American Modernism Copy

MODERNISM (1910-1945)


  • At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S started to change its relations with the world and ended its isolation from international conflicts.
  • The U.S became the world’s richest and most powerful nation;
  • The U.S got involved in WW I (1917) and WW II (1941). The involvement in WW II was a consequence of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour;
  • The U.S dropped the first atomic bomb used in the war on Hiroshima and Nagasaki;
  • After WW II, the U.S took over the role of leader of the Western World, establishing the Marshall Aid plan and NATO.


  • The 1920s were called “the roaring twenties”. It was a period of excess and enjoyment.
  • 1920-1933 ̵ the Prohibition: the ban on alcohol, clubs were illegal but they functioned underground and alcohol was trafficked.
  • 1929 ̵ prosperity came to a sudden end because of The Great Depression ̵ millions of people lost their jobs and the economy suffered an abrupt decline;
  • Despite the economic hardships of the 1930s, society evolved:
    • Women of the jazz era embraced new roles; they had more freedom, danced, drank, went clubbing.
    • Fashion changed radically.
  • After WWII (1945) the economy enjoys a boom;
  • The consumer society was born:
    • Radio
    • Telephone
    • Refrigerator
    • Automobile
    • The middle class prospers and has access to higher education.


American Modernism is characterized by a sharp break from

  • The past
  • The traditions of the Western civilization

American Modernist writers rebel against all previous literature and Western models, they are angry and disillusioned with the savage war and its consequences.

Writers have a godless worldview;

A breakdown of traditional values takes place;

Modernism is a reaction against Realism and Naturalism, which aimed at representing reality as we see it;

Modernism is influenced by:

  • Einstein’s theory of relativity;
  • Freud’s psychological studies;
  • Marx’s political theories.
Modernist poetryModernist Drama  Modernist Fiction
– Rejection of diction, as it is considered unsuitable for an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence;
– Break with Romantic ideas (the notion of sublime);
– Poetry becomes skeptical of language and its notion of coherence;
– Disrupted syntax;
– Free verse;
– Focus on images and symbols;
– Deliberately difficult style;
– Use of imagistic content: narrative continuity and poetic structure are reduced to fragments. Fragments are connected implicitly;
– Use of allusion: isolated fragments, quotes, phrases that represent the fragmentation of contemporary culture.  
– Inspiration from Western literary trends, especially Expressionism;
– Revolt against realism, both in subject matter and style;
– Exaggeration and distortion of objective features of the outer world;
– The embodiment of violent extremes of mood and feeling;
– Direct expressions of thoughts and emotions;
– Use of symbolism and dream-like elements;
-There is a dehumanizing tendency in society ;
– Primitivism – the return to the state before civilization state;
– Use of the grotesque.
 – Writers are disillusioned with the world and have a godless world view;
– Breakdown of traditional values;
– Nihilistic, destructive impulse, but also hope at the prospect of change;
– Non-chronological
– Experiments with time representation and perception: literary devices – temporal juxtapositions, sudden jumps.
– Focus on the inner world of the character: literary devices – stream of consciousness, memory, perception.
– Theme: atemporal, eternal conflicts of the soul, philosophy.
– Range: limited, presented subjectively. Life is chaotic, disordered, fragmentary.
– Narration: subjective, limited point of view or combination of points of view.
Structure: open form.



  • Representative poets:
    • T.S Eliot – was influenced by Transcendalist poetry in his first poems, but later became a representative Modernist writer and the dominant voice among modernist poets.


  • The Lost Generation (American writers who lived in Paris from the end of WWI to the beginning of the Great Depression)
  • F.S Fitzgerald ̵ describes the effects of the sudden wealth of the Jazz Age in America;
  • Ernest Hemingway ̵ the “iceberg principle” (the author only includes minimal details in describing the character’s actions and leaves the reader to determine the rest) ̵ ambiguity, uncertainty, ending unresolved;
  • Regionalism: William Faulkner ̵ Southern author who emerged during the Southern Literary Renaissance


  • Expressionist drama: Eugene O’Neill