, he was instrumental in getting them all published and bringing Kafka to a 20th-century audience. Significant stories published while he was living include “The Judgment” (1913), “The Metamorphosis” (1915), and “A Hunger Artist” (1924). Kafka’s fiction is known for its gripping portrayals of individual helplessness before political, judicial, and paternal authority and power.
Miami Dade College. (n.d.) History of modernism. Retrieved from https://www.mdc.edu/wolfson/academic/artsletters/art_philosophy/humanities/history_of_modernism.htm
Eliot, T. S. (n.d.). The wasteland. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land (Original work published 1922)
Kuiper, K. (2018). Modernism in Literature. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/art/Modernism-art#ref282535