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The Modern Age (1915-1946)

The Modern Age (1915-1946)

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The Modern Age (1915-1946)

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  1. The Modern Age(1915-1946)

  2. Historical Background • US rose to become a world power politically and economically • However, Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, WWI and WWII significantly affected the mood of the American people • Created fragmentation in society, sense of isolation of individuals, and sense of disenchantment with government • People no longer trusted their government

  3. Devastation from wars, depression, economy replaced America’s characteristic optimism with disillusionment • Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos lost their sense of idealism • Replaced with overriding feeling of doom and a view of the world as vulgar, violent, and spiritually empty.

  4. Expatriates • Because many people were disillusioned with life after W W I and II, many American writers became expatriates • Left US to live elsewhere (Paris) • Gertrude Stein called them the “lost generation” • Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Eliot • Searching for a new source of hope

  5. Birth of Modernism • After W W I, most people lost sense of optimism; felt uncertain about future and disillusioned • Modernism---the international movement that developed in the postwar period where authors felt the need to break with the past and “make it new”

  6. New ways of seeing demand new ways of saying • Unconventional literary techniques such as no punctuation, no capital letters, endless sentences, and obscure phrasing made works difficult to understand

  7. Case in point… • Gertrude Stein once called the comma “servile” and refused to have anything to do with it. • Thurber often fought with his editor Harold Ross about commas. • Thurber saw commas as so many upturned office chairs unhelpfully hurled down the wide-open corridor of readability. (Truss 68 ,80)

  8. Stein again…the question mark was “the most completely uninteresting” of all marks of punctuation: • It is evident that if you ask a question you ask a question but anybody who can read at all knows when a question is a question […] I never could bring myself to use a question mark, I always found it positively revolting, and no very few do use it. (1935)

  9. Characteristics of Modernism • Capture modern life (fragmented) • Attempt to find common ground in a world no longer unified in belief • Emphasize individual perception and experiences as an attempt to find shared meaning of humanity • Omitted traditional forms of stories (exposition, resolutions, etc..) • Themes were implied, not stated (forced readers to draw their own conclusions)

  10. Authors and their messages • Wharton and Fitzgerald show the values and appearances of the privileged are false and destructive • Sinclair Lewis criticized hypocrisy in lives and values of middle class • Dreiser showed precarious lives of working class • Steinbeck glorified lives and values of oppressed outcasts living in poverty • Hemingway and John Dos Passos cast doubt on martial glory and patriotism • Henry James emphasized sensibility and human consciousness

  11. Literary Traditionalism • Despite new ideas and new techniques, many writers continued American tradition • Continued to use characteristic American themes combined with modernist techniques • Regionalism and realism still dominate traditional writing

  12. Pluralism in literature • Pluralism---existence of more than one group, culture, religion, sex, etc. in American literature • Predominantly male view point gave way to ethic minorities, women, and religious groups

  13. Harlem Renaissance • 1921---rise of African American writers • Harlem, New York

  14. Consciousness of Experience • Despite fragmentation and sense of isolation, modern writers were attempting to find common ground in which we all recognize a shared humanity • Society is after all made up of its people and each person has a story to tell • Experiences are exact details of what makes us human If one becomes conscious of human consciousness, one begins to put the world back together into meaning we can share

  15. New Approaches • Stream of Consciousness Technique • Re-creating the natural thought flow of a character (not necessarily linear) • Ideas presented are done in a way that is natural for the character (natural associations) • Incongruity • Joining of opposites to create a situation that is totally unexpected

  16. Incongruity • the juxtaposition of the "expected" with the "unexpected." For example, the one-liner is based on this structure: "Never raise your hand to your children; it leaves your midsection unprotected." • serious sentence meets unexpected ending. The shock is our recognition of this incongruity. There is virtually no opportunity to warn the reader.

  17. Modern Poetry • Experimental in form • Beginnings in Whitman’s new world view • Owes a debt to symbolist movement (French late 19th cent.) • Some reworking of traditional forms • Pervasive themes---”the age of anxiety” & disillusionment • Nature and possibilities of human relationships and the complex emotional and psychological elements that bear on them

  18. Symbolist Movement • All external objects are symbols of deeper, truer reality • Unrelated things are connected by surprising, secret links • Poet avoids directly stating meaning instead relying on the mood created by highly suggestive symbols • Variety of styles • Relies more on free association than on logical sequence

  19. Poets and their work • Imagists: Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings (typographical appearance of poetry on page is as important as poems sound and meaning of its words) • T. S. Eliot---man who cannot love and spiritually barren world that only God can infuse with meaning • Pound---pervasive greed corrupts the possibility of fruitful human relationships